When several men die mysteriously in a prominent London-based Gentleman’s Club, Avery and Blake are called in to investigate.
Set in 1842, several politicians turn up dead inside London’s Reform Club. All the evidence suggests they’ve been poisoned, but by who? Obviously, the club’s chef is a prime suspect, but a motive is hard to come by. On top of that, chef Alexis Soyer is a celebrity–one of the first-ever celebrity chefs–so, naturally, the case draws unwanted attention.
William Avery, who was present when a man suddenly died during a dinner party at the Reform Club, begins the investigation on his own while his friend and partner, Jeremiah Blake, is missing in action. Blake, meanwhile, is sitting in prison after refusing an assignment from Theophilus Collinson, a powerful and influential man, who claimed Blake was already paid for his services and thus owes him money.
With Blake jailed on trumped-up charges, Collinson attempts to strong-arm Blake into doing what he wants, but Blake steadfastly refuses.
Avery, for his part, is stuck in an unhappy marriage and feels (and acts) frustrated. As he sinks his teeth into the case, he starts off by interviewing the kitchen staff. From there, he follows up by talking to suppliers and anyone involved in the process of delivering food, cooking it, and serving it to patrons. His initial process is repetitive, unguided, and even worse, turns up no solid leads.
Slowly, a bigger political game begins to take shape. The Egyptian prime minister is scheduled to visit the Reform Club–and Avery manages to connect that to dealings between Russia and Turkey.
Soyer is, by far, the story’s most interesting character. As it turns out, he was, indeed, a real person–and the author no doubt did her homework on him. Not only that, but Carter clearly researched the time period and locations, providing vivid details that place the reader convincingly back in the 1800s. However, there are times where there are far too many details listed (this happens often in kitchen scenes), inadvertently slowing down the plot.
While the first half of the story repeatedly spins its tires, things start moving later on once Blake is finally released from jail and manages to link up with Avery. It does eventually become clear, for the most part, what Carter was trying to do with Blake’s early storyline, but it feels like she kept her most colorful character on the bench for too long.
Once Avery and Blake are reunited, the story improves immensely. Carter is at her best when utilizing both characters (Avery felt lost when he was doing it alone early on), who compliment each other nicely and prove yet again to be a formidable team.
It’s hard to know precisely where the facts end and fiction begins, as Carter does a fantastic job mixing the two to create a compelling historical fiction mystery. While the opening is slower than the past two books, the story finds its footing later on, allowing The Devil’s Feast to finish strong.
Author: M.J. Carter
Series: Avery & Blake #3
Pages: 418 (Hardcover)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: March 28, 2017 (Order Now!)