Friday, 1 September 2017

Book Review - A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

This is descriptively well written. I particularly enjoyed the sections on medical pathology, and the historical aspects appeared accurate (although I'm by no means an expert in this field). I liked the descriptions on upper class social life during this time, and the brief insight into the medical history of New York. I would have liked more of this, as the research behind it was obviously done with care and thought.

The overall plot is ok. It's your usual run of the mill murder mystery in a historical setting. While attending the engagement party of Allene, socialite Florence is found dead at the bottom of the stairs. Brushed off as an accident, it soon transpires that she has been murdered. As other incidents occur, three old friends - socialite Allene, future medical student Jasper and the beautiful yet fragile Birdie, must unite to identify who is behind the incident. The plot followed the usual pattern of investigation and slow unravelling of information that leads to the discovery of the culprit, with various (predictable) twists and turns along the way. Holly's past was predictably obvious right from the start for example. However, it was the ending that really destroyed this for me. The eventual discovery of the murderer and their motives were just so out of character and unrealistic, especially when compared to their behaviour throughout the novel before hand. It was far fetched, and ultimately I felt a little cheated out of a proper ending as it completely changed the tone of the whole novel.

There's also some kind of weird love triangle aspect interspersed throughout the novel. These three supposedly 'good friends' had no chemistry, and I didn't like Allene or Jasper. Jasper comes across as a know it all, with little to no respect or understanding for his friends. He's more interested in dissecting people than spending time with Birdie and Allene. Allene is completely naive, spoilt and self involved, to the point where several times throughout the novel I wanted to shake her. Her supposed love of Jasper felt really forced, and very unrealistic. The kiss that occurs between them half way through the novel fell flat to me and cringy - although not as uncomfortable as the kiss somehow shared between all three characters at the beginning. This whole aspect of the novel just felt weirdly off and I felt that, basically, all the main characters secretly hated each other rather than care about each other. There was no emotional connection at all. This was seemingly confirmed by the fact that both Jasper and Allene seemed to share a complete ignorance to Birdie's predicaments, which feels so out of character in someone who is suppose to be a genuine friend. In the end I didn't care about either of them.

Birdie was by far the most interesting character, however I felt a lot of her problems were skimmed over to make way for other matters in the books - which was a shame, and on conclusion didn't exactly help the novel explain its reasonings behind the killers motives. I would have liked to have read more about the 'radium girls' in the factory, and a social commentary on the lower classes would have been much more interesting than Allene and her 'uptown' house dramas.

Unfortunately at best I think this could be described as a beautiful mess.

- 3 Stars

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