Summary: “Her young daughter has disappeared, sparking a massive murder hunt, and now her husband has gone walkabout in the bush with no plans to return. Nothing is coming up roses for small-time gardening correspondent Agatha. So she plants the seeds of a new life in an isolated village … in the dilapidated former home of a renowned witch.”
This is a very capricious book. The beginning is a little difficult to follow, I think because there aren’t really chapters or even signals that the focus is changing from the past to the present or from one character to another, at least in the version I have; however, it’s manageable.
The story is about Agatha Hock, a woman with a gardening column in a woman’s magazine. Bit by bit, her train wreck of a life is revealed. Her teenage daughter went missing years before under mysterious circumstances, and to escape the tension in their marriage, her husband has gone out into the bush purposely without her. As the summary says, she moves out of her city apartment and into a cottage house formerly occupied by the town witch; the reasons for her moving add more complications. Her gardening column is mentioned a few more times but basically after she moves, it takes a back seat.
The Bad Seed is a goulash of quirky characters, all of which the author somehow crafts as unique, believable individuals. A pseudo-scientist married to a pushover, a goth teenager who drools over silver Doc Martens, an Aboriginal gardening store owner, and a Nordic born-again Christian all enter Agatha’s sphere and leave their mark. In the end, everything more or less comes together, along with a local legend about a baby made of gold. What?? You just have to read it to find out. No matter what you think will happen next in this book, you’re wrong.
The pain Agatha feels over her missing daughter comes up at surprising times in this book, much as it would if Agatha had really lived. These tender moments and details are really heart-rending, as are the details about Agatha’s relationship with her mother. As an English literature major, I was elated at the Shakespeare references, and as a mystery lover, the same feeling applied to the Agatha Christie references.
The Bottom Line: The first page says, “A subtly sinister tale told with humour and grace,” and that description is better than any I could do. It’s really quite incredible writing: 80% mystery, 15% supernatural thriller, and 5% romance.