The author of The Serpent in the Garden, Janet Gleeson was trained in art, and has worked at Sotheby's in London-so it should come as no surprise that the protagonist of this book is an artist who pays attention to the small details. Although Janet Gleeson does indeed pay attention to detail, she tends to skimp on the plot, especially the mystery itself. However, this is a highly original book, and it was fun to read.
Joshua Pope is a fictional artist living in 18th- century London. Commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Sir Herbert Bentnick and his bride Sabine Mercier at their estate Astley, Pope immediately encounters a mystery of a singular kind: the death of a man purported to be a Mr. Cobb, in a greenhouse on the estate. Sabine Mercier, originally hailing from Barbados, is an avid cultivator of pineapples, a fruit that was in vogue in the mid-18th century in Europe. The death allegedly was by poison; since poison is thought to be the weapon of choice by women, could Sabine or her daughter Violet be the murderer? Its a tangled, twisted mystery that Joshua gets involved in, especially when no one in the family seems concerned over the death of a stranger on their property.
Coinciding with the death is the mysterious disappearance of a necklace that belongs to Mrs. Mercier--in the curious shape of a serpent, with the head clasping the tail. What amazed me (and not in a good way), in following Pope's investigation, is how he trusts every untrustworthy person in the book, and mistrusts everyone who he should trust. For someone who claims to be an observer of human character, this feature of the book seemed out of character. While The serpent in the Garden is neither the best historical fiction nor the best mystery I have ever read, it is certainly well crafted.