Book Review: 'A Taste for Nightshade'

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Martine Bailey. Thomas Dunne, 458 pp. $27.99

Martine Bailey experienced tremendous success and acclaim for her debut novel, "An Appetite for Violets," that I think a lot of people were expecting her sophomore release, "A Taste for Nightshade" to be just as good and engrossing.

Unfortunately, this one didn't quite live up to the hype.

There are a few stories circling each other at the beginning of this novel. It's 1787 and Mary Jebb is a con artist who tricks Peter Coxon on the streets one day. Peter's brother, Michael, tracks her down and has her arrested for the offense. She is sentenced to seven years hard labor.

Meanwhile, Michael Coxon marries Grace Moore, a young heiress who has experienced love and hopes that this marriage will be of a similar nature. Not long into their honeymoon period, however, she finds out that he married her more for her business prospects than out of love.

These stories do converge, though I'm not going to spoil it. That being said, I was torn with this novel. I typically like historical fiction, and the story is good. I like the suspense and the interesting turns Bailey includes. But I didn't like the characters.

At times, not liking a character is fine, as long as the plot is solid and the character's unlikability fits into the over story. In Wally Lamb's "She's Come Undone," however, Dolores Price's experience is enough to create a compelling story without liking Dolores as a character. Unfortunately for "A Taste for Nightshade," the story (while still interesting) doesn't have this quality.

I would still encourage those who liked "An Appetite for Violets" ― or those who enjoy historical suspense ― to check this novel out. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. In the meantime, I'll keep an eye out for Bailey's novels in the future, and check them out to see which of her first two novels they resemble.

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