Sunday, December 02, 2012

Reading the Recipes First? DEATH OF A COUNTRY-FRIED REDNECK by Lee Hollis

Joanne Fluke has neatly tied up the major market in "cozy" mysteries with a cooking twist -- her Hannah Swenson series includes a bakery in the plot, so cookie, cake, and other dessert recipes about in the volumes. I believe it's thanks to Fluke that I now thumb through the recipes first, when one of these mysteries arrives at Kingdom Books!

It's not a new approach -- Virginia  Rich (with eventual collaboration from not-yet-famous Nancy Pickard) gave us The Nantucket Diet Murders and The Baked-Bean Supper Murders. And in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series, although there aren't recipes in the actual books (they are given later in a cookbook), cooking and kitchen maneuvers make up a large part of the background to gourmand Nero Wolfe's part-time labor as a crime solver.

But there's always a new twist, and Lee Hollis -- actually the brother-and-sister team of Rick Copp and Holly Simason -- brings us the "Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails" mystery series, set in coastal Maine, where Hayley's job as food columnist at the Island Times gives her a chance to jump desks and join the hunt for a killer. In DEATH OF A COUNTRY-FRIED REDNECK, Hayley fits the classic role of an "amateur sleuth" (the best definition of what are often called cozy mysteries) by stumbling into a crime when she tags along after her favorite country music star, Southerner Wade Springer. Inspired to seek a catering slot in order to meet the legendary performer (who is comfortably single!), she brushes off her country-fried chicken recipe, among others. And each time the narrative pauses to give one of Hayley's columns, there are recipes -- not just for cooking but also for refreshingly different cocktails.

Hollis focuses on plot twists and recipes, and not much on depth of character -- Hayley's eventual solution of the murder mystery in her lap depends mostly on trying out every possible combination of blame and suspicion until she stumbles onto the actual killer and motive. But it's a cute ride, with an unusual combination of New England atmosphere and displaced dishes, as well as some entertaining friction between Holly and her teenaged daughter Gemma. For a light read, stack this one on the bedside table or even in the kitchen.

But -- no, no, no -- clipping out the recipes from a real book is absolutely not allowed. Either work on them directly from the book pages, or copy them out somehow. And if you need a few more, especially for the outrageous cocktails, check out the author's very relaxed blog at

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