Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cooking the Books - Kerry Greenwood

I can't read Kerry Greenwood's Corinna Chapman books when I'm hungry. It's torture. If I'm stuck on a train or on a journey of any kind without rations, I just read something else. I sat down on Friday afternoon to begin reading Cooking the Books. It was grey & threatening rain. I had a cup of tea beside me, Lucky was asleep on the couch, Phoebe was asleep on my lap. An hour & a half (& a very loud thunderstorm) later, I was starving & had to upset sleeping cats to get to the kitchen & eat.

Corinna Chapman is a baker. She's a big woman, traditionally built as Alexander McCall Smith would say. She lives in Melbourne in an Art Deco building called Insula with her lover, Daniel, cat Horatio & an assortment of friends & fellow tenants. Her bakery, Earthly Delights, is closed for January, her assistant, Jason, has gone to surf on the coast & her two assistants, resting actors Goss & Kylie, have landed roles on a new soap, Kiss the Bride. When an old school enemy begs Corinna to help her out in a catering emergency, employing a little bribery to ensure success, Corinna is happy to oblige. Holidays aren't for her & she's bored. The job, baking for the production of Kiss the Bride at Docklands studios, means she can keep an eye on Goss & Kylie as well as be highly paid for doing what she does best - baking.

The kitchen is fraught & tense, as all commercial kitchens are, in Corinna's experience. The tension is also evident on the set where star Molly Atkins plays the prima donna on & off the set. Her downtrodden assistant, Emily, suffers most but stays on, hoping for her big acting break if Molly pulls a few strings for her. Who could be playing practical jokes on the leading lady? Chili oil in her scrambled eggs, mustard in her face powder & wasabi in the lip gloss is only the start of it. Then, Corinna becomes aware of other little conspiracies among the cast & crew. Emily seems quite different off the set & when Molly faints & Emily has to step in at the last minute, she is transformed. Cameraman Ethan seems close to Emily & very antagonistic to Molly. The writers, Gordon & Kendall, seem to be hatching plots they haven't written into the script & Tash, the director, just wants to keep Molly happy & get to the end of shooting with no disasters.

Corinna's lover, Daniel, is a private detective & his latest case is a hard one to crack. A young woman, Lena, who works for a firm of corporate lawyers, is desperate to recover some missing papers. Lena is being bullied by her employers & it soon becomes obvious that something dodgy's going on. The search for the papers leads Daniel to the haunts of the homeless & to deciphering clues left by the mysterious Pockets, a former banker, now one of the many people living on the streets, suffering from mental illness & alcoholism.  Pockets has "filed" the missing papers somewhere safe & obviously understands their worth. He leaves clues at various locations around Melbourne & Daniel & Corinna set off on the treasure hunt. Daniel is also employed by Molly Atkins to find the son she gave up for adoption at birth. All the clues point to Molly's son being on the set or in the kitchen at Kiss the Bride.

There's always lots of plot & subplot in Kerry Greenwood's novels. But, even the plot doesn't distract me from the ever-present food. Corinna's bread is legendary as are Jason's muffins. In this book, Corinna takes on Bernie, a young pastry cook, to help out while Jason's away & the two of them create some mouth-watering treats. The catering company has a different theme for the Kiss the Bride set each day. So, on Greek day, we have spanokopita, baklava & Greek shortbread. Hungarian day means apricot cake, hundred layer cake & raspberry cream roulade. You get the idea? I could practically smell the bacon & scrambled eggs for breakfast. Then there are the medieval recipes Bernie makes out of an old cookbook she found. Lots of marzipan, spices & fruit.

I also enjoy the setting of the novels. I love the fact that I guessed a couple of the clues in Daniel's treasure hunt (the fine lady on the fine horse, for example) because I live in Melbourne & I knew exactly what statue was referred to. I don't read many novels set in Melbourne but this series & Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher detective series set in the 1920s, are a lot of fun. There's almost as much food in the Phryne books but I especially love the fact that Corinna's a baker. I love baking & as well as eating, this book made me long to bake something, anything! There are recipes in the back of the book as well.


  1. I love Kerry Greeenwood's books too but I'm a little behind in this series. Would I need to go back and read the earlier books in the series before jumping to this one do you think??

  2. I was recently at a small bookshop and noticed that they had an event with Kerry Greenwood where they were going to cook from these books! Only problem .... the event was the week before!

    I haven't started this series because I really want to finish the Phryne Fisher series first.

  3. This author is new to me but sounds like she is right up my alley!

  4. I'm so envious, this won't be available in the US til next year.

  5. Karen, I don't think it matters if you jump in with this one. She provides enough background on everyone so I don't think you'll feel lost. Marg, a KG cooking event would be wonderful. I went on a walk around 20s Melbourne with KG one year as part of the Writers Festival. It finished up at the Windsor for afternoon tea, delicious way to end the walk. I think you'll enjoy both the mystery series, Rose, they're fun, light reading. Lisa, it will be worth the wait. My only problem is that I read them too quickly & then have to wait for the next one.

  6. I didn't know Kerry Greenwood had a series besides the Phryne Fisher series. I've been working my way through that one and enjoying it very much, so I'll have to look into these books.

    Your day of reading with your cats during the thunderstorm sounds so cozy! I think we're about to have a few days of rain here in Philadelphia and I imagine at least one of my cats will help me get cozy!

    Boston is my real home, the place I've lived longest, and I love reading books or watching films / TV set here, as long as they stay true. If I can't be there, imagining the places in the books is the second best thing.

  7. Joan, I really enjoy the Phryne books as well. I think both series are great thunderstorm reading. I hope you managed that cosy cat time if the rain eventuated.

  8. I hadn't heard of this author before but I love the sound of this book. I like to read a series in order, so I've put Earthly Delights on my TBR list.

  9. I love Kerry Greenwood's books - I have read one from each series and would adore to read more but they are fiendishly difficult to get hold of in the UK!
    Our library only has the two that I have read and when I looked at buying some, the prices I saw are far higher than I can justify paying. Such a shame as I thought they were both delightfully enjoyable reads!
    I'm glad the 'girls' are doing well - none of my cats are particularly bothered about thunder and lightning or fireworks which is probably a good thing as we approach Guy Fawkes night!

  10. Joanne, I hope you enjoy Earthly Delights - just don't read it on an empty stomach! Liz, it's odd that Greenwood isn't published in the UK as she's been picked up by a US publisher. I hope you can get hold of the books at some point. Yes, I'm glad the girls aren't bothered by thunder, we've had a few thunderstorms lately. The garbage truck frightens them more but at least that noise only lasts for a few seconds.