Highly disappointed in this historical mystery novel by Janet Gleeson. From Amazon:
Nathanial Hopson is an apprentice to the famed cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale. This position, which often involves executing his master's designs in the homes of the wealthy and titled, allows Hopson access to all kinds of goings-on, both upstairs and downstairs. This device also allows Gleeson to give readers insights into both eighteenth-century social tensions and the wonders of antique furniture. The mystery starts with Hopson, assigned to make a Chippendale bookcase at the estate of Lord Montfort, discovering Montfort's dead body in the library, his hand clutching an elaborately carved box fashioned from grenadillo wood, his neck covered with leeches. The murder of the designer of the box, an apprentice friend of Hopson's, follows. The second murder convinces Hopson that his own life may be in danger, prompting him to sail into a full-scale investigation of both crimes.
There were many, many things I found rubbed me the wrong way with this book. So much so that I merely skimmed the last few chapters just to find out how it would all end.
One of the things that bothered me is the fact that the entire book is supposed to be one big letter. Make that huge letter. The very first page is a letter from Nathaniel, our hero, to Alice, the woman he is in love with. Clearly throwout the course of the mystery investigation they've had a fallout and, as Nathaniel explains in this letter, the entire book is his accounts of everything that happened so that she may understand what was going on and perhaps forgive him. Now, my problem with this is that, as a rule, letters don't have entire conversations in them. If this was supposed to be an account of everything that happened and you are writing all of this to someone I don't think you would send anyone 200+ pages written as a book, with entire conversations, descriptions of every place you ever went, and even word for word copies of quite a few letters you've discovered or have been sent by various people. If he was narrating to the reader or writing his memoirs or something I'd go with this but, again, a 200+ page letter that reads more like a book just so that someone forgives you? The fact that Alice was present a lot throwout the book and knew what happened half of the time makes it even more silly. Why the need to retell her every single conversation you ever had? She was there! She knew all this! It just didn't make sense at all.
Next is the fact that Alice ALWAYS just happens upon Nathaniel when he is in a compromising position with some "pretty young thing." Of course there are explanations as he gets help from these women but how is it that Alice catches him 3 times with 3 different women in compromising positions? Furthermore we as the readers know that nothing is going on because it's always some accident that lands him in said positions. Now, Nathaniel has a reputation for getting along famously with the ladies and he does get it on with quite a few of them yet none of these times does Alice happen to find him. It's only when he is really just investigating that she comes along and gets the wrong idea. How convenient. Also, how in the hell does she find him at those times? Is she a stalker? I mean, the man is literally ALL over the place with the investigation, going from town to town. He talks to a lot of people yet Alice only finds him at these moments when he is talking to the ladies. One particular time I found even worse than the others. He has gotten into an accident and the lady he is visiting to get some answers from is an actress. She offers him a bath and new clothes because he literally is covered in dung from head to toe. All is well until he goes into the bedroom to change. As he is standing in the middle of the room naked he happens to look out the window and guess who is looking back at him: Alice. First of all this is set in the late 1700's and I don't think people where that open to stand naked or half naked in front of a window that leads to a backyard much less the street. Second of all, I can't believe Alice was just strolling along in her carriage when she just happens to look inside someone's window and it just happens to be the one where Nathaniel is standing naked. The other two times were just as silly but I felt that was the worse.
Another thing is the way Alice acts towards Nathaniel. It is clear that he fancies her yet he says nothing and simply treats her with respect. He knows that she knows of his reputation so he decides he must take it slow and perhaps do the friendship first. Since he hasn't proposed to her or is even courting her what right does she have to get so angry with him when she catches him in these awkward moments? Sure, she may like him but if you are just friends it's a bit presumptuous on her part that he should be without other women. You don't have the right to judge your friends like that and what they do and who they do it with is their business. She just comes off as immature. Especially since, knowing full well that Nathaniel told her about one of the suspects she decides to ignore the warning on the basis that she feels he is simply jealous. She is still upset with him at this point over the women and she ignores the fact the man she is flirting with is a suspected killer and everything points to him.
Worse still is the way that Nathaniel comes across. His preoccupation with Alice and her misinterpretation of things makes him look like a whimp. He is doing nothing wrong yet he runs after her all the time to ask for forgiveness and to explain what happened. Not once does he stand up and asks what her damn problem is. He is also a coward and hesitates over and over never once standing up for himself. He lets everyone order him around simply because they are his superiors or because he is afraid to lose his job. There comes a time when you have to stand up for yourself, everyone else be damned, especially if you are risking your neck to find out who committed the murders. Also, the fact that he is always fainting when he sees blood and guts is annoying. He is not the only man involved with the murders yet he is the only one that gets physically ill every time they find a dead body. I can understand that no one likes to see dead people, especially gruesome murders, but none of the other men ever show as much weakness as Nathaniel does. In fact one of the men even comments on the fact that they don't feel any more comfortable than he does around dead people yet none of them take it so bad.
All in all the novel was a big disappointment. I would recommend it if only because the mystery was good enough. However, the main characters of Nathaniel and Alice are too damn annoying, especially as the story moves along, and the whole supposed "letter" format with conversations included just didn't do it for me.
A 2 out of 5.