cover image A Pinch of Poison

A Pinch of Poison

Alyssa Maxwell. Kensington, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61773-834-0

Maxwell’s middling second Lady and Lady’s Maid mystery (after 2015’s Murder Most Malicious) centers on Lady Phoebe Renshaw’s alma mater, the Haverleigh School for Young Ladies, in the Cotswolds. In the spring of 1919, 20-year-old Phoebe organizes a luncheon at the school to benefit needy Great War veterans and their families. Tragically, the miniature cake specially made for headmistress Henrietta Finch is laced with cyanide. When Constable Miles Brannock urges Phoebe and her maid, Eva Huntsford (herself once a Haverleigh scholarship student), to interview students and staff, they find motives aplenty for Finch’s murder. Her progressive philosophy has ruffled feathers, a grading scandal is brewing, and the school’s nurse and handyman hide secrets. Maxwell leaves the two protagonists’ budding romances intriguingly unresolved. But with a surfeit of minor characters hastily introduced at the start and a crime that has no personal stakes for the sleuths, the noticeable similarities to TV’s Downton Abbey don’t extend to taut or emotionally charged drama. [em]Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Jan.) [/em]