In the midst of preparing her doctoral thesis on the belle époque, Petra Stevenson stumbles across a mysterious photograph of her grandfather, the famous writer, J.G. Stevenson. At the same time, her grandfather’s official biographer has just declared his intention to reveal a scandal involving J.G. Stevenson’s early years in Paris. Now, Petra must choose between her legitimate doctoral work and her burning desire to uncover the nature of the scandal before the biographer does.
The Confectioner’s Tale is told in chapters alternating between the present (actually 1988, London) and the past (1910, Paris). While Petra is pursuing the mystery, the story is unfolding for the reader.
I enjoyed the alternating chapters and time periods, though I thought the story taking place in 1910 was more richly told, with a deeper plot and more sensual details. The 1988 story line actually dragged a little, for me. It wasn’t terribly exciting, there wasn’t a lot at stake, and I never felt Petra’s neglect of her thesis was fully justified given the thin lead she started with. I would have also liked to see some better world building in the 1988 story line as I never really got a firm feel for the setting.
The best parts of the book, for me, were the scenes in the patisserie, especially the patisserie at night. Imagining all that sugar art in that era of emerging technology was a delight. The author created a stunning world within the kitchen of the patisserie that I think any reader of food-fiction would appreciate.
I couldn’t help but compare this story to one of my favorite novels ever—Possession, by A.S. Byatt. Any time I read a book that follows dual story lines—the modern scholars and their historic research subjects—I have to compare it to Possession. I’m always looking for a book that will recreate the rich, intense experience I had reading Possession. This book didn’t achieve that. The story wasn’t as deep, the characters not as compelling. It moved a little slow, for me. The scandal wasn’t quite as scandalous as I would have liked.
However, I enjoyed the story for what it was. The writing was lovely, the 1910 setting, especially in the patisserie, was delightful. If you’re looking for a sweet read with an interesting historical element and a light mystery, this is your book.
A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Thomas Dunne Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.