*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
A comic tale of love, mystery and unintended consequences . . .
Rosie McLeod, pub proprietor and a gifted herbalist of local renown, is thirty-nine and holding, but only just. The talons of her fortieth birthday are in her back and her bloody, bloody husband hasn’t laid a lustful hand on her for months.
Rosie sets out to discover if her husband is having an affair, using deductive powers based solely on the careful preparation of plants and herbs. But as her well-laid plans entirely fall apart, the sighting of a large black cat sets off another chain of events.
Rosie now realises that a psychopath is on the loose and that she’s been selected as his next victim.
As usual, Charlie Laidlaw has blended a quirky brew of different genres and influences which requires a taste for the experimental and will leave a lasting flavour to remember it by. And, unlike Rosie’s special brews, there are no nasty consequences!
Rosie is the central character in the story, and seems intent on celebrating imminently turning forty by losing her herb-loving mind. Seriously. She spends most of the story jumping to wild conclusions on circumstantial evidence and responding by calmly and proportionately attempting to repeatedly spike her husband’s sustenance. The combination of hormonal instability and plantlore expertise is obviously a potent one!
While Rosie is living out her delusions on a real-life stage, a mysterious someone has seen the signs and is ready to purge the village of witchcraft. So, not the best time to be flinging her potions about willy-nilly… unless you fancy being burned at the stake at your own birthday party. The series of unusual events that ensue keeps the local police force busy investigating black cats, pub brawls, traffic incidents and the fallout of Rosie’s felonious mid-life crisis.
This gives us a combination of mystery and comedy, as Rosie attempts to find out who is after her and what her husband is up to, and does it in classic Brit-com style (think John Cleese in Fawlty Towers). There is also some philosophical, psychological romantic conflict between barmaid, Mara, and her police officer boyfriend, Richie, some local political wrangling, a doomsday-fearing vicar and more, as we gradually build up a picture of the small village beyond the Fox and Duck pub. The characters are endearing and engaging, and it doesn’t take long for the reader to be immersed in village life and anxious for the fate of its beloved and bemusing healer.
As an added bonus, Charlie Laidlaw has clearly done his research into the herblore and witchcraft background of his story and it shows in an abundance of fascinating factual material on the subjects, including the scientific details of specific chemicals within certain plants, and their effects on the chemistry and biology of the human body.
This is an interesting and entertaining read: a chaotic comedy of errors romp, police procedural mystery and herbal grimoire all rolled into one. Charlie Laidlaw is an expert on tying together the world of science with the world of magic and the intervening effect of human nature on the two. Love Potions and Other Calamities is another great addition to his canon of standalone cross-genre fiction.
The local paper had written a story about her some years beforehand, calling her – what else – Medicine Woman, an epithet that caused much local mirth and underlined her benign reputation in the community. Her university certificate, now behind glass, hung in the scullery. The newspaper cutting hung in the public bar. There were a few villagers who grumbled about her – including the good Dr Murray who believed with some justification that the practice of medicine should only be carried out by those more suitably qualified. The secret, Rosie would say, is to know what boundaries of treatment not to cross.
– Charlie Laidlaw, Love Potions and Other Calamities