Janet Gleeson, Author . Simon & Schuster $25 (352p) ISBN 0-7432-4686-1

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. Agent, Christopher Little. (Jan. 6)

Forecast: As a former employee of Sotheby's in London and the author of The Arcanum (about the invention of European porcelain), Gleeson is well positioned to promote this novel to cultured readers who might not ordinarily pick up a category mystery.

Reviewed on: 11/10/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
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