In 1923, Saffron Everleigh is the only female research assistant at University College London. She hopes to make a name for herself in botany and gain the respect of her male colleagues, many of whom question whether she deserves to be there. While attending a department party meant to celebrate an upcoming university-funded expedition to South America, Mrs. Henry, one of the professors’ wives, is poisoned. When Dr. Maxwell, Saffron’s mentor and boss, is accused of the crime, she begins her own investigation to clear his name—and figure out which member of their group tried to commit murder.
Kate Khavari brings 1920s London to life in A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons, focusing on the era’s less commonly explored academic and scientific spheres and taking full advantage of the lush greenhouses and gardens where Saffron and her colleagues conduct their research. Khavari also notes how the trauma of World War I still affects several of the characters, particularly Alexander Ashton, a fellow researcher who joins Saffron in her quest. Alexander’s experiences with what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder feel authentic and contribute to this mystery’s realistic depiction of the ’20s.
Intelligent, witty and brave, Saffron makes for a delightful sleuth and protagonist. While trying to establish herself in a male-dominated profession, she must also navigate sexual harassment and discrimination. It’s a difficult position, but Saffron rises to the challenge.
Khavari has crafted a fast-paced, interesting mystery with two extremely likable central characters, and readers will be eager to follow Saffron and Alexander’s future escapades.