Book Review for “A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons” by Kate Khavari.
Summary: “London, 1923. Newly minted research assistant Saffron Everleigh attends a dinner party for the University College of London. While she expects to engage in conversations about the university’s large expedition to the Amazon, she doesn’t expect Mrs. Henry, one of the professors’ wives to drop to the floor, poisoned by an unknown toxin. Dr. Maxwell, Saffron’s mentor, is the main suspect, having had an explosive argument with Dr. Henry a few days prior. As evidence mounts against Dr. Maxwell and the expedition’s departure draws nearer, Saffron realizes if she wants her mentor’s name cleared, she’ll have to do it herself. Joined by enigmatic Alexander Ashton, a fellow researcher, Saffron uses her knowledge of botany as she explores steamy greenhouses, dark gardens, and deadly poisons. Will she be able to uncover the truth or will her investigation land her on the murderer’s list?”
Age: Adult; Genres: Crime, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, UK – London; Other Categories: Novel, Literary, Cozy Mystery, Murder (attempted), Thriller, Series (Saffron Everleigh #1), Romance.
Okay, let’s start out with this very beautiful cover, shall we? I mean, I really love it, with the beautifully drawn flowers and that deep blue background. That’s what first caught my eye. Then I saw it was a debut novel, and I love discovering new authors. Yes, I’m not known for reading murder mystery novels, or crime fiction, but you know what? If we’re going to get historical, with a woman at the heart of an investigation, you can probably get me to read it. And it doesn’t matter if that woman is a professional investigator, or some random bystander who by chance has a brush with some crime or death, and then feels compelled to get involved to solve the mystery. In fact, I’m starting to lean towards more of these books, since they almost never have useless or extraneous timelines (which frankly, are being overused these days).
So, what has Khavari given us? Well, our main protagonist is Saffron, who is the appropriately named research assistant to a botanist at London’s University College. Obviously, being a woman at a college in the 1920s is fairly rare, and even more rare that she finishes her degree and lands the highly respected position of research assistant. Mind you, it is only the first rung on the ladder, but it is also the first rung needed to be climbed if she’ll ever want to reach and breach that glass ceiling! Khavari has also done an excellent job in throwing us all head-long into the mystery, with the attempted murder right up there at the beginning of the book. I like that; I don’t want a book to faff around too much before the big crime is revealed. Khavari was also very clever in giving us just enough background information about Saffron and her life so that we understand exactly why she feels compelled to clear Dr. Maxwell’s name.
This means that Khavari can let us concentrate on discovering who tried to poison Mrs. Henry at this party. Yes, this is one of the parties that make up the title of the novel. While no other celebration takes place in this book, I believe that another party is actually the research party that is about to leave for Brazil. By the way, the very clever title here did make me think this would be a fun ride, but not one that would be saccharine. In fact, it was a touch more serious than I was expecting, but there were quite a few bits that had me smiling. Plus, I liked Saffron a good deal. While she’s not your typical amateur sleuth, she does have some excellent qualities. First, she’s very smart, but not unnaturally precocious when it comes to solving a mystery. She’s also young, which makes her vivacious, while not being overly bubbly, due to her wry and quick wit. The down side of all this is that is also perfect formula for her becoming the object for a romantic interlude. Thankfully, Khavari builds up the story in such a way that… um… the chemistry stays more in the lab than in a man’s charms!
Khavari also gives us a plot that has enough twists to keep us guessing, although I must admit that the bigger mystery was the why of the attempted murder and not so much the “who done it” part. Mind you, there was one thing that did surprise me (sorry, no spoilers) when it came to light near the end of the novel. So, overall, it was a well-constructed story, with sympathetic characters; it had enough fun to keep it from getting heavy, and just the right number of distractions so that the ending wasn’t obvious. I can honestly say that I would be very happy to read the next Saffron Everleigh book in this series. This is certainly an excellent debut, and I’m warmly recommending it to cozy mystery lovers with a healthy four and a half stars out of five.
Crooked Lane Books (will) release(d) “A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poison” by Kate Khavari on June 7, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.