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.