A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons

Genre: Historical Fiction | Mystery

Stars: 3-1/2 out of 5

Synopsis from Goodreads: Saffron Everleigh is in a race against time to free her wrongly accused professor before he goes behind bars forever. Perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Anna Lee Huber, Kate Khavari’s debut historical mystery is a fast-paced, fearless adventure.

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? 

I generally enjoy historical mysteries so I was delighted to get a chance to review this title, which has been compared to Anna Lee Huber (whose series I loved). This one is set in the 1920s. The main character is a young woman working as an assistant to a botany professor, continuing the work and study her father started as a botanist at the same university before his untimely death in WWI.

I enjoyed the character of Saffron and the love interest/fellow scientist, Alexander, and their growing relationship. Anyone who has tried to get projects approved in higher levels of academia will also recognize many of the professors’ types Saffron comes into contact with, and even more of “old boy network” behavior since this is early 20th century when most women didn’t work in a professional capacity in STEM. The tie-ins and references to botanical specimens were interesting – that’s a particular area of personal interest – and I almost wish there had been a bit more of that included.

While an entertaining read, the writing fell a bit flat for me. The conversations were a bit stilted and flat, and I had a hard time engaging with Saffron as the main character. One of the main plot points (which I won’t spoil here) that is critical to solving the mystery seemed really unlikely to me and I had a hard accepting that, especially since it was such an integral part of the story. This one overall felt like a first book to me (it is) and I’m hopeful the author will settle into her story-telling and character development for book 2 as this is the type of series I tend to enjoy, despite this one not quite coming up to the mark for me.

Rating it 3-1/2 stars out of 5.

3 thoughts on “A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons

  1. Getting dialogue right is SO HARD. It seems that’s an area where a lot of debut authors struggle. I’ll be curious to see where the author goes from here! The setting of this book sounds interesting to me, but the specific plot never grabbed my attention.

    1. I think (and this is my non-author opinion) that it’s so difficult because you have to really KNOW the character – how they talk, how they phrase things, how they’d respond either verbally or inside their own head. If you’re still unsure about every little detail that represents how they present themselves, then I think the dialogue is where that shows. I think the story has promise, but it didn’t quite get there for me.

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