Recipe for a Food Mystery:
- 1 dash missing person
- 1 cup New Orleans atmosphere
- 2 cups New Orleans cooking
- Cut 1 cup investigation of missing person with 1 pound of talk about cuisine of New Orleans
- Season with a smidgen of action and suspense
- Stir ingredients and print them out. Serves an undetermined number of readers.
This recipe is used for a lot of food mysteries with variations in amounts and ingredients, and that’s the key. Some of those variations make all the difference in the world. Add a little more suspense and actual investigation and you’ll get a mystery that I’ll gobble down. Skimp on the suspense, intersperse every few pages with long discussions about the food, throw in unbelievable coincidences and I’ll work my way through it as though I were finishing the unwanted vegetable on my plate.
New Orleans, the French Quarter, voodoo, spicy Cajun and Creole cooking – all things guaranteed to put you in the mood for dark and mysterious doings. Unfortunately, though all of these elements are featured in Crime Brulee, they don’t elicit any of the emotions a reader would expect to feel reading a mystery set in New Orleans.
Ms. Fairbanks introduces a protagonist the reader wants to follow to New Orleans, but then she peoples the book with supporting players who are uninteresting at best and unlikable at worst. Carolyn Blue is forty-something, has retired from being a homemaker and has taken up a career as a food writer. Her latest assignment is a book about Cajun cooking, which dovetails nicely with her professor husband’s plans to attend a conference in New Orleans.
The conference brings together many of Carolyn and Jason’s old college pals, including Carolyn’s very good friend Julienne. When Julienne disappears after a fight with her husband, Carolyn seems to be the only one who’s worried. Julienne’s husband, Nils, is convinced that she’s taken off with a lover and the others in the gang are sure that the missing woman will turn up when she needs to at the conference. Carolyn is sure Julienne would not just disappear, so she spends her time investigating by showing up at the places she and her friend planned to visit in New Orleans.
These visits and the other efforts Carolyn puts in to find her friend are broken up by long passages about the food that Carolyn is experiencing. Naturally, since this is a food mystery, there are recipes thrown in as well. They also contribute to a choppy suspense level. It’s hard to be interested in Julienne’s whereabouts when all these people can do is talk about the food they’re eating.
I liked Carolyn, and I even liked some of the descriptions of the food, but that isn’t why I read a mystery. None of the “suspects” was fleshed out enough to be viable, so by the time we found out what happened to the missing Julienne, I didn’t much care. Any shock value had long since been lost and the explanation came out of nowhere, which is another big “don’t” for a mystery. For those of you who enjoy lots of food talk, this one may be more to your taste, but I’ll take my next bite out of a different series.