The Desolate Garden is a story of a secret Government bank that since the fourteenth century has been managed by one family; the Patersons, Earls of Harrogate. In 2012 Lord Elliot Paterson takes over the custodianship and begins the task of converting the Bank's hand-written ledgers into digital form. In a hidden ledger, dated 1936, he discovers the start of vast quantities of money being erased from the accounts. He comes across some initials and an address in Leningrad, Russia. He suspects that his grandfather, Lord Maudlin, was funding a Russia spy.
The novel opens with Lord Elliot's murder. His son, Lord Harry Paterson - forty-two, single, a philanderer living on the Harrogate estate, and long recruited into the secret world after his service in the Army, is summoned to London to throw light on his fathers’ murder. Seemingly by accident, he meets Judith Meadows, an attractive, but otherwise stick-figure of a woman, in the world-famous Martini bar at Duke's Hotel in London's St James's. Meadows plays him for the rake that he is before destroying his hopes of bliss when she discloses that she works for the Home Office and is to be his case officer assigned to unravel the mysterious murder.
Harry knows more than he is willing to reveal, and Meadows knows more about his family than Harry realises. As the story unfolds, the relationship between the two ricochets back and forth like a train driven by a teenager, stuck in first gear.