A Taste for Nightshade by Martine Bailey is one of the most interesting historical fiction books I’ve ever read. Set in 1787 Manchester, it follows the stories of two very different young women. This was dark and intriguing, filled with damaged characters and a plot that never stopped turning and twisting. The recipes that are interspersed into the story set the mood and historical tone perfectly as well. This book hit so many notes like the upheaval over the industrialization of England, the hardships faced by the early convicts in Australia, the heavy penal code, and the class system. Bailey has proved herself as having a deft touch at weaving a story that will keep the reader eagerly turning pages.
Mary Jebb is a low-end criminal, is sentenced to be hung after she is caught swindling the younger brother of Michael Croxon. But, she is reprieved at the last minute to be sent to Australia for a seven-year sentence. Grace Moore is a desperately lonely woman who marries Michael Croxon, with her main attraction being the fortune. She turns to her housekeeper/cook for friendship, little knowing that it’s Mary Jebb, escaped from a torturous experience in Australia and now determined to wreck havoc on the Croxons.
Manchester 1787. When budding young criminal Mary Jebb swindles Michael Croxon's brother with a blank pound note, he chases her into the night and sets in motion a train of sinister events. Condemned to seven years of transportation to Australia, Mary sends him a 'Penny Heart'-a token of her vow of revenge.
Two years later, Michael marries naïve young Grace Moore. Although initially overjoyed at the union, Grace quickly realizes that her husband is more interested in her fortune than her company. Lonely and desperate for companionship, she turns to her new cook to help mend her ailing marriage. But Mary Jebb, shipwrecked, maltreated, and recently hired, has different plans for the unsuspecting owners of Delafosse Hall.
A Taste for Nightshade is a thrilling historical novel that combines recipes, mystery and a dark struggle between two desperate women, sure to appeal to fans of Sarah Waters and Carolly Erickson.