Readin’ & Eatin’
What do people like us do when we’re not eating? Besides prepare to eat, clean up from eating and talk about eating? Read about eating! I have a list of culinary mysteries that I’m making my way through. Following is my humble opinion regarding a few readily available series.
Katherine Page – “The Body in the…” Series
New York city caterer Faith Fairchild (Have Faith Catering) relocates to a small Massachusetts town with her minister boyfriend and somehow manages to stumble across more dead bodies than a homicide detective. The first book in the series The Body in the Belfry won the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery and the author has also won an Agatha for best short story. Publisher Weekly, however, had this to say “Page's first novel lacks professional polish and a likable heroine, flaws not compensated for by vivid evocations of a New England autumn in Aleford, Mass.” Ouch. I found the writing to be sophisticated compared to other novels in this genre. For me personally, there wasn’t enough food and/or catering action, although the books do have recipes. Also, it has started to drive me crazy that they are so formulaic. But that appears to be the ‘recipe for success’ when you’re writing mysteries with the same character.
Jerrilyn Farmer – Sympathy for the Devil, Immaculate Reception etc.
This series is about Madeline Bean and the events her company Madeline Bean Catering handle in wacky Southern California. Crazy rich and famous clients make for fun and empathetic reading. Her writing is funny, which I appreciate, but there are no recipes. I’ve never cooked one from the recipes in the culinary mysteries I read, but I want them all the same! Overall, this is my favorite series to date. Madeline is always being pursued by some random attractive guy, which is a nice change from the hapless, unable to dress herself or brush her hair-heroine the novels frequently have.
Diane Mott Davidson – Catering to Nobody, Dying for Chocolate etc.
Goldy Bear of Goldilocks Catering, where everything is just right, lives in the Aspen area of Colorado and solves murders while trying to put a commercial kitchen in her home, share custody of her son with an abusive ex-husband and generally deal with at least two attempts on her life per book. This series is wildly popular, but for me, they are too negative. I want to enjoy what I’m reading and Goldy’s life is always on the edge of falling apart. I get that enough in the real world. I don’t need to read a whole series about someone else’s! There are recipes, though.
Michael Bond – Monsieur Pamplemousse Series
Ex-crime sleuth turned food critic Monsieur Pamplemousse travels around Europe with his dog, Pommes Frites, eating and solving mysteries. His home is France and it is entertaining to read about foreign food. He is a very funny character, and always getting into escapades with his dog and various women who are unwittingly charmed by him. I enjoy this series even though there are no recipes. Michael Bond is also the author of the Paddington Bear series for children.
JoAnna Carl – Chocoholic Mysteries
After leaving her bad-news husband back in Texas, Lee McKinney moved up north to a quaint resort town. Now she keeps the books for her aunt’s luxury-chocolate shop. But Lee soon finds that Michigan winters can be murder. Duh duh DUM!! An interesting change of pace to read about the inner workings of a confectionary, complete with tasty chocolate trivia. Lee also keeps a stash of chocolates in her desk which she rations to herself. I give this series three, out of a possible five, chicken legs. Good in a pinch, but not a series that I’m going fanatically track all of them down.
Laura Childs – Tea Shop Mysteries
The first in the series, "Death by Darjeeling" introduces Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop in Charleston. As the series goes on, it includes seven books currently, the tea shop starts doing more food and catering thanks to Bethany, the talented chef. Usually includes a recipe and tea-making tips. Laura Childs has also written a series of mysteries that center around scrapbooking. Makes me feel like I’m not properly brewing my cup of tea, which to be honest, I’m probably not. I did enjoy reading about the things they do in the tea shop for marketing a promoting products. I give this series, four out of five sprigs of rosemary for good descriptive writing of Charleston and in-depth tea info and recipes.
Nancy Fairbanks – Crime Brulee, Truffled Feathers etc…
Main character Carolyn Blue falls into the career of travel/food writer. After writing a newspaper article, she is offered a publishing contract to write a book about the foods of her next travel destination. Ah yes, because life is just that kind. There are many recipes, centering on the region she is visiting (first book is New Orleans, second is New York), but over all they don’t make up for boring these stories are. Maybe it was the style of the writing, but I didn’t really care about Carolyn finding her missing friend, who is of course, dead, or avoiding her mother-in-law. Maybe when she goes to Texas…two out of five cans of diced tomatoes. I’d buy it in the airport if there were no better options.