Source: Purchased audiobook
Narrator: John Banks
Listening time: 11 hours and 18 minutes
I swear I’m one bad mood away from calling it black magic and going home….
Detective Sergeant Washington Poe can count on one hand the number of friends he has. And he’d still have his thumb left. There’s the insanely brilliant, guilelessly innocent civilian analyst Tilly Bradshaw, of course. He’s known his beleaguered boss, Detective Inspector Stephanie Flynn, for years, as he has his nearest neighbour, full-time shepherd/part-time dog sitter Victoria.
And then there’s Estelle Doyle. It’s true the caustic pathologist has never walked down the sunny side of the street, but this time has she gone too far? Shot twice in the head, her father’s murder appears to be an open-and-shut case. Estelle has firearms discharge residue on her hands, and, in a house surrounded by fresh snow, hers are the only footprints going in. Since her arrest she’s only said three words: ‘Tell Washington Poe.’
Meanwhile, a poisoner the press have dubbed the Botanist is sending high-profile celebrities poems and pressed flowers. The killer seems to be able to walk through walls and, despite the advance notice he gives his victims, and regardless of the security measures the police take, he seems to be able to kill with impunity.
For a man who hates locked room mysteries, this is going to be the longest week of Washington Poe’s life..
Thanks to Constable for approving a review copy of The Botanist. In the end, I bought the audiobook, the better to read this book while tackling my TBR list.
I am a huge fan of this series and of M.W. Craven’s writing. You can read The Botanist as a stand-alone novel, but do yourself a favour and start at the beginning, because Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are an awesome team and their journey together is well worth following from the outset.
First, a word about the narration. This is a single person narration from John Banks and it is so good, I forgot I was listening to just one voice. Perfect intonation, nicely modulated tones and good, light use of accents made for an excellent listen. I’d listen to more of his audiobooks on this basis.
So what makes The Botanist so good? It’s a beautifully crafted mystery within a mystery set around Washington Poe, an unorthodox and grumpy detective working for the NCA and his fabulous technically brilliant and on the spectrum team-mate, analyst Tilly Bradshaw. What makes this series stand out is the brilliant, scathing sarcasm of Poe and the contrasting wide eyed unworldly innocence of the brilliant Tilly Bradshaw whose tendency to open her mouth and say, completely unfiltered, exactly what she is thinking makes for some fantastically funny moments. That and Poe’s ability to think the unthinkable makes for a great team.
This time our awesome duo have a devious killer to find and at the same time Poe has to make sure that one of his very few friends is not sent down for the murder of her father. Poe’s attention needs to be in two places at once and he needs his boss DI Stephanie Flynn watching his back as he works both cases.
Someone is selecting some of the UK’s more objectionable characters and poisoning them. How they are doing it is a mystery in itself but because our murderer is choosing the corrupt; the ignorant loud-mouthed incels and the social media influencers without a moral scruple; the public is barely stopping short of applause as he does so.
Each prospective victim is warned by the delivery of a pressed flower and a bad poem, but for all the warnings, and whatever security is put in place, our killer, The Botanist still gets to his victims.
Craven clearly enjoys playing with the convention of the locked room mystery and he does so with intelligent aplomb. This is such a great combination of good writing, wit, clever plotting and current social themes and it works beautifully.
The team’s banter, even in tense situations, is a joy to listen to and Craven’s pacing is excellent. There’s the usual great observational humour around food and in this book, some nice wardrobe choices that all adds to authentic interplay between our team members.
I also enjoy trying to guess what’s going on as the action proceeds. I guessed the password to the safe just before Poe (though admittedly I’d been handed all the clues on a plate) but completely failed to foresee that final awesome chapter.
Verdict: This is a must read series and The Botanist is an excellent addition. I absolutely loved this twisty, thrilling, devious, funny book and its brilliant characters. The Botanist is a book for everyone who enjoys first class crime fiction.
Multi-award-winning author M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. He joined the army at sixteen, leaving ten years later to complete a social work degree. Seventeen years after taking up a probation officer role in Cumbria, at the rank of assistant chief officer, he became a full-time author. The Puppet Show, the first book in his Cumbria-set Washington Poe series, was published by Little, Brown in 2018 and went on to win the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger in 2019. It has now been translated into twenty-five languages. Black Summer, the second in the series, was longlisted for the 2020 Gold Dagger as was book three, The Curator in 2021. The fourth in the series, Dead Ground, was published in 2021, became an instant Sunday Times bestseller and has been longlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the Theakston Old Peculiar Novel of the Year 2022.
Photo c. Gary Barton