New Year's Day, 1755 The life of Nathaniel Hopson, journeyman to the illustrious cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale, is about to take a chilling turn. He has been sent to Cambridge to install a new library at the country home of Lord Montfort. Moments after the foul-tempered Montfort storms away from the afternoon dinner, a gunshot is heard. Hopson runs to the library to find him dead. His nephew and lawyer believe the conclusion is obvious: Montfort, burdened with gambling debts, must have taken his own life. The gun near Montfort's hand suggests suicide, but there are bloody footprints on the library floor. And there is a strange detail: he is clutching a small, elaborately carved box of rare grenadillo wood.
No sooner does Nathaniel become the unlikely investigator than another body is found, mutilated and frozen in the pond. Nathaniel knows this victim well -- but what was he doing on Montfort's estate? The search for answers takes Nathaniel from the slums of Fleet Street to the silk-draped rooms of the aristocracy that roil with jealousy and secrets. And he meets Madame Trenti, the alluring and mysterious Drury Lane actress and client of Chippendale's, who seems to have known not only Montfort but the dead man in the pond as well.
An ingenious first novel, The Grenadillo Box is a deliciously old-fashioned detective story, crafted with all the intricacy and polish of a Chippendale cabinet.
Connoisseurs of fine furniture will welcome British antiques expert Gleeson's fiction debut, set in 18th-century England, though mystery buffs may feel it falls short of the high standard for historicals set, say, by Bruce Alexander in his John Fielding series. While supervising the installation of Lord Montfort's library, Nathaniel Hopson, an assistant to legendary cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale, finds himself in the midst of a murder inquiry when he literally stumbles across the peer's corpse, mutilated by a gunshot wound and still being fed upon by leeches. Despite efforts by Montfort's heirs to make the death appear to be a suicide, Hopson's keen artisan's eye notices anomalies in the physical evidence that lead him to dissent. His desire to extricate himself from the official investigation and return to his normal life is forestalled when he encounters another corpse on the Montfort estate, one with a personal connection that transforms his idle curiosity into a personal mission of vengeance. While Gleeson does a respectable job of recreating Georgian England, her characters and story line fail to match her descriptive skills. Still, there's no reason to think that she can't improve on the fundamentals should she decide to make this into a series. , Gleeson is well positioned to promote this novel to cultured readers who might not ordinarily pick up a category mystery.