Julia Stuart’s third novel, The Pigeon Pie Mystery, won’t disappoint Stuart’s fans who are accustomed to her quirky characters and underlying themes of love and loyalty. Princess Alexandrina, also known as Mink, who is the heroine of the book, and Pooki, her Indian maid, are displaced from their London home when Mink’s father, the Maharaja of Prindur, dies under scandalous circumstances. As her father’s only child and surviving family member, Mink learns that her father had been spending well beyond his means, and she is forced to make drastic changes to her lifestyle. This included letting servants go, except for Pooki, who had been with her since childhood. When she can no longer avoid her creditors, Mink reluctantly accepts a “grace and favour” home on palace grounds, offered to her out of deference to her father. “Grace and favour” residents lived rent-free, but the palace accommodations were not without their inconveniences, such as the ghosts of former residents.
As Mink and Pooki settle into their new life and meet the other “grace and favour” inhabitants, they discover a complicated web of connections and deceptions that figure prominently in the dramatic event that is the book’s central focus: the suspicious death of Major-General George Bagshot, a cad who was roundly disliked by almost everyone. Mink commits to unraveling the mystery when her maid Pooki, who made the last dish the Major-General consumed—a pigeon pie—is suspected of poisoning him. She discovers, through flattery and wiles, that nearly everyone had a reason to murder their unpopular neighbor, and it was up to her to clear Pooki’s name.
Stuart’s stories are whimsical and fun. And although characters have their quirks, they reflect the quirkiness we all have—a certain vanity, a soothing habit, or a harmless obsession. Yet underlying it all is a love story—not a romantic one in this case—but the love of people who have grown up together and the loyalty they feel to each other. That isn’t to say there aren’t potential love interests for Pooki and Mink, whose potential suitors are revealed as the mystery unwinds.