Although more historical mystery than historical fiction, A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang, now touring with TLC Book Tours is an intriguing read. I do thank the company for sending me a copy at no charge for my honest review.
About A Beautiful Poison:
- Paperback: 350 pages
- Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (August 1, 2017)
Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many victims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned—and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.
Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her closer to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.
As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone—even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.
About the Author:
Lydia Kang is a physician and author of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland and graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine. She completed her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and currently lives in the midwest, where she continues to practice internal medicine.
Connect with Lydia
This is an intriguing book about three friends who had been separated but are now brought together for the engagement party of one of them – Allene, an heiress. She has not seen Jasper – a former member of her set until a series of catastrophes brought him low – and Birdie, her previous lady’s maid for lack of a better description, but whom she considered a friend despite her parents’ disapproval. Allene never understood why Birdie and her mother were so summarily dismissed those years ago.
Allene is conflicted about marrying as she doesn’t really care for her fiance and the marriage is really more of a merger between two wealthy families rather than a love story. At the party a young socialite falls down the stairs and she is pronounced dead – rather ruining the party. All is hushed up with the police but Allene and Jasper both suspect that more is going on than a drunken fall. In fact, Jasper notices a smell of bitter almonds.
As the friends investigate the death, they also must deal with the looming draft for Jasper and other young men reaching the age of 18. WWI is raging and soldiers are a constant need. In addition a virulent flu has reached the shores of New York and it is killing indiscriminately. As people close to the friends start dying they start questioning relationships they have had for years.
This historical mystery covers some dark topics – poisoning, the flu epidemic of 1917, radium, murder, sexual abuse, class differences. Allene is a woman ahead of her time in some ways but due to her privilege she is amazingly blind to a lot of the suffering around her. The story is mostly about relationships whether they be good, bad or abusive.
Ms. Kang does an excellent job of bringing the period alive through descriptions of the neighborhoods – both upper class and poor. Her characters are distinct and well defined. I also appreciated the various lessons woven so well into the story on forensics, chemistry and medicine. I love a book where I learn something without feeling like I’m reading a textbook, I will admit to being surprised at the ending which is always a good thing.
See my review of The Impossible Girl also by Lydia Kang