A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari – Review

Published: June 7, 2022

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Genre: Mystery

Series: Standalone

Pages: 304 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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?

This book is basically a terrible tale of what it was like to be a pretty woman in academia in 1923 in the sciences (this was before women could even vote in England!). The main character was harassed by male professors, treated as a glorified note taker, and mostly frowned upon. And this was all before the wife of one of the most prominent professors was nearly murdered, which is what the story is actually about!  

I liked Saffron Everleigh (what a name!). She was determined to earn a place for herself in the botany department at the University College of London, defying the will of her wealthy grandparents for her to marry well. Instead she would rather study plants, following in the footsteps of her deceased father. During a dinner party for department members and those going on a research trip to Brazil, Mrs. Henry, the wife of the philandering though prominent Dr. Henry, is poisoned. Unfortunately the suspicion falls on Saffron’s mentor, Dr. Maxwell, who had recently argued with Dr. Henry and had access to and knowledge of a deadly array of plant specimens. Saffron promptly sets out to clear Dr. Maxwell’s name and find out who really tried to murder Mrs. Henry – was it a jilted lover or perhaps the poison was intended for Dr. Henry?

The mystery aspect was less of the Sherlockian variety and more a slow untangling of the complicated social and professional history within the university. Saffron does a bit of snooping and solving, but mostly she eavesdrops and chats up various people who might have information, all while swooning over the handsome Alexander Ashton. I appreciated Saffron’s dedication to her mentor and her determination to become a successful, respected researcher in what was primarily a man’s world at that time. I also enjoyed the slowly building relationship between her and Mr. Ashton – it was cute and satisfying. 

This was an enjoyable read, though it doesn’t rank among my favorite mysteries. To me the plot felt a bit contrived at times, but I did think it was quite fun and it wasn’t a heavy, stodgy read. Once again, I picked a good book for a vacation read. It wasn’t a stressful book where your favorite hero is in dire peril (or horridly embarrassing themselves) and while clearing someone’s name and figuring out who’s the poisoner is high stakes, it’s not saving the world!

2 thoughts on “A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari – Review

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