Janet Gleeson

"The Serpent in the Garden"

(Reviewed by Carisa Richner MAY 7, 2005)

If you read Janet Glesson’s first novel, The Grenadillo Box, the plot of The Serpent in the Garden will be familiar to you. The story takes place at an estate near London in the year 1765. Joshua Pope, a famous portrait painter, has arrived to paint the wedding portrait of Herbert Bentnick and his fiancée, Sabine Mercer. Herbert met Sabine while he was touring his plantations in Barbados. Unfortunately, his wife Jane, who had accompanied Herbert, died soon after arriving on the island. Herbert’s children suspect that Sabine had something to do with her death. Sabine inherited her plantation from her husband, as well as an infamous necklace shaped like a snake.

A few days after Joshua arrives at the Bentnick estate Sabine stumbles upon a dead body in the pinery, which is a greenhouse devoted to the growing of pineapples. She asks Joshua to find out the identity of the dead man. Soon after, the mystery gets bigger after the serpent necklace goes missing and Joshua is accused of stealing it. He becomes a full-time detective to clear his name.

Like The Grenadillo Box, this novel is full of period detail that is well integrated into the narrative. Gleeson gives us a lesson about the pineapple craze that hit England during this time, and teaches us a bit about portrait painting as well. The mystery is well constructed, with some clues given but many red herrings. Joshua himself is an interesting character. He is thirty years old but seemed much older to me; I kept picturing him to be around sixty.

Although the mystery is interesting, and kept me reading to the end just to see who did it, I would hesitate to call it riveting. I had trouble telling some characters apart. The narrative seemed to drag in the middle, and the ending left a couple of questions hanging. For , we never learn whether Sabine did in fact poison Herbert’s first wife in Barbados, or why the necklace thief returns the necklace. However, questions aside, historical mystery fans will like this book, especially readers with a penchant for eighteenth century England.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 6 reviews


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"The Grenadillo Box"

(reviewed by Jenny Dressel FEB 22, 2004)

I haven't taken the opportunity to read many mysteries lately. I've shied away from them because there is no bigger disappointment, in my opinion, than figuring out who the "bad guy" is 100 or 200 pages before the author wants. Then you plod through, hoping you are wrong and utterly disgusted when you were right. Sadly, I have found it is the bestselling authors who seem to give the mystery away early.

Read excerptSo, I have to admit, I started Janet Gleeson's The Grenadillo Box with a lot of trepidation. I was so pleasantly surprised!

The setting of this first novel is London; the year is 1755. Nathaniel Hopson is an apprentice to the famous cabinetmaker, Thomas Chippendale. Chippendale has ordered Hopson to go to the estate of his client, Lord Montfort, to supervise the construction of his library, as the original apprentice on the job has fallen ill.

On the evening that the library is complete, Montfort has invited family and friends to a formal dinner to unveil his new masterpiece. Unfortunately, during the meal, Montfort is not acting like a man excited to show his remodeled room to his family. As a matter fact, he's quite despondent and manages to argue with almost everyone at the table. Montfort gets up from the table and leaves in a huff.

A short while later, there is a gunshot heard, and Lord Montfort is found dead in his newly remodeled library. It is Hopson, our narrator, who literally "stumbles upon" the body in the darkened room.

"At first, I was so stupefied by my discovery of Montfort's corpse I didn't question what might have led to his death. As in some martyr's ghastly supplication, his arms lay outstretched at his sides, palms upturned. Close to his right hand lay a small pocket pistol, no longer than six inches, ornately decorated with a fruiting vine design. Both sleeves and cuffs were bloodstained, and clasped in his left hand was a small box about the size of a goose egg. Scarcely had I registered this last detail, however, when I remarked the leeches, and my shock transformed to revulsion which I could not contain."

Montfort is just one of the few corpses Nathaniel comes across in this book. It seems like death is just following this guy. He seems to find murdered victims at every turn. Gleeson has done a wonderful job with this character. Nathaniel Hopson is a twenty-one year old with wonderful wit, and an eye for detail AND the ladies. He is an extremely engaging investigator, with characteristics not unlike Washington Irving's Ichabod Crane. I don't know if this was Ms. Gleeson's intention or just my crazy imagination, but I could not get Johnny Depp as Ichabod out of my brain as I was reading.

Her biography states she has a degree in art history, worked at Sotheby's and was an antiques correspondent for House & Garden. This has served her well because she has eloquently and lucidly described 18th century England- the relationships between nobility and craftsmen and apprentices are quite interesting. Her descriptions are original and imaginative, for example, "The sky was dark as mussel shells when I rose from my attic bed".

I have to say I was delighted with this book. The mystery was great, with a multitude of plausible suspects and a bunch of red herrings thrown in to keep us on our toes. The plot was suspenseful and I was turning pages late into the night, knowing I would be better served with a good night's sleep. And I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Nathaniel Hopson. I really hope Ms. Gleeson includes Mr. Hopson in future endeavors, as this really is a wonderful character.

All in all, Janet Gleeson has done an outstanding job on her first novel, and given me faith in mysteries again. She has proven you can still have fun characters and a mystery that's hard to figure out. I really look forward to reading some more from her.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 6 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Grenadillo Box at MostlyFiction.com

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)



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About the Author:

Janet Gleeson Janet Gleeson has worked in the Impressionist Paintings Department at Sotheby's, was an art and antiques correspondent for House & Garden for seven years, and has written for The Antiques Collector and many other magazines. She lives in London.

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