978-0-7432-4686-6 / 0743246861

The Grenadillo Box: A Novel

by Gleeson, Janet

Publisher:Simon & Schuster



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About the book:

The Grenadillo Box is Janet Gleeson first foray into novel writing, her last two books, The Arcanum and The Moneymaker, were Coditude-style micro-histories of porcelain and the inventor of paper money. Gleeson has not completely abandoned the past, however; this is an atmospheric 18th-century whodunnit. It begins la Agatha Christie with a mysterious death in a library and eventually concludes, in true Poirot fashion, with our detective explaining his deductions in the very same library. (A further ingenious genealogical twist is reserved until the final pages.)

Nathaniel Hopson, a journeyman to the great cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale, is employed to install a new library in Horsehearth Hall, the Cambridgeshire seat of the cantankerous Lord Montfort. On the evening of its completion the obnoxious Montfort is found dead. His corpse is covered in leeches but he appears to have been shot and an elegantly carved wooden box lays by his side. With vast gambling debts it is assumed that he has committed suicide to prevent his creditor Lord Foley gaining control of the estate. Hobson (and Foley) are not so sure. After stumbling on the mutilated corpse of his colleague John Partridge (the man who designed the library) in a frozen pond nearby, Hobson is convinced Montfort was murdered. Could Partridge, a foundling, have had some claim to Montfort's fortune? How are Partridge, Montfort, Chippendale and Foley all connected to the Italian actress Madame Trenti? And just why is Chippendale so desperate to recover a series of drawings from Montfort's library? Although loosely based on real incidents and bolstered with plenty of authentic detail (Gleeson was a once a Sotheby's antique expert) this novel often resorts to some fairly hoary melodramatic conceits along the way. Hobson and cohorts, for example, seem to discover an extraordinary number of conveniently illuminating long lost letters. The dialogue doesn't always ring true, though there are a pleasing smattering of "I was a lusty one and twenty years" and more than a couple of wonderfully bawdy Boswell-isms. Despite its flaws this is still an immensely enjoyable historical detective yarn. --Travis Elborough

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