Published: August 7, 2012
Number of pages: 313
Publisher: Bond Street Books
Genre: Victorian mystery, romance
Rating: older adults
After the scandalous death of the Maharaja of Prindur, his daughter the Princess Alexandria, nicknamed Mink and her servant, Pooki are invited to stay at the Hampton Court Palace by Queen Victoria after finding out her father’s debts. Aside from rumors of ghost sightings, the palace is inhabited by a variety of characters, including eccentric widows, a bicycling enthusiast, an American houseguest, and the eccentric Keeper of the Maze. But when one of their occupants, a General who died from arsenic poisoning, Pooki quickly becomes a suspect after baking him a pigeon pie for a garden party. But Mink isn’t going to allow her servant to be hanged for a crime she knows Pooki is innocent of, so she investigates the murder on her own. With a long list of suspects Mink is pressed for time…
After reading the title I was reminded of The Sweetness of the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, and as I enjoy reading Victorian mysteries I was very keen to read this book. The story seemed promising with a cast of kooky characters living in a supposedly haunted palace, and a thrilling mystery involving a pigeon pie. So I was really interested to read this book but careful not to have high expectations, as I haven’t read any of Julia Stuart’s other books yet.
First of all I loved the characters as they’re quirky and lovable oddballs. Stuart gives us insight to their background stories, which is helpful for understanding how each of them came to be involved in the General’s life before he was murdered. For a spoiled princess, Mink can be headstrong but also witty and charming and her faithful maid, Pooki displays nothing but loyalty and respect to her and feels that as the only servant and companion, it is her duty to watch over her mistress. Pooki can be the voice of reason, which occasionally annoys Mink especially when affirming her feelings for Dr. Henderson. Regardless of how she repeatedly tells her servant that nothing is going on between them.
As much as I love the characters I found it challenging to keep track of them, and there were some that could have been excluded as they made little difference in the story. Stuart should have focused a little more on developing the mystery, as there were moments where I had to wait patiently for her to return to Mink investigating the murder, instead of having to read about the princess having tea with the ladies. On the other hand, I loved how Stuart ended the story with a surprising twist as to who the real culprit was. There was one brief moment where I thought I knew who it was, but then I had my arm twisted when the true murderer came forward.
Overall I thought the cast of characters was interesting and the romance between Mink and Dr. Henderson was cute, especially how the doctor was trying (and failing) to court her on numerous occasions. Those moments made me chuckle. But Stuart could have saved the plot by focusing on the development of the mystery. A good light read though.
My verdict: I’m giving this book 3 hoots out of 5.