Archaeologist Sage Westfield has her first forensics case: investigating the murder of a teenage girl. Hidden by holly leaves, the girl’s body has been discovered on the grounds of a stately home, where another teenage girl went missing twenty years ago – but her body was never found. With mysterious links between the two disappearances, the police suspect the reclusive owner, Alistair Chorleigh, who was questioned twenty years ago but never charged. But when Sage investigates a nearby burial mound – and uncovers rumours of an ancient curse – she discovers the story of Edwin Masters, his friend Peter Chorleigh, and an excavation over a hundred years ago, that also ended in a mysterious disappearance. Still recovering from the traumatic events of her recent past, Sage will need both her modern forensics skills and her historical archaeological knowledge to unearth the devastating truth.
There was a lot for me to get excited about with A Shroud of Leaves, I’ve been really enjoying thrillers of late and the fact that this linked in with both a historical element and a twin offence in the more recent past, really sold it for me. It was also great to discover that it’s setting was the New Forest which is an area close to me and one we visit often. That discovery made the story all the more vivid in my mind. It turns out that this in fact book 2 in the series and whilst the story line for this investigation is entirely standalone there is much about Sage’s personal life that relates, I would assume, back to book 1. It doesn’t detract from being able to understand and enjoy this story line at all, but I did feel that Sage’s mundane family life was an unnecessary addition but perhaps it brought closure to those who have read earlier books.
This story has very little preamble, we are at the discovery site straight away and I enjoyed that as this was Sage’s first foray into the forensic side of archaeology, as it meant I was learning alongside of her too. This was fascinating and really brought to life that actually, the job is far from the glamorous ones portrayed on TV, it’s meticulous, repetitive and bleak at times. The decision to have Sage discover this way meant that I never felt like I didn’t understand what was going on and it made her discoveries all the more exciting. I found it easy to identify with Sage as growing up I wanted to be an archaeologist and then ended up working in the criminal justice system. I found her struggles to balance being a mother with a long hours job heartbreaking, especially having to shut off from horrors of the day. The story neatly flipped between present day and Edwin’s Story on an alternate chapter basis and whilst I didn’t find Edwin’s story immediately captivating, when I discovered the date he disappeared, it brought a whole new dimension to his part as the dates from his journal wind down to that day, bringing a real sense of unease. The Journal aspect brought him to life in a very personal way and his final few entries really tugged at me.
I enjoyed that in fact Sage’s investigation incorporated a 3rd aspect with the disappearance 20 years ago, it brought additional depth and helped bring the two time periods together. In fact it more often felt like it was the investigation into Lara’s disappearance that was the main story and that River’s murder was just the catalyst for that. Whilst I was left a little disappointed that River’s murder was tied up neatly in just a couple of pages, the cast of characters involved in discovering what happened to Lara more than made up for it. A real small village feel, where everyone was up in everyone else’s business creating a world of curtain twitchers and over ambitious local journalists. This cold case investigation alongside was really well executed and probably my favourite part of the story. Whilst this isn’t an edge of your seat thriller it does do impending dread really well and the culmination is outstanding.
Whilst I wish I had realised that this was a second in the series, I did still really enjoy this book. I found it fascinating with a good steady pace and a masterful weaving of time periods, I just think Sages fears would have been more impactful if I understood more of what came before. Sadly it was her personal life that brought the story down, I really had no interest in her mothers relationships and her partners job opportunities, I just wanted to get back to the investigation and the author should have had faith that Sage was a strong enough character to not have to try and bolster her with these elements.
I would love to go back and read book 1 and I’m certainly going to keep an eye out for any future books in the series.