cover image The Lazarus Tree

The Lazarus Tree

Robert Richardson. St. Martin's Press, $17.95 (191pp) ISBN 978-0-312-08232-1

Witchcraft, murder and a grisly legend cling to the roots of an old chestnut tree in Richardson's (Murder in Waiting) literate but flawed new English mystery. Amateur sleuth Augustus Maltravers investigates the recent murder of poet Patrick Gabriel in the isolated Devon village of Medmelton at the request of old friend Stephen Hart. He finds close-mouthed inhabitants guarding buried secrets. Who fathered Stephen's sexy teenage stepdaughter Michelle, and why is she having clandestine meetings with the bitter woman who owns the general store? What is the local rector doing behind closed doors? Maltravers's arrival disrupts the routine of an obsessive/compulsive banker and raises anew the question of the whereabouts of the dead poet's latest manuscript. Playwright Maltravers dreams up ingenious charades to flush out the required answers to the conundrum, but painstaking characterization cannot compensate for a wobbly narrative and little menace or suspense. (Oct.)