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Switching from cabinetry to portraiture, 18th-century specialist Gleeson (The Grenadillo Box, 2004, etc.) continues to dabble—successfully—in detection by the artistically gifted.

In 1763 Georgian England, it is apparently up to clever artisans to solve capital crimes. And why not? The luxury trade brought these early meritocrats into intimate contact with the moneyed consumers of their goods, giving them unique access to a rarified world. And with their artists’ eyes, they were much better equipped than their aristocratic employers to observe closely the world in which they scrabble to succeed. Gleeson’s proto-cop on the upper-crust crime scene, then, is successful artist Joshua Pope. Pope is in residence at Astley, the suburban London estate of Herbert Bentnick, when a vomit-stained corpse is discovered among the pineapple plants in the hothouse. The audibly horrified discoverer of the death is Sabine Mercier, also in residence at Astley. Sabine is the Barbadian double widow who snagged Mr. Bentnick when he traveled to the Indies to inspect the family plantations. There was also a Mrs. Bentnick on the voyage, but she took ill shortly after meeting Sabine, who nursed her unto death. Sabine, then, who knows an unusual amount about horticulture, including poisonous plants, is engaged to Herbert, a union celebrated in Pope’s nearly complete joint portrait. The corpse is identified from letters in its pocket as John Cobb, an attorney and, like Sabine, from Barbados. Pope is put off by the family’s seemingly cavalier lack of interest in the late Mr. Cobb, and he makes it his responsibility to get to the bottom of things. But his detective work is instantly complicated by the disappearance of Sabine’s prized emerald necklace, a theft blamed on Pope. Clearing his name will require the artist to flirt a bit, pop in and out of London, and consult with the greatest of landscapers, Capability Brown.

Agreeable. Like living in a Constable scene with a little excitement.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-6005-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2004


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