An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey

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An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: Biddy Leigh follows her new mistress abroad - and into a tangled web of mystery.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 391 Date: May 2014
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444768725

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Biddy 'Obedience' Leigh is the under-cook at Mawton Hall, but although she is passionate about cooking, her dearest wish is to marry her young man. The date is set for her to leave the Hall for married life and she is looking forward to it. But the master of the house surprises everyone when he gets himself a very young wife – and Biddy’s world is rapidly changed. Lady Carinna takes a shine to Biddy, and when Biddy proves herself to be resourceful and entrepreneurial, her fate is sealed.

Lady Carinna decides to take Biddy on a journey through France, and ultimately to Italy. And on the way, Biddy encounters all kinds of weird and wonderful things – recipes, restaurants and romances all feature as it becomes clear that her companionship is not all Lady Carinna will need from her. In fact, as time passes, Biddy begins to realise that her place on the journey is not at all what she had been told to expect.

The book opens brilliantly, with a grisly find, and then moving back eighteen months into the events that lead up to that opening. Biddy’s irrepressible nature is apparent from the very start and as the novel progresses, her character develops as she learns, grows, forms friendships in the oddest circumstances and uses her wit and courage to master some highly unusual and comic situations. Even her thoughts are laugh out loud funny; she is one of the most likeable protagonists I have encountered in a long time.

Her passion for cooking also impressed me. I am not the sort to salivate over a cook book but Biddy’s flair for her work and Bailey’s extraordinarily vivid descriptions, made me see the creation and preparation of food quite differently.

It’s rare to encounter descriptive skills as good as this. At every point, I felt I could see, hear, smell and taste what was going on in the novel. But be warned, there are a couple of incidents where those of us with delicate stomachs might wish Bailey were a little less talented in this area!

Bailey has combined genres in this book, to brilliant effect. This novel takes in historical, gothic and crime fiction in a clean, easy sweep and manages to pack in cultural and culinary observations without once disrupting flow or timing. The interweaving of letters, diary entries and recipes lends variety, suspense and a terrific sense of place, which I enjoyed hugely. Bailey seamlessly switches from talk of restaurants to murder, from slavery to friendship, from romance to loss.

Clearly defined characters with distinct personalities make the book fly past and with each stage of the journey, the mystery gets deeper and I found myself fearing more and more for Biddy.

There’s a great sense of the book being a complicated and daring recipe; both the timing and the proportions of each ingredient needed to be exactly right to produce the best result. Bailey’s recipe has worked perfectly. I was cheering for the heroes, booing the villains and feeling disappointed as the end of the book crept up on me.

An Appetite for Violets is a terrific novel that will appeal to several readers on several levels. It's a must-read for anyone who enjoys a full, flavoursome and hearty story.

If this book appeals, try The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England by Elizabeth Cooke

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Buy An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey at


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