In Victorian London, novaeu riche upstart Clifford Barnes is looking for recognition. Though he's drinking the finest whiskey at the finest clubs, he's still looked down upon old money/nobility types. In a rage, he challenges Lord Mac Dale to a tea party competition – the man who serves the finest tea wins, with Travellers Club doing the judging.
Lord Mac Dale enlists cookery counsellor (apparently an existing profession at the time) Victor Neville to get him the finest tea of the British Empire for the competition. Victor is undoubtedly skilled at his job, but unfortunately he suffers from narcolepsy and concomitant hallucinations about weird birds making unpleasant statements about his health.
Victor befriends Mr. Barnes' daughter, Alice, to learn which tea the upstart is planning to serve at the tea party, but it seems her helpfulness conceals some ulterior motives. Also, a kimono she loves to wear turns out to conceal some magical properties – more precisely, magical cats which serve as their mistress's spies and, when the need arises, thieves.
Anyway, miss Barnes gives Victor the name of the tea her father is planning to serve, as well as the place where he aims to get it – but that place doesn't exist. Victor embarks on a detective quest to find out where the tea is supposed to come from, but further complications ensue – like the police grabbing him for apparently trying to burglarize Mr. Barnes' house, having to fulfill the wishes of a rich and powerful Chinese "godfather", dealing with his capricious employer, having Miss Barnes double-crossing him to steal his tea, enlisting the help of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and his narcoleptic attacks and hallucinations …
This is a rich story with several subplots – or rather, fragments of subplots, adding color and depth to the story without slowing it down – involving not just Victor but also young Alice, who has her own agenda mainly involving her magical kimono and its origins. The story is told with an ever-present hint of irony, which makes it amusing, but never becomes too much so that it becomes mocking towards the story's protagonists. Not being used to Peña's style, I wasn't sure what to expect, and she kept me wondering what would happen all the way to the end of the story – which is a good thing.
This is good, charming stuff, well worth your time. It's not the first story Nancy Peña's told about the Barnes family and the magical kimono. There are apparently four graphic novels about them, and this is the second, but you can read it without having read the first one and still enjoy it – after all, I did.