Review: A Botanist's Guide to Parties & Poisons
Updated: Aug 10
A Botanist's Guide to Parties & Poisons, by Kate Khavari (2022)
TW: Threat of rape
This is a delightful, historical murder mystery set in 1920's London (with gorgeous cover art!).
As the sole female in the biology department of University College, Saffron Everleigh has fought for her position as a research assistant - despite some people thinking she only got the position because her father was a professor before his death in the war. She works as a botanist for Dr. Maxwell, who is like a second father to her, specializing in poisonous plants.
While attending an office-wide dinner party, she makes the acquaintance of Alexander Ashton, a microbiologist at the University - a good thing too, because not long after, Mrs. Henry, the wife of another professor, drops dead after drinking champagne, and the two end up working together to help solve the crime. The police suspect poison, and immediately assume it is Dr. Maxwell's doing. Saffron and Alexander team up to prove his innocence (while a little romance blossoms).
Saffron is impulsive, but tenacious and smart. Her fierce loyalty to Maxwell, and her determination to uncover the truth, leads her into some very sticky situations. For example, hunched under an office desk hiding from the office's owner, or laying paralyzed on a couch with no shoes or stockings (scandal!) while Alexander helps document the affects of poisoning! She also must navigate the maze of sexism and patronizing attitudes of an all-male department.
I'm not one for period pieces (i.e., I usually hate shows/books where women are second class, and not wearing gloves to a party is a pearl-clutching offense), BUT I really enjoyed this. Saffron is so likable, and the way she maneuvers around her office of insufferable men is quite satisfying. The only really uncomfortable moment is when a particularly nasty character has Saffron tied up and is threatening to rape her. (May be a spoiler, but) Spoiler alert, he does not do so, thankfully.
Khavari has a second novel out called A Botanist's Guide to Flowers and Fatality - another murder mystery starring Ms. Everleigh. I'll go for it! Saffron is a delight.
UP NEXT: The Family Upstairs and The Family Remains, by Lisa Jewell