Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Book Review: Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen

Above the Bay of Angels

Rhys Bowen
Publication: Lake Union Publishing (February 11, 2020)

Description: A single twist of fate puts a servant girl to work in Queen Victoria’s royal kitchen, setting off a suspenseful, historical mystery by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and The Victory Garden.

Isabella Waverly only means to comfort the woman felled on a London street. In her final dying moments, she thrusts a letter into Bella’s hand. It’s an offer of employment in the kitchens of Buckingham Palace, and everything the budding young chef desperately wants: an escape from the constrictions of her life as a lowly servant. In the stranger’s stead, Bella can spread her wings.

Arriving as Helen Barton from Yorkshire, she pursues her passion for creating culinary delights, served to the delighted Queen Victoria herself. Best of all, she’s been chosen to accompany the queen to Nice. What fortune! Until the threat of blackmail shadows Bella to the Riviera, and a member of the queen’s retinue falls ill and dies.

Having prepared the royal guest’s last meal, Bella is suspected of the poisonous crime. An investigation is sure to follow. Her charade will be over. And her new life will come crashing down—if it doesn’t send her to the gallows.

My Thoughts: Combining historical mystery and romance, ABOVE THE BAY OF ANGELS tells the story of Isabella Waverly. She'd been raised a gentlewoman until the death of her parents forces her to enter service as a kitchen maid for a well-to-do family. Her talent for cooking looks to be a way for her to make a living for herself except her mistress won't supply a reference if she leaves her employment.

Feeling trapped, Bella seizes an opportunity when she comforts a young woman struck down on the street and discovers that she has an interview at Buckingham Palace to work in Queen Victoria's kitchen. Bella decides to try for the job herself under the name of the victim Helen Barton. Bella gets the job but has to hide her true identity and battle prejudice against woman chefs which would be bad enough, but then Helen's brother shows up with blackmail in mind. 

When Bella gets a chance to travel with the Queen to Nice, Bella is pleased both for the chance of adventure in a new country and to get away from her blackmailing "brother." Of course she's also happy to get away from the Prince of Wales who has taken a fancy to her. 

But when one of the courtiers dies Bella is threatened again. The first opinion is that he died of eating a poisonous mushroom which Bella added to one of her menu items. A Scotland Yard detective called in to investigate the murder, is looking way too closely at Bella and threatens to uncover her hidden identity. Bella investigates herself to try to find out what happens and clear her name.

There are also various romances going on. In London, she attracts the attention of another of the cooks who want to court her. And in Nice, she meets a nobleman who happens to be her cousin though he doesn't know that. And she also is attracted to the French chef who is sharing the kitchen with the English cooks who have come with Victoria.

I enjoyed this story and liked Bella despite her being a little too class conscious. I liked that she found a life she enjoyed and managed to find her way to happiness. I liked that real historical figures were woven into the story. And while I doubted that an undercook would ever interact with the Queen of England, I enjoyed the parts where Bella spoke to the Queen. 

Favorite Quote:
"You are the only person who seems to know the truth," I said.

"That's right." He really did smirk then. "I am, aren't I? And what's to stop me from marching right in there and telling them?"
I borrowed this one from Amazon Prime. You can buy your copy here.

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