RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER introduces the world to Tannie Maria, a fifty-something, Afrikaans, widow living in the town of Ladysmith in the Klein Karoo region of South Africa. She writes a cooking column for the local paper but the publication’s sponsors want an ‘agony aunt’ style advice column instead so Tannie Maria, ever the pragmatist, combines the two concepts. She’ll solve people’s problems with her common sense advice and offer the perfect recipe for every situation. One of the first letters she receives is very troubling as it is from a woman who is being abused by her husband. This situation brings back painful memories of Tannie Maria’s own marriage. When the letter-writer is murdered Tannie Maria, worrying that her advice to leave the marriage might have led to the woman’s death, feels obligated to become involved in the investigation.
I suspect the labelling of this book as a ‘cosy’ mystery will be an automatic turnoff for some people but I would urge them to ignore the term and give the book a go anyway. Sure it has some very light-hearted moments that you wouldn’t find in a noir novel and there’s not a lot of on-page sex or violence but that doesn’t prevent the book from tackling some important subjects in a substantial and intelligent way. Issues such as domestic violence and the hypocrisy that can be inherent in some religious practice are threaded throughout the story in such a way that they cut through what might otherwise be too ‘cute’ or ‘sweet’ while still leaving the book with its overall positive and sunny sensibility.
Tannie Maria is a terrific character. She is smart, funny and down-to-earth. She has gotten on with her life, soldiering through the difficult times in a very practical way and not let her bad experiences completely bring her undone. Though she is not ridiculously upbeat or unrealistic as some cosy heroines can be. She is lonely and has insecurities too. It’s a complex and quite nuanced depiction and I suspect there is a lot more to learn about this character so I’ll be looking for the already published second book in the series very soon. There are some wonderful minor characters too including Tannie Maria’s colleagues Hattie, the newspaper’s editor, and Jessie, an eager young reporter. The official investigators include a sombre but thorough policeman who acts as a love interest for Tannie Maria. Even some of the letter writers, several of whom write more than once, add a nice layer of characterisation.
And of course there’s the food. There are more recipes than murder here as Tannie Maria’s go to response for any situation or problem is food. She brings food to her colleagues, cooks meals for the policeman, tracks down vegan cake recipes for the Seventh Day Adventist kids who play a role in the story and, of course, provides recipes to all the people who write in to the paper seeking her help. This is not a book to read when you’re hungry.
The story itself here is probably the most ‘standard’ thing about the book in that it is a fairly traditional whodunit with lots of red herrings and a large pool of suspects which have to be investigated and discarded one by one. Although the ultimate resolution is satisfying this element of the book is probably the only one I could quibble with as there are some parts of the story that are a bit too far-fetched. But it only happens a couple of times and I was having so much fun that I easily forgave Andrew this indulgence.
I opted for the audiobook version of RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER which is narrated by South African actor Sandra Prinsloo and feel that this format really added to my enjoyment of the book. There’s lots of Afrikaans language scattered throughout the story and I always enjoy hearing foreign language words pronounced properly and Prinsloo’s accent, tempo and voice work fitted the story to perfection. In combination with Andrew’s evocatively drawn setting I really did feel like I was being transported to the other side of the world as I became absorbed by this story.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Sandra Prinsloo
Publisher Lamplight Audio 2015
Length 11 hours 27 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in the Tannie Maria series
Source of review copy I bought it