Follow Here To Purchase An Appetite for Violets: A Novel

Author: Martine Bailey

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 978-1-250-05691-7 (Hardcover)

ISBN: 978-1-4668-6071-1 (E-book)

An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey is a historical set in England, Paris and Italy between 1772 and 1778. The story is told through the eyes of Biddy Leigh, undercook at Mawton Hall. Biddy’s humble life and quaint dreams are uprooted with the arrival of the youthful but erratic Lady Carinna, who has married the old and decrepit but very wealthy master of Mawton Hall. Sir Gregory is also the owner of the infamous Mawton Jewel, which is reported to be worth a fortune but may also be cursed. Instead of setting up house, the new mistress insists on traveling to Italy and on Biddy accompanying her.

Once there, the purpose of the trip and the necessity of Biddy’s accompaniment are revealed. Lady Carinna eventually wants to return to Mawton Hall and reap the financial rewards of her decaying husband’s fortune, Mawton Hall, and the jewel. But her plans are usurped by others from all stations of life, who want what she will inherit and aren’t afraid to resort to murder to get it.

When I first began to read An Appetite for Violets, I wondered how authentic recipes and culinary history would work with the murderous plotline of the novel. But Martine Bailey pulls it off by filtering the story through Biddy’s eyes. As befitting her station in life and her position in the manor, Biddy doesn’t question her mistress’s motives or the aspirations and actions of others. Instead, she takes these people at face value but is smart and spunky enough to turn them into her favor. She gets to dress and appear like a lady, enjoy the attention of cultured and wealthy men, dine in the newly fashioned restaurants of Paris and, above all, taste new foods. The foods she tries become the recipes that she copies in an old household book called The Cook’s Jewel. Biddy is the backbone and the moral gauge of the story. She sees the avarice and cut-throat actions of the people around her but maintains her ingenuity and humility even when she is pulled into the deceit. She makes us look in but keeps us distant from the depravity.

The novel was well-written with just the right touch of language to give the flavor of the time. The little twists and turns in plot piqued interest and suspense and made the outcome less than predictable. An Appetite for Violets was a pleasant surprise and an impressive debut for author Martine Bailey.