Banquet of Lies
by Michelle DienerSynopsis
Widely-traveled Giselle Barrington has accompanied her father on many of his business ventures abroad where he also doubles as a spy for the Crown. She hopes to write a book one day about the stories she has learned from the places they have visited, including the recipes she has collected. Fate, however, has other plans. Quite suddenly, her father is murdered while she hides just feet from him in the dark garden at a gala event. She becomes the subject of an intense and hostile hunt fleeing from Switzerland back to her homeland in England. She knows she cannot return to their home while protecting her father's last secret, but to whom can she turn for safe shelter and a place to puzzle out the identity of her father's killer? Set in 1812, the world is in the throes of war, women are seen only in domestic duties within a clear caste system of propriety and conduct, and only the spies are free to roam. Allegiances are questioned and subterfuge complicates every seemingly normal action. Can she save her own skin and return with honor to the life her father intended?
I had a hard time setting this book down. I literally read each night until my eyes burned. Diener has a great writing style, and this little gem is an easy to follow mystery full of vibrant visual images. She shows masterful skill at just sketching the details of the shadow man allowing your mind to fill in every dark and deceitful detail. Heroine Gigi (Giselle) is often caught in compromising situations that have her questioning her own decisions at every turn. The story is perfectly balanced with all types of tension at just the right moments. Diener's characters are full of life and suitably complicated, filling the story with life without wasting a word.
I wanted to fall in love with Lord Aldrich, but he had just enough bad boy in him that made me, and Gigi, hesitate. He's also a battle-tested soldier in Her Majesty's service. He returned home when his brother passed on to take up the reigns of his family's manor and concomitant social responsibilities. Although the Crown is at war with France, he dreams of having a French chef, and he gets one thinking it a good stroke of luck. He begins to hear questions of loyalty from his club cronies, and the head of his own house staff. He gets suitably concerned and begins to pay close attention to the woman hired as his chef.
Gigi needs a place to hide, but also needs to be close enough to her family home to keep a wary eye out for the man who murdered her father. She has always had a flair for cooking ever since her French mother began teaching her traditional cuisine as a child. What better way to hide in plain sight? She is careful to speak a broken mix of English and French, and exudes the perfect temper and kitchen attitude to complete the persona. Her every move is watched by the butler, the Lord, and the shadow man who is after that missing document. Close calls and accusations leave her exposed as a spy, but there seems no one who can come to her aide. Sadly, her decision to hide as a French chef doesn't seem as wise as she first thought.
If you love intrigue, a glimpse of the back-scenes of high and low society in London in the early 19th century, you'll enjoy this book. Clever clandestine tricks, handsome and powerful men, some sordid household relationships, and the wonderful backdrop of London, it's Indiana Jones meets Downton Abbey and it WORKS!