RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER by Sally Andrew is a change of pace from J.D. Robb and Harlan Coban. Reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books with a smidgen of Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schultz mysteries, RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER is an excellent debut book.
Told from the first person point of view of Maria van Harten, a cooking columnist in Ladismith, South Africa, the story is heavy with descriptions of meals and food, but the mystery is compelling too.
Maria is called Tannie (Auntie) Maria by her friends. She’s a fifty-something widow whose husband abused her. She’s content now to be alone with her chickens, her column in the local paper, her cooking, and her friends.
The paper’s editorial staff decides to ditch the recipe column and replace it with an advice column, so Tannie Maria finds herself having to dispense wisdom to the lovelorn. She sees a need for a recipe in each answer, but the advice is sound and the recipes yummy.
One letter, from an abused wife, strikes Tannie Maria hard. When a woman is found dead soon after, Tannie Maria is certain her husband killed her. She soon learns the case is much more complicated.
Tannie Maria and the paper’s investigative journalist, Jessie, get drawn into the mystery, attracting the killer’s attention.
I enjoyed this one very much. The story moves a bit slower than I’m used to in American mysteries, but the writing is lovely and the story is compelling. The mystery is a fair-play, with clues and red herrings; challenging but not impossible or implausible.
I’m a huge fan of Alexander McCall Smith and Precious Ramotswe, so I was somewhat used to the slower pace of the South African storytelling. The chapters are short, which made it easy to keep turning pages and thinking, “Just one more.”
Probably technically, a cozy, since the book includes recipes and humor, but there is some blood and death, making it a PG instead of a G rating.
Tannie Maria is a worthy addition to the halls of amateur sleuths/cooks, and I look forward to reading her next adventure. And to follow her developing romance with a certain police detective.