A Botanist's Guide to Flowers and Fatality

- Kate Khavari


1920s London isn’t the ideal place for a brilliant woman with lofty ambitions. But research assistant Saffron Everleigh is determined to beat the odds in a male-dominated field at the University College of London. Saffron embarks on her first research study alongside the insufferably charming Dr. Michael Lee, traveling the countryside with him in response to reports of poisonings. But when Detective Inspector Green is given a case with a set of unusual clues, he asks for Saffron’s assistance.

The victims, all women, received bouquets filled with poisonous flowers. Digging deeper, Saffron discovers that the bouquets may be more than just unpleasant flowers— there may be a hidden message within them, revealed through the use of the old Victorian practice of floriography. A dire message, indeed, as each woman who received the flowers has turned up dead.

Alongside Dr. Lee and her best friend, Elizabeth, Saffron trails a group of suspects through a dark jazz club, a lavish country estate, and a glittering theatre, delving deeper into a part of society she thought she’d left behind forever.




The rush of the train over the tracks and the subsequent rattle of the compartment doors were as harsh to Saffron's senses as the flickering sunlight coming through the grime on the windows.


not my cup of tea:

* Thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided. *

A Botanist's Guide to Parties and Poisons may not have been my favourite book, but I was expecting more from A Botanist's Guide to Flowers and Fatality.

A slightly above-average start to a series can be misleading because it makes you think that the series can only get better. Sometimes that’s true and things only get better (for example, the Plated Prisoner series), and sometimes you’re left at the end of the second book trying to figure out where everything went wrong.

While I was hoping we would get more character development to help the new relationship between Alexander and Saffron feel more grounded, I was not expecting Saffron to have the memory of a goldfish and the fixation a crow has for shiny things. Alexander has barely left the country and is spending all his time collecting specimens and completing research for Saffron. He's also writing her letters, despite the limited mail service, sending pictures, and writing unnecessary postscripts. Meanwhile, Saffron walks around thinking they never put any labels on their relationship, so farewell kisses and forlorn looks in dark gardens could mean anything. I'm not saying Saffron wasn’t technically free to explore a flirtation with someone else; I’m just not going to bend over backwards to pretend I believe the lies she’s telling herself. I might be less critical if her supposed new love interest was even a little appealing. Shallow and self-serving, Lee went out of his way to annoy and pester Saffron - who, it has to be said, was incredibly condescending and patronising right back and so probably deserved some of this treatment. But then, something happens ‘as a lark’ -

I guess I’ll hide their kiss behind the jazz club as a spoiler even though it’s the most ‘clichéd love triangle in an amateur detective story‘ thing to have ever happened

- and suddenly Lee has decided he’s interested in Saffron. Which is convenient since, apparently, the only thing you have to do to get Saffron interested in you is to pay a little attention to her. And, I guess, not leave the country.

Most of the interesting dialogue took place in the characters’ heads and was never spoken aloud. Because of this, there didn't appear to be any character growth. Who needs strong interpersonal or romantic relationships?! It’s the 1920s! The only time Lee showed any personality beyond ‘snobbish flirt looking for a good time’ was in his POV moments; he never lets the mask fall or reveals any truth through words or actions. Lee very clearly puts himself first and only spares a second thought for Saffron when he’s got some free time. But then we get a glimpse inside his head and... well, okay, it’s not much better. He’s still incredibly judgmental and dismissive.

For example, when he breaks into Amelia’s rooms and rifles through her belongings, he makes the most inane comments about her life and possessions. If he was capable of any level of consideration, he would have been able to dig even slightly below the surface, and things could’ve been very different.

Saffron is the queen of thinking the important stuff and saying either nothing or the most useless alternative, only to be dethroned when Alexander returns as he only ever says the worst possible thing in the absolute worst way while thinking the sweet, heartbreaking things that Saffron is too superficial to be able to read from his actions.

I was disappointed that an outside character purposely included to make Lee look like a good person was given such a limited and self-serving role. Romesh knows what it is to be discounted, overlooked, and discriminated against in his chosen field of work, yet he’s awfully quick to believe hurtful gossip about Saffron and pile on. But don’t worry, Lee was nice to him a few times while they were studying together, so at least Lee is a good person. Romesh honestly shows up for a few pages, but it really stuck out to me that Khavari chose to include a person of colour, and instead of making him an empathetic and understanding voice of reason in his one interaction with Lee, she made him part of the system that so devalued and belittled him.

I also don’t understand how someone so surrounded by gossip at all times, and so sensitive to it, could spend months with someone - hours and hours together every single day at work and travelling and in the library and doing fieldwork and writing reports and sharing an office - and not give them a heads up about their recent history and the treatment they tend to receive from their colleagues. It would’ve been so easy. ‘Hey, I’m Saffron. I'm new to this office, but I'm so excited we'll be working together on this interesting assignment. I was a research assistant for my close friend and mentor, but he was wrongly involved in a murder mystery, which I got way too involved in. I don’t want to get into it because it was pretty traumatic, but all's well that ends well! Oh, and I’m a woman, so it’s been a bit of an uphill battle getting a basic level of respect from the men at the university, so I’d appreciate your support. Just so you know, my boyfriend-not-boyfriend is away on a work trip, but he’ll be back soon, so let’s keep this professional.’ Saffron so often lets others define her and then gets angry when she doesn’t like the story they tell about her. If you want to write a fiercely independent and intelligent female character in history, it would be nice to commit.

The last thing I will say about the terrible love triangle trope is: STOP DESTROYING GOOD CHARACTERS TO MAKE ALLOWANCES TO DISCARD PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE RELATIONSHIPS. Alexander has PTSD and is experiencing a particularly overwhelming moment, but he has proven that he is better than Khavari allowed him to be here. Alexander has strong coping techniques and strategies in place to counteract triggers and stress; most importantly, he’s been through much worse. I have a feeling I’ll get dragged into reading the third book in this series to see if Alexander gets the fair treatment he deserves. The ending sets up the perfect case for Alexander and Saffron to work together, and with no other obvious alternatives paying attention to her, Saffron will probably be interested in Alexander again. Unless Detective Inspector Green decides to start sharing more information about cases with her…

I could probably write more about so many things that rubbed me the wrong way, ignored exposition from the first book, or weren’t explained properly, but I’d never get to bed, and no one would ever read it all.



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