It's 1899, and Auguste Didier, master chef/sometime sleuth (the paperback Murder at the Masque, etc.), has herded the students of his London cooking school to the seaside resort of Broadstairs, where Auguste is to prepare a special anniversary banquet for the Society of Literary Lionisers. Charles Dickens, current focus of the Society, spent much time at Broadstairs, but Auguste's focus is on pleasing Edward, Prince of Wales, this year's honorary president of the Lionisers. In the kitchen of the Imperial hotel, Auguste sweats over the elaborate menu, aided by students Heinrich Freimuller, of the German Embassy; James Pegg, son of a veterinarian; butcher's son Algernon Peckham; Lord Alfred Wittisham, a protâ€šgâ€š of old friend Emma Pryde; and two young women--Emily Dawson and Alice Fenwick. All goes well as the dinner progresses to its finale--readings from Dickens, of course--but soon after dessert chairman Sir Thomas Throgmorton collapses and dies--of atropine poisoning it transpires, once Auguste's friend Inspector Egbert Rose of Scotland Yard takes over. The Prince of Wales makes a hasty escape as Rose and Auguste try to figure out how the poison was administered, and Rose investigates Throgmorton's fellow committee members, some of whom were on less than amicable terms with Sir Thomas--like jealous Samuel Pipkin, and smitten but rejected Gwendolyn Figgis-Hewett. The solution, its roots in the past and carrying little conviction, finally arrives after a second murder; much musing on facets of haute cuisine; endless Lioniser visits to Dickens's onetime haunts, and a whole series of pallid romances. Food aficionados and readers steeped in Dickensian may find pleasure here. For others, an indigestible stew whose chief ingredient is ennui.