Pekoe Most Poison
A Tea Shop Mystery #18
By Laura Childs
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
When Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning is invited by Doreen Briggs, one of Charleston’s most prominent hostesses, to a “Rat Tea,” she is understandably intrigued. As servers dressed in rodent costumes and wearing white gloves offer elegant finger sandwiches and fine teas, Theo learns these parties date back to early twentieth-century Charleston, where the cream of society would sponsor so-called rat teas to promote city rodent control and better public health.
But this party goes from odd to chaotic when a fire starts at one of the tables and Doreen’s entrepreneur husband suddenly goes into convulsions and drops dead. Has his favorite orange pekoe tea been poisoned? Theo smells a rat.
The distraught Doreen soon engages Theo to pursue a discreet inquiry into who might have murdered her husband. As Theo and her tea sommelier review the guest list for suspects, they soon find themselves drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse…(Goodreads)
I have followed Theodosia and troop from the very beginning (way back in 2001, I think), and the Tea Shop mysteries are among some of my first read and most loved cozy series. Its Charleston setting is magical, full of history and genteel society. Pekoe Most Poison, the eighteenth book in the series, follows Childs’ tried and true formula, hitting the right balance between mystery and comfortable characters.
This outing finds Theodosia and her tea sommelier Drayton in the thick of the action when they attend a “rat” tea. The rodent themed tea party, though seemingly a bit odd, is based in Charleston history and sets the perfect stage for a murder by poison. The philanthropic hostess Doreen’s entrepreneur husband Beau meets an ugly end during the party. Drayton is somewhat blackmailed by Doreen, who is accustomed to getting what she wants when she wants it, to convince Theo to look into Beau’s demise. Drayton is usually one to discourage Theo’s investigating habit, but here the fate of his beloved historical society may be in his, and Theo’s, hands. Theo agrees to once again put her detective skills to the test, both as a favor to Drayton and to satisfy her own curiosity. She is met with an abundance of suspects, another murder, and danger for both she and her trusty tea master.
The Indigo Tea Shop is as charming as ever, and I always enjoy the enchanting atmosphere it evokes, the descriptions of delectable food offerings, and the varieties of teas mentioned. I have been tempted more than once to try teas that are new to me based on Drayton’s recommendations. I love everything associated with afternoon tea and “ladies who lunch” so references to Theo’s business are heaven. There are several recipes and themes for teas, in addition to other tea resources, included in the back of the book for readers like me.
Theo, Drayton, chef Haley, and faithful canine Earl Grey are consistently a pleasure to read about. They feel like old friends at this point, and I appreciate their camaraderie. Theo and Drayton’s friendship has always been special, but it truly shines here. At one point in the story when Drayton faces peril, I experienced Theo’s concern and panic right along with her. The characters specific to this mystery all fit in as they should, but they are almost without exception unlikable. I cannot remember there ever being a more condescending and manipulative cast than here. I find Doreen and Beau’s business partner Big Reggie especially unpleasant. At least my distaste for them feeds nicely into them all being viable suspects. Noticeably absent is Detective Tidwell, but Detective Pete Riley is a nice addition and potential love interest for Theo. I will say that I found myself shaking my head throughout the book at Theo. She seems different from her usual polished self, mouthing off to suspects, jumping to conclusions and making unfounded accusations, and, frankly, being unpleasant at times. This is not the Theo I have come to adore, and I hope she is back to her normal level headed, intelligent self in future installments.
The mystery here moves along at a steady pace and, for the most part, progresses in a logical manner. However, though I considered whodunit early on, I quickly dismissed them. So, I felt a little blindsided by their identity, and it all seemed to come out of nowhere at the end. It all makes sense but feels a bit unsubstantiated. And, unrelated to the mystery plot, the ending out of character and, honestly, a little dorky.
Pekoe Most Poison is an engaging and enjoyable read. I look forward to many more adventures with Theo and crew.