Stuff and Nonsense: A Taste for Nightshade


A Taste for Nightshade

Transported to Australia for trying to swindle a young gentleman, Mary Jebb eventually escapes the nightmarish hellhole that is the Australian penal colony system, makes her way back to England and reinvents herself as Peg Blissett and find work in the kitchen of the young matron, Grace Croxon.

Grace’s husband, Michael, is the brother of the gentleman Mary Jebb swindled. He married Grace for her huge tracts of land, which he intends to raze and build a mill upon. He doesn’t love Grace. Indeed, he barely seems to tolerate her and spends much of his time at “his” mill or the local inn. No wonder then that Grace, very naïve and lonely as she is, becomes quite attached to her new cook. Who has, quite probably, some rather terrible plans for Grace.

If you’re a fan of the BBC dramatization of Sarah Water’s Fingersmith or ITV’s The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, I think you’ll enjoy reading this book. Mind you, it is a definite chunkster and the story is unevenly paced – it seemed to take forever to get going and then it felt as if Bailey was trying to pack enough action for two novels into the last third of the book. Even though I went back and reread a few chapters, I still feel I didn’t adequately grasp some characters’ motivations or actions. This made the big, Gothic “sturm und drang” type moment at the mill a little less thrilling for me than it might have been otherwise because I was left asking “but why?” Overall, though, I found A Taste for Nightshade to be a hugely enjoyable novel and I will be reading Bailey’s first novel, An Appetite for Violets, which also features a cook, receipts, and a murderous conspiracy!

A Taste for Nightshade by Martine Bailey (St. Martin's Press, 2016)

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