Nick Hooper's new venture, The Inspector Arnold series, delves deep into the mindset of a detective grappling with the truth. In the series' debut novel, The Occasional Gardener, we're thrown straight in at the deep end with a dawn raid gone wrong. This kind of action defines the book, rattling from crisis to crisis through Rackham's personal and professional life, pushing our detective to his limits.
Plagued by events long repressed, Arnold Rackham's internal monologue is strong and coherently assembled from the start - the reader quickly feels at home with his personality. But, like the sketches that line his walls of old friends, new enemies and everyone in between, some of the other characters don't feel fully formed even when they mean a lot to our narrator. I hope that as the series continues, we're allowed to learn more about the people that fill Rackham's world.
Hooper's follow up, The Mirror in the Ice Cream Parlour, doesn't pull its punches. Shadowed by the events of the first novel, The Occasional Gardener, Arnold Rackham is trying to pick up the pieces of his life and wait out the short time until his retirement, supported by his girlfriend Peggy and his faithful dog. However, the past won't leave him alone, and a chance discovery on the beach launches Rackham back into a plot involving terrorists, assassins and stolen art, while his life - and possibly his sanity - falls apart around him.
Coming into the series on book two, I found the plot of The Mirror in the Ice Cream Parlour a little difficult to follow at times - while important points of book one were recapped when necessary, it felt more like a sequel than the 'stand-alone novel within a series' more typical of detective stories. There's plenty of action and adventure in the story, with the protagonist travelling around the
However, there were a lot of enjoyable moments in both The Occasional Gardener and The Mirror in the Ice Cream Parlour. Rackham faces high stakes and real peril, the plot twists and turns to an exciting conclusion, and there are some truly touching points, particularly the scenes focusing on Rackham's dependence on and love for his unnamed dog. Locals will love spotting the Oxfordshire connections, and crime fans may find a new favourite in this artistic detective.