We prologue into the latest Blake and Avery novel by MJ Carter with a clear villain who shows a Cartesian indifference to the pain caused to non-human creatures through animal testing.
Seguing into the first part of the book, through the eyes of the narrator, Avery, we are taken on a prison visit: Blake is in a Catch-22 situation, more eager to stand up to his bullying patron and stay in prison than to not risk his life among his murderous fellow inmates.
Next we go to the Reform Club, a gentlemen's venue and fine-dining establishment for the progressives of the day. As dishes are sampled, one of those in attendance appears to fall prey to a similar bout of poisoning as that suffered by the dogs and rats in the opening pages.
High-end cuisine at the time is the equivalent of today's molecular gastronomy; melt-in-the-mouth sensations, trompe l'oeil courses that appear to be the mains but are actually sweets, and a radical menu in keeping with the Club setting.
Carter deftly presents period culture and detail through the characters who guide Avery through London. This will serve novices like myself to the series well, as Avery is a near-stranger to the city.
Working through a case that involves international diplomacy, cross-Commons collaboration and a deal of discretion, the narrative features what might have been classed as state-of-the-art technology for its time, both culinary and forensic. Like the technology, Carter's style - through the mildly sardonic Avery - is itself both modern enough to entertain and period enough not to appear prochronistic. Troubled musings related to family life back home might make William Avery a New Man today, until you consider that he's away from home, at work in the city. Helen's arrival - a richly drawn creature with frayed, post-partum nerves - highlights Carter's subtle skill in detail of even the minor characters.
You can buy The Devil's Feast by MJ Carter at Amazon UK, Amazon US and elsewhere. Follow the author on Twitter.