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The Rosary Garden – Nicola White

Review by Rachel Sargeant

The Rosary Garden – Nicola White

The blurb:

It was Ali who found the body of a murdered newborn baby, hidden in the garden of her convent school. In an Ireland riven by battles of religion and reproduction, the case becomes
a media sensation, even as the church tries to suppress it. But this is not the first dead baby Ali has found.
“For Detectives Vincent Swan and Gina Considine, the pressure to discover the identity of the dead child is little help against a community with secrets to protect. Gina knows all too well how many of Ireland’s girls are forced to make difficult decisions in terrible circumstances, silenced by shame. Is Ali one of those girls? Because what evidence there is, points to Ali herself…”

The review:

On the surface this is a police procedural. Detective Inspector Swan and Detective Sergeant Considine investigate the murder of the three-day-old baby found in a garden shed at a private convent school in Dublin. However, like A Famished Heart, the first book in this excellent series, this novel is also a piece of quality literary fiction.

As well as chapters from Swan’s point of view, we hear from Ali, one of the two girls who find the child. This is a coming-of-age story for her as she strives to find her way as a young woman in a world that frowns on her wish for independence. She also revisits a secret from her family’s past that leads to a tragedy in the present.

The story is a reminder that 1950s attitudes to women, contraception and childbirth were alive and well in 1984, when this novel is set. (And, let’s face it, they’ve still not gone away in some quarters…) Even our trusty detectives are products of their times, and they subject Ali to obscene scrutiny.

It was first published as In a Rosary Garden by Cargo Publishing in 2013, when it won the Dundee International Book Prize, but was relaunched by Viper Books this January as the second in a new series featuring Swan and Considine. A Famished Heart was one of my Top Reads of 2020, and The Rosary Garden looks set to be high on my list this year.