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Artis-Ann
Features Writer
1:02 AM 2nd March 2024
arts

Poems And Pressed Flowers: The Botanist By M. W. Craven

 
I know my faults. I can be greedy. I would rather have no chocolate at all than limit myself to just one square from the bar; give me a good book and I like nothing better than to read at every possible moment, getting acquainted with the characters and immersing myself in the action. It has to be a good book, though, for me to do that, a very good book, and believe me, The Botanist deserves all the awards and accolades with which it has been showered. If ‘unputdownable’ were a word, (which I suppose it now is), it would be the perfect adjective to describe this novel.

This fifth novel by M. W. Craven, featuring Washington Poe, is fast-paced (any hint of slowing down means there’s another twist looming), with intricate detail and a lovely mixture of characters - some wonderfully quirky - whose interpersonal relations are a delight. The dialogue is naturalistic, especially between Flynn, Poe and Bradshaw, who know each other well and complement one another throughout. They are hardworking and most importantly, they care, both for one another as well as for truth and justice. Their challenge, this time, is to solve two locked room puzzles - despite danger lurking all around - and in doing so, catch a serial killer. There are ‘more twists and turns than a country footpath’ – oh and there’s a touch of romance thrown in, just to season the pot.

A narcissist with a grudge, it seems he can walk through locked doors and outwit the most stringent surveillance and protection teams.
The villain of the piece targets ‘unsympathetic victims’ so quickly develops a cult following of supporters but nevertheless needs to be caught and ultimately, his more heinous side is revealed, which garners support for the authorities, especially when they realise his modus operandi: ‘he’s not trying to kill you, he already has’.

Poe is a Sergeant (previously demoted because of some questionable actions) with the National Crime Agency; he has a reputation for getting the job done but not necessarily by following proper procedures. He can be a little unconventional but his ability to think outside the normal parameters is part of his talent. He finds himself involved in two cases at once: one he’s assigned at work and one because a good friend, the eminent Professor Estelle Doyle, has been accused of murdering her father. There seems to be irrefutable evidence that she is guilty but Poe knows her too well and refuses to believe it. The official case involves botanical poison, of a particularly potent type, and the murderer whom the press have labelled ‘The Botanist’, sends a warning before his victim dies, in the form of a pressed flower and a poem. He is elusive, daring and highly methodical. A narcissist with a grudge, it seems he can walk through locked doors and outwit the most stringent surveillance and protection teams. Somehow, Poe and his crew have to out-think him before it’s too late.

There are ‘more twists and turns than a country footpath’ – oh and there’s a touch of romance thrown in, just to season the pot.
The investigative work is convincing; there will be highs and lows in any police investigation, and the way the plot is unravelled feels authentic. Located in London, Northumberland and Cumbria, (with a very brief sojourn in Japan at the beginning) the characters get about, but with good reason.

The novel has been well researched: hospital procedures, infectious diseases, poisons, the phone hacking scandal which rocked Fleet Street, are just a few examples of Craven’s precise style and thorough attention to detail.

Complex and compelling, it's a highly intelligent plot with a good balance of humour and sensitivity, drama and suspense, as Craven increases the tension, thrills, and anticipation, adding a final twist even at the very end. I can see this on television and have even started casting it in my mind; it would be a sure-fire winner in the 9pm drama slot.


The Botanist is published by Constable