Shroud of Leaves by Rebecca Alexander

I would like to thank Sarah from Titan for providing with an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Titan

Price - £8.99

Published – Out Now

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. The police suspect the reclusive owner, Alistair Chorleigh, who was questioned but never charged. But when Sage investigates a nearby burial mound – and uncovers rumours of an ancient curse – she discovers the story of another mysterious disappearance over a hundred years ago. Sage will need both her modern forensic skills and her archaeological knowledge to unearth the devastating truth.

NB – This is the second in a series focused on Sage Westfield. I found it a straightforward entry point with no major spoilers for the first novel

The idea of a book mixing archaeology and forensics when you think about it should work. Both are trying to reconstruct the past using skills and forms of technology.  Just one is focused on historical context and another is to find the more recent culprit. So, it makes sense that Rebecca Alexander has provided a unique set of mysteries focused around the Archaeologist Sage Westfield.  I found it a very compelling set of interlinked mysteries that need to be carefully uncovered.

Sage Westfield has after the first book a huge number of changes approaching in her life. She has decided to study forensics; she has a young child; a potential new partner and into this comes the disturbing call to investigate a body that is believed to be a reported missing teenager. But the case appears to be a bit unusual. The body has turned up far from her last sighting in a stately home estate in the New Forest. The Body is not well hidden, and it reminds the police of a similar disappearance int eh nineties where the owner’s son at the time was a key suspect. Sage feels things aren’t quite right and her discoveries start to unwrap the mystery but on top of this signs point towards the crime in the nineties and then a mysterious ancient barrow where a hundred years ago a promising young archaeologist vanished without a trace.

I found this a very engaging read. A key element to this is Sage herself who is unusually relatively fresh to her field while certainly perceptive and a trained archaeologist; its not a book aiming for the slick and unreasonably quick CSI approach. This is about being careful and examining evidence be it the soil a body is buried in or the leaves concealing it here there can be days rather than minutes waiting for a breakthrough. I really liked how Sage kept a human interest in the persons affected by the crimes in contrast to her more battle-hardened colleagues and watching how she keeps a human perspective to this horrible crime makes me invest more in her emotional battle to solve the crime.

Alexander has a good ear for character and sense of place as the other main viewpoint in the novel is that of Edwin the archaeologist who vanished in the early 1900s. We see his arrival into the Chorleigh family to investigate two unusual barrows held on the property, here we get an archaeological mystery of what these ancient barrows were used for and what they contain. However similar to his modern counterpart Edwin finds himself also into a more personal mystery as to why his best friend seems so upset.  This adds tension as we know he is going to shortly disappear from the earth.  It presents an interesting contrast to the modern life of technology with this more upper-class world of secrets and expected social attitudes. 

The reader gets to try and piece all the mysteries together and the pace of revealing the truth overall is quite successful. My one niggle is that it seemed to not give each plot an equal amount of space and time to establish itself and this made it feel a little uneven in the final chapters as the various mysteries were finally explained. This felt the most rushed part of the book and in that section I’d had instead liked just a bit more for Sage to get involved with each of the mysteries however the main modern and past mysteries I thought really worked.

It’s an unusual mystery thriller concept and a book that is ambitious enough to weave four mysteries based around one location over a few thousand years is deserving some attention. The focus on inner character I appreciated as that for me always propels a novel. I’m intrigued where Sage goes next…