A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons- Kate Khavari

In this delightful debut, A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons introduces us to Saffron Everleigh, the only female working in the University College London Biology Department. She is the assistant to Professor Maxwell, a botanist. He is an old family friend, who assigns Saffron substantive work and mentors her, an unusual experience for many assistants and exceptional for a woman in this position. Five years ago, Saffron’s father, also a botanist, died in WWI. The novel opens in the roaring Twenties. The University has recently secured funding for an interdisciplinary South American expedition. While Professor Maxwell was not included on the team, Saffron is assisting him in preparing the documentation necessary for a research project to be conducted on his behalf. The book opens with a party to celebrate the upcoming six-month expedition. Dr. Henry, a history professor who will lead the expedition and well-known philanderer is there with his long-suffering wife. Saffron chats up various people, with mixed success. She decides to take her leave, feeling rather invisible as the only female scientist at the party and serving on the lowest rung of professional staff. She happens upon Mr. Ashton, a young biologist as she is heading down a hallway to make her farewells. As they chat, the two inadvertently overhear Mrs. Henry having a highly personal conversation with their hostess. When she makes her way to the room where the party has gathered, Saffron finds celebratory speeches underway. She approaches her hosts to thank them just when another round of champagne is being poured. Very near Saffron, Mrs. Henry takes one sip of champagne and collapses, to be carried away by ambulance in grave condition. Khavari does a lovely job establishing Saffron as a curious and competent investigator, working to point out poison related information to the police investigating Mrs. Henry’s apparent poisoning; checking out a decent array of suspects; pulling in others to help with her dangerous enquiries; giving us a nice feel for several years post-war London life and academia; throwing in a possible romance; and keeping it light enough to be a cozy and accurate enough to be a pleasing historical fiction piece. The clues are there, not too clear cut, the red herrings are decent and the setting is well wrought. This one is a win for me! I will definitely look for the next Sapphron Everleigh installment, with pleasure.

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