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Janet Gleeson was born in Sri Lanka, where her father was a tea planter. After taking a degree in History of Art and English she joined Sothebyâ€™s, and later worked for Bonhams Auctioneers. In 1991 she joined Reed Books, where she was responsible for devising and writing Miller's Antiques and Collectibles. She is the author of the Sunday Times non-fiction bestsellers The Arcanum and The Moneymaker. She is also the author of three novels, The Grenadillo Box, The Serpent in the Garden and The Thief-Taker.
Excellent study of life as a cook in the eighteenth century turns into a compelling whodunit which keeps you guessing right up to the end. As with all good whodunits, I shouldnâ€™t tell you any more.Comparison: Iain Pears, Robert Goddard, Charles Palliser.Similar this month: None, but try Jude Morgan for historical detail and Barbara Nadel for whodunit.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a treasured charity whose mission is to save lives at sea, but what is known of its founder, Sir William Hillary? Back in the early nineteenth century, when death from shipwreck was a tragic reality of life, the handsome, charismatic and adventurous Hillary decided to atone for his chequered past and do something to prevent it. His journey from Regency rake to national hero led him to leave his slave-owning family in Liverpool, travel abroad, mingle with royalty, marry an heiress and, during the Napoleonic Wars, head the largest volunteer army in Britain. Then, financial and marital catastrophe struck. Forced to seek exile on the Isle of Man, a harrowing shipwreck and guilty conscience inspired his historic campaign. Having battled to found the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (today's RNLI) in 1824, Hillary's commitment never faltered. He frequently took to the lifeboats, braving terrifying storms and saving hundreds of lives, despite never learning to swim. Thanks to him the sea remains a safer place today. In this comprehensive biography of Sir William Hillary, Janet Gleeson draws on previously unpublished letters - many written by Hillary himself - revealing the RNLI's development, Hillary's links with the Jamaican slave trade, as well as the tribulations of his private life.
The life of Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough, was one of both respectability and high scandal. The aristocracy of the eighteenth century were the A-list celebrities of the day; their lives, loves, fashions and misfortunes avidly reported in the press. They dominated the political world as well as the social, and Harriet was at the very heart of this powerful clique. She was born into the wealth and privilege of the Spencer family - and was the great-great-great-aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales. Following in the train of her sister, the charismatic Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Harriet became one of the most glamorous and influential women of the Regency age. At a time when marriage was an aristocratic woman's only career choice, Harriet made an excellent match, to Frederick, Viscount Duncannon. But the marriage proved unhappy and Harriet soon embarked on a series of illicit affairs, including one with the charismatic playwright Richard Sheridan. In Naples she met and fell in love with the handsome young aristocrat Lord Granville Leveson Gower, a man twelve years her junior. And so began the affair that became the last, untold story of enduring love in the Regency period, an open secret within just a tiny circle. It only ended when Granville married her niece, Georgiana's daughter, taking into his care the two illegitimate children he had by Harriet. Harriet's was a life intertwined with public scandal, royal intrigue and high political drama. She was petted and spoiled by Marie Antoinette; she witnessed the French Revolution and George III's madness. She successfully dodged the Prince Regent's amorous advances; quarrelled bitterly with Byron, when her daughter Caroline Lamb embarked on a scandalous affair with him; and travelled through war-torn Europe during the rise and fall of Napoleon. She survived her sister Georgiana by twenty years, living to see the Battle of Waterloo and the coronation of George IV. An Aristocratic Affair opens a window on aristocratic life at its most intimate, and brings one of the Regency period's most colourful characters vividly to life.
Three hundred years ago, a charismatic young gambler and man-about-town with a natural gift for mathematics fled London for the Contintent. His name was John Law and he had a good reason to go, having killed a man in a duel. Living off his lucrative winnings at the gaming tables of Europe, Law became increasingly fascinated by the nature of finance and journeyed to the impoverished , famine-stricken France of Louis XIV with an extraordinary idea. At the time when wealth was stored and exchanged as gold and silver coin - and there was rarely enough to fund the extravagance of kings, let alone trade - Law realised that the overriding problem was lack of available money. He reasoned that if this could be lent in the form of paper, properly backed by assets, then it could be lend repeatedly and credit used to multiply the opportunities for the making of money. Such a radical notion meant Law faced opposition from powerful vested interests. His persistence paid off in 1716 when, with royal backing, he established the first French bank to issue paper money. He also created a trading company which made its shareholders rich beyond their wildest dreams: so much so that the new term 'millionaire' was coined to describe them. What follows is the stuff of epic drama: a tale of fortunes won and lost, of paupers made rich and lords losing all. And in telling this enthralling tragi-comic story, Janet Gleeson brings to life two fascinating characters who together would change the way the world worked: the inscrutable John Law, and mercurial money itself.
