Another Review at MyShelf.Com

Publisher: Bantam Press (Transworld UK)
Release Date: 20 March 2003
ISBN: 0593050908
Format Reviewed: Hardback
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Genre: Historical Crime / Mystery [1765, London & Richmond, UK]
Reviewed: 2003
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes:

The Serpent in the Garden
By Janet Gleeson 

     Last year Janet Gleeson's first novel, The Grenadillo Box, was published to some critical acclaim and also reviewed on this site, being one of my top ten historical crime novels for 2002. Now she is back with another 18th century puzzle to solve, and different characters to solve it. Portrait painter Joshua Pope is keen to accept the commission to paint the recently widowed Herbert Bentnick and his lush Caribbean fiancée, Elinor Mercier. He will be well paid and get a change of scene away from his acidic landlady and memories of his late wife. Astley House, Herbert's stately home with its Capability Brown grounds, is renowned for horticultural prowess and pineapples are being grown in the conservatory - but with the unwelcome ingredient of a body lying amongst the fruit. Who is it, and why aren't the Bentnicks interested? Joshua is determined to get to the bottom of it all and find out why the new stepmother-to-be is so unpopular, but when a priceless emerald necklace goes missing, the finger of blame is pointed at him.

     Just like Janet Gleeson's first novel, this has something of the flavor of the gothic mysteries of Wilkie Collins, Sheridan Le Fanu and Charles Palliser, which makes it a refreshing change from more usual types of crime novel. This is the sort of book that tends to defy being labeled and will be read by those who don't normally favour genre fiction, although I wouldn't call it literary in the least; a mainstream book. It has style and social comment, transporting the reader back to bustling London of the mid 18th century and the feudal grandeur of country seats. To its detriment, it could stand a little editing, and there isn't quite enough story to fill the covers, leaving it to tread water in a few places where The Grenadillo Box was rather plumper in the plot. But there is enough drama and intrigue to keep the pages turning, and it is deceptively easy to read, which is the sign of a good book. Recommended for all fans of intelligent crime fiction.

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