What I Read in August Part IV . . .The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart -- Victorian Mystery
This Victorian cozy mystery begins with the death of the Maharaja of Brindor. He died in a most scandalous fashion leaving his only daughter, Princess Alexandrina ("Mink") penniless. Mink has orders from the bank to sell her house but she prefers to remain in the home she shared with her beloved father with her pets and her maid Pooki. When she can finally ignore the bank no longer, Queen Victoria offers Mink and Pooki a Grace and Favour residence at Hampton Court. Pooki is reluctant to move in among with catty old dowagers and creepy ghosts, but Mink knows they have no choice. She soon meets her neighbors, a quirky lot if there ever was one, but no ghosts. When the old roue General Bagshott drops dead after eating Pooki's pigeon pie, the Inspector on the case is eager to arrest Pooki. Mink knows Pooki would never murder anyone. While Pooki doesn't behave as she ought, speaking her mind and telling tradesmans' jokes, she has been nothing but loyal and loving to Mink. Mink is determined to find out who killed the General before it's too late. Her search takes her around Hampton Court as she interviews the residents, the workers and tries to dodge the awkward attentions of the local doctor. Could it have been one of the old dowagers eager to keep their secrets and their homes? The weird homeopath who last treated the General? The strange American paleontologist who doesn't seem to have viewed any dinosaurs lately? What about the cranky housekeeper or the maid Alice who was fired from the Bagshotts for stealing?
This story is a little long for a cozy mystery. There's a whole lot of description about the historical background of Hampton Court, the architecture and the backgrounds of the characters. Mink and Pooki travel around Victorian London sharing every detail with the reader. While I love history and historical detail, a lot of this could have been put in an author's note in the back or a list of resources to do research to learn more. While the author does a decent job incorporating the details into the plot or dialogue, they take away from the mystery. The mystery doesn't get started until halfway through and it didn't grab me and make me want to stay up all night. There were so many suspects that it was impossible to know whodunnit. The big reveal of who wasn't too much of a surprise but how and why were shockers. The why ended up as a bit of a let down. The story lacked that heart-pounding moment when the heroine gets into trouble. There's a romance, and it's clean because it's a non-romance essentially. The characters are hardly together and when they are, it's not romantic. I didn't like the love interest very much and didn't find them a good match. While the love story is clean, other parts of the book are not. The way Mink's father died was very crude and some of the doctor's patients have very adult problems. With a little trimming, this book could have been a nice book for all ages 13+ but as is, I'd put it at at least 18+.
The characters are what make this book stand out. They're all so quirky. While they all tend to blend together after awhile, they add a lot of the humor to the story. Some of the ladies and the situations reminded me of Cranford. Mink is a difficult character to like. I wanted to love her because she seemed like a New Woman - physically free and fearless, but she's mostly another bored aristocrat. The story doesn't dig too deeply into her thoughts and feelings. We do learn why she loves Pooki so much and how she came to be very much her father's daughter. The ending of the story leaves her in a position for a possible sequel or sequels (I hope, please?!) so there's more potential for character development. The pets don't play a huge role in the story. I was expecting more but they exist for comedic effect. My favorite character is Pooki. She's so different from English maids. Her feet are huge, her skin is dark and she's superstitious about everything. Pooki is funny, unintentionally, sweet, loving and kind. She also knows Mink better than Mink knows herself and she would willingly die for her beloved employer. I felt for her and I rooted for her to be happy and safe.
I think cozy mystery fans will enjoy this book a lot. I'm hoping for a sequel or two or more... I don't want to let go of the characters.