book review: Recipes for Love and Murder

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Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew. Ecco| November 2015| 432 pages | $26.99| ISBN: 9780062397669

RATING: ****/5*

“My mother gave me a love of cooking, but it was only when I discovered what bad company my husband was that I realized what good company food can be. Some might think food is too important to me, but let them think that. Without food, I would be very lonely.”

This book made me happy for two reasons: details bring readers right into Klein Karoo in South Africa and the characters pop from the pages. South Africa is one of the top three places I long to visit and I fear I’ll never get there. Reading novels set in South Africa allows me to travel in my mind and dreams.

Tannie Maria van Harten, a fifty-something widow, writes a recipe page for the Klein Karoo Gazette. She bakes pies and pastries and cooks stews and comfort food that everyone in town appreciates, particularly her colleagues at the newspaper. It’s clear that she keeps herself busy gardening, cooking, baking and writing. There’s that conception that those alone are lonely but loneliness and intimacy are two entirely different things. Many people, like Tannie, enjoy the solitary life. She’s convinced by her friend and editor Hattie Christie to write an advice column in which she doles out advice along with recipes. Tannie doesn’t believe she’s qualified as her late husband physically abused her. She decided that she’s finished with men.

A woman writes several letters about leaving her abusive husband and when someone murders this woman, Tannie feels responsible. She and determined journalist Jessie Mostert begin their own investigation. Tannie and Jessie become entangled in some dangerous situations and Tannie finds herself revisiting the abusive relationship with her own husband. A handsome police officer insists on providing Tannie with personal protection. While unsure about his attraction to her and still hurting from her awful marriage, as they spend more time together she realizes that she’s not completely opposed to another relationship.

While mostly light-hearted and amusing—particularly Tannie and the police officer’s budding relationship– author Sally Andrew includes domestic violence issues, fracking and a love triangle in this mystery. She spatters Afrikaans terms throughout [there’s a glossary at the end] which provides South African authenticity and a strong sense of place. While the novel might be a bit long and the plot forks off in too many directions, the engaging and warm female characters shine. If readers like Tannie Marie the planned series should be a popular read. It would be delightful to revisit.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Ecco.

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