By Janet Gleeson
Bantam Press (Transworld) - March 2002
ISBN: 0593048032 - HB
Historical Crime / Mystery
1755, London & Cambridge, England

Reviewed by: Rachel A Hyde,

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If you have read the classic gothic mysteries of Sheridan Le Fanu and enjoyed the labyrinthine tales of Charles Palliser, this novel is right up your dark alley. Young Nathaniel Hopson is journeyman to the famous cabinetmaker Chippendale and has been sent to install a library at the grand house of the choleric Lord Montfort. But on New Year's Day he is found murdered in this same library, covered with leeches--although he has been shot dead-and clutching a mysterious box. There follows a tortuous, teasing plot involving missing orphans, more dead bodies and a lot of people who don't want Hopson to find out the truth.

To call this novel a genre book would deny it the credit due its meticulous research and almost tactile descriptive passages; if historical crime is normally too "pulp fiction" for you, then you will find this tale almost literary in its style, construction and elegance, but it reads easily enough and ought to have wider appeal even than that - definitely a mainstream historical novel. Whether you enjoy it for the crime, the graphic descriptions of 18th century life, the social comment or all of them, this is a remarkably well-rounded and satisfying read that almost veers towards the verbose but manages to err on the side of merely being thorough. Entertaining and unique, perhaps more than it ought to be.

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