The Devil’s Feast by M.
J. Carter plays off Anthony Bourdain’s quote, “I’ve
long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk…
food has always been an adventure.”
Carter had the idea for the story because of "an illness
I had for the past few years that has to do with my digestion.
I could not eat so I became very interested in reading about
food. I was feeling sorry for myself because of all these
foods I could not eat. In the course of my research, I encountered
Alexis Soyer, the famous chef. I decided to write a story
around him and what better way to have someone die than with
so it is with this story that involves England's first celebrity
chef and a mysterious death that appears poisoned at the renowned
Reform Club. The plot has Captain William Avery invited to
dine at the private table of the famous chef, Alexis Soyer.
After one of the guests at the table dies he is asked to investigate.
As the suspects pile up, every one involving food appears
to be a person of interest from meat suppliers to waiters.
parallels with today’s world, Carter told of incorporating
“the idea of the celebrity chef who had tantrums when
he did not get his way. I also think the past should not be
a foreign country so I included the idea of people dying by
being poisoned. In the 1840’s arsenic was everywhere,
on cake decorations and even the dye on children’s dresses.”
Readers will find out about Soyer's life and it becomes obvious
the author spent a lot of time researching the food entries,
maybe a bit too much. There is a lot of detail about the inner
workings of the kitchen run by celebrity Alexis Soyer who
is not only an incredible chef but the inventor of many innovations.
Having come to prominence in the 1840s, Soyer is nicknamed
the "Napoleon of food," a culinary genius who loves
to self-promote, a la today's chef, Gordon Ramsey.
first celebrity chef fascinated the author. “He was
the first to use gas ovens, thermometers, accurate clocks,
and clever kitchen gadgets. Determined to improve the country’s
diet and alleviate the sufferings of the poor, he devised
menus for London hospitals and workhouses, reinventing the
soup kitchen. For me, he was a gift since he was sometimes
a ridiculous figure, manically energetic, crazily ambitious,
and dreadfully pretentious. Everything I wrote about him in
this book is what he did in real life, including the way he
dressed in lavender-colored velvet suits. After becoming chef
de cuisine at London’s Reform Club it turned into, not
a political association, but a place where males went to hide
from their wives, have a fancy dinner, and have conversations.”
This series has two protagonists that usually work together,
a la Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. However, in this novel
Avery is mainly on his own, struggling to solve the case while
thinking for himself. His partner, Jeremiah Blake chafes at
being considered a hired hand and refuses a new assignment
from Theophilus Collinson, a very influential person. Claiming
that Blake was already paid for work not performed, Collinson
has the stubborn detective arrested and imprisoned for debt.
This leaves Avery to solve the case of why diners are dying
at the prestigious Reform Club.
"I did not get my inspiration from the famous investigative
duo. Patrick O' Brian's sea stories are what influenced me.
He writes such great relationships between his characters,
Aubrey and Maturin. At least consciously I never thought of
Holmes and Watson."
the heart of this novel is Soyer whose personality dominates
the other characters. Readers will be taken on a tour, able
to taste the dinner dishes as they attempt to solve the murder