Agnes Meadowes is cook to the Blanchards of Foster Lane, the renowned silversmiths. Her quiet world of culinary activity, preparing jugged hare, oyster loaves, almond soup and other delicacies for the family, is a happy refuge from the hustle and bustle of 1750s London. But in a single night everything is to change: the Blanchards' most prestigious and expensive commission, a giant silver wine cooler destined for the house of Sir Bartholomew Grey, is stolen and a sinister chain of events is set in motion. A young apprentice is murdered and a young maid, Rose, disappears. Are these portentous happenings connected? Called upon by her master to investigate 'below stairs', Agnes enters a dark world of hidden secrets, jealousy and murderous intent. Before the game is played out she will be forced to act as mouse to the infamous Thief Taker's cat as she is drawn into a seamy underworld of London crime. And the truth comes at a high price: she must decide how big a sacrifice she is prepared to make to bring the villains to justice. Boasting a heroine who's going to win a multitude of admirers, THE THIEF TAKER is a spellbinding novel of crime, chicanery and cooking.
It is New Year's Day 1755 and Nathaniel Hopson, journeyman to the famous cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale, finds himself drawn into a chilling affair. While working at the country home of Lord Montfort, Nathaniel discovers his patron shot dead in his magnificent new library. The conclusion seems obvious: burdened with gambling debts and recently possessed of a melancholic nature, Montfort must have taken his own life, but Nathaniel is not convinced. While the gun near Montfort's hand suggests suicide, what of the blood on the windowsill and the confusion of footprints on the library floor? And there is another strange detail: the small, elaborately carved box of rare grenadillo wood clutched in the aristocrat's lifeless hand. No sooner has Nathaniel been set up as a most unlikely investigator than another body is found, frozen and cruelly mutilated. Nathaniel's detachment is shattered. He knows the victim well - but what was he doing on Montfort's country estate? Nathaniel's investigation will take him from palatial drawing rooms to the slums of Fleet Street and London's Foundling Hospital, where the identity of a child abandoned twenty years ago may hold the key to the mystery. But someone has already killed to keep this secret and each step Nathaniel takes on his journey is a step further into danger. As intricately crafted as a Chippendale cabinet, THE GRENADILLO BOX is both an utterly irresistible detective story and a vibrant recreation of eighteenth-century England, and marks the fiction debut of this supremely accomplished writer.
In the cellar there was no sound at all except her own breathing and the soft rustle of her skirts. After her eyes had grown accustomed to the dark, she noticed a niche in the wall a yard from where she stood. She saw something there about the size of her fist. Agnes quietly picked it up. It was wrapped in a cloth and surprisingly heavy. . . a pistol, the hilt filthy with mud and dirt. Suddenly she heard the chinking sound of glasses nearby. There was no mistaking the voices now. Before she had time to call out, another door creaked open and the pair emerged from the darkness. Agnes Meadowes is cook to the Blanchards of Foster Lane, the renowned London silversmiths. Preparing jugged hare, oyster loaves, almond soup, and other delicacies for the family has given her a dependable life for herself and her son. But when the Blanchards' most prestigious commission, a giant silver wine cooler, is stolen and a young apprentice murdered, Theodore Blanchard calls on Agnes to investigate below stairs. Soon she is inside the sordid underworld of London crime, where learning the truth comes at a high price.
Summer, 1765. The renowned portrait painter Joshua Pope is eager to escape London and his unhappy past and accepts a commission to paint a wedding portrait for Herbert Bentnick and his bride-to-be, Sabine Mercier. Joshua learns that the couple are avid horticulturalists. Bentnick's country house, Astley, in Richmond, is famous for its verdant gardens, designed by the master landscape artist Capability Brown. Sabine Mercier, who has lived most of her life in the Indies, is an expert in growing pineapples, the fruit of choice at the grandest dinner parties and an inspiration to artists and craftsmen. But soon after Sabine begins to cultivate pineapples in the vast conservatory at Astley, she discovers a body among her plants. Why, wonders Joshua Pope, is so little attention paid to this bizarre death? Why do Bentnick's children regard their future stepmother with suspicion and fear? And what connection does Sabine's daughter Violet have with the dead man? Outraged that any life can be valued so lightly, Joshua begins to investigate the death. But then Sabine's valuable emerald necklace disappears, and he is implicated. His need to discover what has happened at Astley suddenly becomes more pressing. Can Joshua solve the mystery before his reputation is ruined? And, more immediately, can he stay alive long enough to do so? Following her acclaimed debut, THE GRENADILLO BOX, Janet Gleeson has written another compelling tale of murder and mystery set in an exquisitely and authentically rendered Georgian England.
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.
Imprisoned in a fairy-tale castle and under constant threat of execution by his ruthless captor an 18th century apothecary struggled to realize the alchemist's dream. His name was Johann Frederick Bottger. But instead of transforming base metal into gold he was to discover the formula for something even more exotic and elusive, a substance so precious it was known as 'white gold'. And it was a formula for which others were prepared to lie, cheat, steal and even kill to possess. This was the remarkable backdrop to one of the most strange and compelling episodes in European cultural and scientific history; a tale of genius and greed, of demonic cruelty and exquisite beauty, of the best and worst of which man is capable - it is the true story of the invention of European porcelain.