A dark concoction about an ambitious culinary apprentice in 1980s London, Storr’s debut features a complex title character, gothic undertones and an unnerving plot.
Killian Lone begins his journey as a sympathetic young man, a target for neighborhood bullies into adulthood and the product of a dysfunctional family. His only source of solace is his great-aunt Dorothy, who spends hours teaching him to cook when he visits her at Dor Cottage, the old family home. Killian is descended from a long line of talented chefs, including the original owner of the cottage, Mary Dor, who cooked for the first Earl of Sussex and was burned at the stake as a witch. When he's accepted at culinary school, Killian’s skills prove exceptional, and his instructor secures him an apprenticeship at the chic restaurant run by Killian’s idol, acclaimed chef Max Mann. Killian’s dreams of being taken under the chef's wing unravel as he discovers the gulf between Mann’s public persona and his private actions. Though Killian tells himself Mann is under tremendous pressure to earn a third Michelin star, the horrendous kitchen conditions begin to splinter his “turnspit dog” loyalty. Killian's work is undermined by Mann's assistant, and he's subject to a blind "taste test" that involves crackers spread with excrement. As he strives for success, his future becomes increasingly tied to a secret he uncovers at Dor Cottage following Dorothy’s death; using it transforms his career, spurs speculation about his ethics and culinary abilities, affects his relationship with the woman he loves and consumes his life. An award-winning journalist, Storr has created a disturbing tale about cutthroat rivalries in a high-profile industry, and his claim that many of the kitchen incidents are based on true stories makes it even juicier.
Readers with a taste for the unusual (and who don't mind some nauseating passages) will find this a palatable novel about ambition, human fallibility and revenge.