It’s the middle of the night when renowned painter Joshua Pope receives a mysterious female caller whose penetrating questions force him to recall events dating back some years, when he was unexpectedly caught up in a most puzzling murder mystery.
In the summer of 1765, not long after losing his family in a tragic accident, Pope arrives at Astley estate to paint the wedding portrait of Herbert Bentnick and his recent fiancée, Sabine Mercer from West Indies. On the surface everything seems fine, but all polite veneer is shattered the day a dead man is found lying in the pinery amidst Sabine’s cherished pineapples. To indulge his curiosity, Pope begins to investigate the death. But soon afterward, an unusual emerald necklace with a sinister reputation belonging to Sabine disappears, and Pope is accused of its theft. His investigations now turn serious, for Pope is now fighting to preserve not just his reputation but his very life as the spate of deaths continues.
Through her lyrical and haunting words, author Janet Gleeson paints a beautiful and sometimes melancholy portrait of times, places and people gone by. A perplexing murder mystery is the focus of this book and it’s interesting to observe how central character Joshua Pope sets about solving it, and how his own idiosyncrasies color his perspective and hence the investigation. Equally interesting are the glimpses Gleeson provides during the course of the story about various other aspects such as the then fascination of Britishers for growing the exotic fruit of pineapple, the elaborate landscaping of gardens in that era, the social classes, the conditions in prison and that of local law, locales and people - particularly the leading painters of that time. Despite the lack of thrills and the fact that some crucial questions are left unanswered, this second mystery by Gleeson is absorbing in its plot, appealing in its ambiance and effective through its characters.