Fri 27 Jul 2012
VIRGINIA RICH – The Cooking School Murders. E. P. Dutton & Co., hardcover, 1982. Ballantine, paperback, 1983.
For a nice, gently nostalgic Midwestern tale of murder that will remind you of nothing less than home-folks all the way through, look no further. (Of course, if you come from a long line of Manhattanites or native Californians, you may be left wondering what the charm of living in Iowa may actually be, even after reading this book, but then again, some people are beyond help.)
Seriously, though, as an amateur sleuth in this first of a new series, Mrs. Potter has the right idea. As a widow in her early sixties, she’s seen enough of life to be convinced that when it comes to murder, an honest character study of the people involved will always prove to be an essential key to its solution. So do I, when it comes down to it (even though, of course, that’s where any resemblance between Mrs. Potter and myself most definitely ends).
Three deaths occur the same evening in Harrington, Iowa, immediately after, it seems, the first meeting of an advanced cooking class offered by the local high school. One is that of a long-time friend of Mrs. Potter’s — apparently a suicide. Another is that of the new femme fatale in town, whom blackmail seems to follow like a well-trained setter.
The latter, obviously, has been murdered, and it comes as no great surprise, but the death of a naive young schoolmarm seems to have been purely an accident.
Everyone else takes the “obvious” answers to the questions raised by these three nearly coincident deaths. Not Mrs. Potter, though, who putters around and unknowingly puts her own life on the line as she busily constructs various scenarios for the crimes, placing each of her many friends and acquaintances into every possible role.
Naturally she fails to put the solution together quite correctly enough, until it is very nearly too late. Myself, I thought the final outcome rather unlikely, and, if you will, a bit of a let-down to a mystery novel that till then, had me very nicely entertained.
Overall, then, I’d call this one a lightweight in the world of amateur detection, but it’s still a mystery with its own built-in source of warmth and charm — just enough to ward off the ever-approaching chill of murder.
P.S. If you are so inclined, you can skip the recipes. I did.
Vol. 7, No. 2, March-April 1983 (slightly revised).
The Eugenia Potter series –
1. The Cooking School Murders (1982)
2. The Baked Bean Supper Murders (1983)
3. The Nantucket Diet Murders (1985)
4. The 27 Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders (1992) (with Nancy Pickard)
Virginia Rich’s first novel was published when she was 68, and she died three years later. Fellow mystery writer Nancy Pickard continued the series, working from the boxes of notes Virginia Rich had made in planning future novels.
The Eugenia Potter series, continued by Nancy Pickard –
5. The Blue Corn Murders (1998)
6. The Secret Ingredient Murders (2001)