Banquet of Lies ~ Michelle Diener

  • Title: Banquet of Lies
  • Author: Michelle Diener
  • Genre: Historical
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  LONDON, 1812: Giselle Barrington is living a double life, juggling the duties of chef with those of spy catcher. She must identify her father’s savage killer before the shadowy man finds her and uncovers the explosive political document her father entrusted to her safekeeping.

Posing as a French cook in the home of Lord Aldridge, Giselle is surrounded by unlikely allies and vicious enemies. In the streets where she once walked freely among polite society, she now hides in plain sight, learning the hard lessons of class distinction and negotiating the delicate balance between servant and master.

Lord Aldridge’s insatiable curiosity about his mysterious new chef blurs the line between civic duty and outright desire. Carefully watching Giselle’s every move, he undertakes a mission to figure out who she really is—and, in the process, plunges her straight into the heart of danger when her only hope for survival is to remain invisible.

Review:  I loved this novel – the characters, the tightly woven plot, the tension thrumming in the air, and the fast pacing. A historical thriller, set in 1812, the book also includes a romantic element.

In the beginning of the story, twenty-one-year-old Gigi, the only daughter of a famous British folklorist, is at a society ball in Stockholm. She witnesses her father’s murder by a traitor and knows the killer would be after her next, hunting for an important political document. Fleeing for her life, she arrives in London – to hide and decide what to do. The rest of the story consists of the deadly cat-and-mouse game Gigi and the murderer play with each other. He wants to find her and the document to avoid exposure. She wants to protect the document and survive in the process.  

I like Gigi. A smart and proud girl, she is brave one moment, scared the next. Balancing between grief for her father, fear and loneliness, she has no kin to turn to. Unable to go home, where surely the villain would be waiting, she has to fend for herself in the unforgiving streets of London, and she still finds strength and determination in her heart to help others, less fortunate. Her compassion feels boundless, and her intellect and poise are formidable. An all-together admirable heroine, plucky and emotional, she is nonetheless vulnerable, and some of her decisions are surprisingly silly, leading to more complications in her already entangled predicament. In short – she is alive, the best compliment I could pay to a writer.

The other characters are less so, but the male protagonist, Lord Aldridge, is portrayed skillfully enough to satisfy even the harshest critics. Personally, I’m indifferent to him. I think male characters are not the author’s forte, while her female protagonists are always first class.

Of course there are problems in this novel too; that’s why 4 stars instead of 5 stars. One of the problems concerns the writing. It is terse, almost devoid of adjectives, which some readers might enjoy but I find a tad dry. It’s adequate to convey the non-stop action, but the descriptions suffer, minimized to rare and puny one-liners. For me, that’s a flaw; I like an occasional verbal arabesque or a lovely metaphor enlivening the narration, but that’s my personal opinion.  

Another problem – the romance line seems alien to the plot, tucked in to satisfy the marketing department. The story doesn’t need it and wouldn’t suffer if it was removed.

Other than these two minor hitches, the rest is almost perfect.  Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. This is the third novel by this writer I’ve read, and they’re getting progressively better. Everything she writes in the future would definitely be on my automatic to-read list.

Well done!