A PINCH OF POISON
By Alyssa Maxwell
When Lady Phoebe Renshaw, granddaughter of the Earl of Wroxly, and her maid, Eva, volunteer to organize a collection drive and charity luncheon to benefit survivors of World War I at her alma mater, the exclusive Haverleigh School for Young Ladies, it seems like an appropriate activity for a young woman of her station. To involve the students in the event preparation, Lady Phoebe encourages them to participate in cooking and baking for the event. After all, good deeds build good character, and good character is a cornerstone of the Haverleigh School tradition.
All is well until dessert is served and the school’s headmistress, Henrietta Finch, collapses and dies after eating a Madeira cake prepared for her by one of the students. And when the local police conclude that Miss Finch was the victim of cyanide poisoning, the Board of Trustees decides it’s no longer safe for the students to remain, and closes Haverleigh until the mystery of Miss Finch’s death is solved. Good gracious.
At first glance, it appears the poisoning is the accidental result of a cleaning product used by one of the school’s maids. The maid tearfully protests that she is innocent, and Lady Phoebe, with the able assistance of Eva, intercedes on the girl’s behalf. The more questions the sleuthing pair ask, the more suspects appear, including; the school’s assistant headmistress, the school nurse, who was slow to provide emergency medical assistance to the dying headmistress, and the school gardener, a young man of limited mental capacity who has a mysterious tie to the dead woman. When the gardener is arrested, Lady Phoebe and Eva must step up their game and find a diabolical murderer before another victim dies.
“A Pinch of Poison” is a well-crafted historical mystery which continues the tradition so ably pioneered by “Upstairs, Downstairs” and, later, “Downton Abbey,” with just the right amount of romance added to create a delightful story.