The Devil’s Feast is the third book in M. J. Carter’s historical mystery series featuring Jeremiah Blake and William Avery. Avery takes center stage when he is asked to investigate a mysterious death at the Reform Club, one that may result in international diplomatic repercussions. He is uncertain he can handle the task without Blake who is unavailable as he’s in debtor prison, a ploy to pressure him into taking a case he does not want to take.
This was my first experience with the series and i did not suffer from not reading the first two. When backstory was needed, it was presented without fuss or long explication. Past relationships were made manifest by dialogue and unobtrusive explanations by the narrator, William Avery. Of course, Blake finds a way to be present in the investigation, escaping prison and hiding out as Avery’s manservant.
Another death clarifies the question of whether they are investigation an accidental self-poisoning or a murder. It’s definitely murder and it may destroy the Reform Club if it’s not taken care of soon. Worse, since the Reform Club is hosting a banquet for Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Egypt’s ruler, war and peace hang in the balance.
I enjoyed The Devil’s Feast and will try to read the rest of the series. Historical mysteries are tricky things. So many authors try to make their characters sympathetic to modern audiences and only make them anachronistic. Carter avoids this trap and I appreciate that. She lets her characters be dismissive of fallen women, even to the point where Avery’s disdain for one prevents him from getting important information that could help solve the case.
The chef who is at the center of the story was a real person and he is presented much as he was. The grand banquet for Ibrahim Pasha really happened, though without the poison plot (so far as we know) and Carter even used the real banquets menu. Fair warning, this book will make you hungry. It was fascinating to read about Soyer, the chef. I also enjoyed the encounter with Wakley, the founder of Lancet. Considering that our current administration plans to decimate the Food and Drug Administration and reduce food safety regulations and inspections, it seems particularly timely and pertinent. This book was written before the election, but there were many things that seemed to apply, including the infighting of those on the outside of power, the Whigs and Radicals, whose anger and conflict with each other consumed so much more passion than their conflicts with the Tories, their political opposition.
The mystery is fair. The only thing that was misleading was the prologue which suggested a far more maniacal killer, though it’s soon clear that these are murders by a cunning, careful person. One of the best things, though, was when the killer is unmasked and all should be revealed, well…things don’t go as they usually do. You know, when the killer reveals all, carried away by the need to brag about the cunning execution of the murders or by rabid hatred. That did not happen. Finally, a murderer who does what smart people do and keeps quiet, forcing the detectives to do all the work themselves. What a refreshing and unusual turn of events.
The Devil’s Feast will be released March 28th. I received an advance e-galley through First to Read.