Lightning Review

Death at the Crystal Palace by Jennifer Ashley


Death at the Crystal Palace

by Jennifer Ashley

I love the Kat Holloway series to the point that I’ve recommended and purchased copies for people all around me. I knew I’d like this one, and I did, indeed. The challenge here is that this is the fifth book in the series, so identifying the audience for a review is tricky and tends to slow down my ability to write said review.

Meta aside, a brief summary: Kat Holloway is still balancing her life in and out of the kitchen while cooking scrumptious things. When the book opens, she’s with her daughter at the Crystal Palace for an exhibition and lecture among her friends and acquaintances from across several discrete social levels. As usual, Kat is keenly aware of her position relative to others socially and economically. Lady Covington, also at the exhibition with her family, approaches Kat and begs for her help because she’s convinced someone in her home is trying to poison her. Kat quickly decides to act, in part because she is sensitive to the fact that if the poisoner wanted to frame Lady Covington’s cook, it’d be absurdly easy to let that person take the blame (and the death sentence).

Reading this book right after editing and releasing my podcast episode with Mikki Kendall about poisons in garden plants was an experience, let me tell you. I love when I unexpectedly occupy a pattern created by my own curiosity.

Part of the challenge in reviewing the fifth of a series is recommending a book that would be much better experienced by reading the prior volumes. That’s a lot of books, I know. But the series is terrific as a whole. So if you haven’t read it, and you’re encountering this book for the first time here, yes, the series is great, but yes, it’s ideal to start at the first story, A Soupçon of Poison.

For those familiar with the series already, how does this book compare to the others? Well, the mystery is terrific, and I was definitely surprised by it. I also appreciated how each book allows for the growth of the characters and of their relationships to one another. Reading the Kat Holloway series for the mystery plots is one part of the enjoyment, but reading to watch the characters create stronger connections emotionally is for me the far greater experience. I love interpersonal nuance and the tensions that arrive as personal relationships grow more complex and therefore complicated.

There is a slowly developing romance in the series, and it is the source of my frustrations with this novel. Too many times Kat grew fussy over not knowing information that she felt somehow entitled to, and I didn’t agree with that sense of entitlement. Kat also felt entitled to information merely because she was worried, and while that worked in service to the mystery plot, it didn’t work as well in the relationship plot, especially because it was stated over and over, and therefore slowed the progress of everything else going on in the story.

That said, Death at the Crystal Palace is a solid installment in one of my favorite series. I recommend all the books if you’re looking for a terrific historical mystery series with a lovely romance inside.

SB Sarah

Intrepid cook Kat Holloway puts aside her apron to delve into Victorian London’s high society and catch a killer in this thrilling new mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Murder in the East End.

While attending an exhibition at the Crystal Palace, young cook Kat Holloway is approached by a woman in distress. Lady Covington is a wealthy widow convinced that her entire family is trying to kill her. Kat feels compelled to help, and she escorts the lady home to discover whether she is delusional or in true danger.

It is quickly apparent that the threat is all too real, and Kat promises aid. Her charming confidant Daniel McAdam is busy infiltrating a plot against the Crown, and she worries he will not have time to lend his sleuthing expertise. This might be for the best, as Kat fears her growing emotional entanglement with Daniel can only lead to disaster. But soon, Kat faces a more serious threat when her involvement in both investigations plunges her into peril.

Historical: European, Mystery/Thriller
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