The Man in the Middle: A Reading of “The Serpent in the Garden”

If You Like…

  • Historical fiction
  • Period dramas
  • Agatha Christie murder mysteries
  • Characters in the wrong place at the wrong time

Then You’ll Like…

The Serpent in the Garden by Janet Gleeson

quirkyHello readers! Today’s post will be rather short, but I wanted to take a look at another ebook from my growing library of digital tomes. This is one that I’ve actually read over and over again. The Serpent in the Garden is a magnificent historical mystery tale that features one of my favorite character tropes, which I’ve dubbed the “man in the middle.” Others might refer to these types of characters as “reluctant heroes” but in this case, the character of Joshua Pope is more a “man in the middle” than the latter.

I’m a sucker for great period drama (see I, Mona Lisa) and The Serpent in the Garden supplies more than enough. It’s 1765, and Joshua Pope is an artist who is commissioned to paint a portrait for Herbert Bentnick and his fiancee Sabine Mercer. Sabine is a horticulturalist and a big fan of pineapples, but during Joshua’s stay at the estate a dead body is found in Sabine’s greenhouse. All residents are suspects, including Joshua, and it’s up to this amateur sleuth to find out who’s murdering whom before someone else turns up dead.

Joshua Pope is every bit the reluctant hero, and there’s something about his character that others don’t suspect in the story. They treat him as an esteemed artist, but just a visitor to the house who shouldn’t be poking his nose where it doesn’t belong. But Joshua knows that he’s as much a suspect as anyone else and goes out of his way to uncover the real culprit. However, Joshua’s reputation also comes under fire when Sabine’s prized emerald necklace, formed in the shape of a snake (hence the title), is stolen and Joshua is accused of stealing it.

While most friends I know wouldn’t bother with a period piece because of the formal language and general air of “stuffiness” that’s often implied, I can guarantee, dear readers, that The Serpent in the Garden is anything but boring. Instead of from the point of view of the aristocratic characters, Joshua is intensely relatable. He has an equally tragic backstory that only makes him all the more humble and worthy of being rooted for.

The Serpent in the Garden is not just intrigue and pointing fingers, but has some very suspenseful moments. Sabine Mercer has just as much family history to hide and in my opinion, the scenes of just her and Joshua in a room together are very hypnotizing.

IMG_1297If you’ll be expanding your horizons toward historical fiction this year, I implore you to give The Serpent in the Garden a read. It’s a standalone novel too, so no sequels and prequels to keep up with. It’s a good mystery novel, a great airplane read if that’s what you’re looking for.

Will Make You Feel: Like revisiting some Sherlock Holmes tales

Music to Listen to While Reading: Sticks to the classical composers

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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