Reviewed by Sarah Brew
That's how it is for us servants. No one pays you much heed; mostly you're invisible as furniture. Yet you overhear a conversation here, and add a little gossip there. A writing desk lies open and you cannot help but read a paper. Then you find something, something you should not have found.
Irrepressible Biddy Leigh, under-cook at the foreboding Mawton Hall, only wants to marry her childhood sweetheart and set up her own tavern. But when her elderly master marries the young Lady Carinna, Biddy is unwittingly swept up in a world of scheming, secrets and lies.
Forced to accompany her new mistress to Italy, Biddy takes with her an old household book of recipes, The Cook's Jewel, in which she records her observations. When she finds herself embroiled in a murderous conspiracy, Biddy realises that the secrets she holds could be the key to her survival - or her downfall...
Biddy Leigh is under-cook at Mawton Hall; all she wants is to marry her sweetheart and for them to run a tavern together. The Cook, Mrs Garland, thinks Biddy is capable of better things and entrusts her with an old household book of recipes, The Cook’s Jewel. More than just a cookery book, this is a wonderful collection of recipes, folklore and advice collected together by a variety of women over a period of time.
Biddy’s planned future changes when her elderly master marries the young, enigmatic Lady Carinna, who takes Biddy with her to Italy. Just why does the newly-wed take such a personal interest in Biddy, trying to help her better herself? Biddy finds herself caught up into a world of intrigue, of scheming, secrets and lies. She knows secrets she shouldn’t and they could lead to her downfall.
Biddy is a strong character but, like most servants, she is treated as if her feelings are of no account – and Loveday the footman suffers in the same way.
The variety of settings – from the English countryside and then to London and on a journey across Europe taking in Paris and journeying on to Tuscany – makes for excellent background. Love affairs, mystery and intrigue are all here and combined with the travelling, left me somewhat breathless and wondering if perhaps there was material for more than one novel here. The inclusion of recipes and letters provided an excellent counterpoint to the narrative and kept the book fresh and alive as well as giving a real flavour (sorry!) of the period. The story flows and Biddy is an excellent central character, well depicted and with a real depth to her. A satisfying read with a twisting and turning plot which leaves me wanting more from this debut author.
I'd like to thank Ellie for sending me a copy of this book to review and Sarah for reviewing it for me.