Tag Archives: Italian food

Beware of the Poisoned Pen

Books from the Poisoned Pen Press – Variety Abounds

Avoidable Contact

Avoidable Contact: A Kate Reilly Mystery by Tammy Kaehler (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 296 pages)

We’re plunged into the world of Daytona endurance racing from the very first page. Avoidable Contact is the third book in author Kaehler’s Kate Reilly mystery series. Readers are quickly introduced to 38 characters within the first 52 pages! A sense of urgency surrounds Kate whether it’s on the track as an endurance driver in a 24-hour race at the Daytona International Speedway or behind the scenes with the pit crews and groupies.

Kate’s not-so-secret boyfriend Stuart is the victim of a hit-and-run just hours before the big race is scheduled to start. The circumstances are cloudy and not at all typical of Stuart’s usual behavior. Naturally, Kate plunges in to figure out what actually happened. While the sleuthing is somewhat choppy, the real entertainment in the book lies in the actual race descriptions.

Once Kate begins her stint at the wheel of the Sandham Swift Corvette in the 24-hour endurance race, her cinematic description of the action feels authentic. A graphic of the racecourse is a helpful reference for the reader. The missing piece is a chart of the teams and characters.

Recommended for race fans.

Death in the Dolomites

Death in the Dolomites: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery by David P. Wagner (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 229 pages)

The square had begun to fill with the late afternoon crowd, many wearing ski outfits but shuffling about in soft, puffy boots or sturdy street shoes. The tall streetlamps had come to life, their yellow light picking up the flakes as they fell to the ground.

The dust jacket of this charming book depicts the icy blue Italian mountain town where Rick Montoya has gone with his buddy Flavio Caldaro for a winter ski vacation. The banter between these fellows is engaging as they scope out the lovely ladies of the town. The setting and season are perfect for reading in winter.

The two men met in college at the University of New Mexico years earlier. Rick is a translator and the book contains many Italian words and phrases. Flavio is a wine merchant and Rick loves good Italian food. The reader will crave the fine dining experiences artfully depicted in Wagner’s near-poetic writing.

Rick is a likeable fellow whose adventures were introduced in Wagner’s debut mystery, Cold Tuscan Stone. As with the earlier book, this one is a clever missing person/murder puzzle that he’s determined to solve even if he is on vacation. A missing American banker is Rick’s main concern. The local police and Rick’s uncle, a Roman police inspector are the official investigators; however, we know who will crack the case!

Well recommended.

Desert Rage

Desert Rage: A Lena Jones Mystery by Betty Webb (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 402 pages)

For a change of location and a definite change in attitude there’s Desert Rage, the eighth book in author Betty Webb’s series featuring Lena Jones, owner of Desert Investigations in Scottsdale, Arizona. The opening gambit is a rather gross prologue full of gore and indifference. A narrative by private investigator and former cop Jones launches into her political views via criticism of a Hummer vehicle and large houses in Scottsdale.

The slant on Lena’s perspective is easy to understand as she is the product of a troubled past in foster care, having been dumped into the system with a gunshot injury at a very early age. Lena’s techie sidekick is Jimmy Sisiwan, a full-bloodied Pima Indian. Together they take on a rightwing client, Congresswomen Juliana Thorssson, who has a deep past of her own.

The slaughter described in the prologue revolves around the congresswoman, a teenager named Ali and her boyfriend Kyle. The point of view shifts among Lena, Ali and Kyle as each tells their side of the story. The telling is well-paced and enjoyable. There’s plenty of accurate Arizona scenery included, which makes for pleasing reading whether or not you have been to the desert southwest.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher or by a publicist. Avoidable Contact and Death in the Dolomites are also available in trade paper editions.

You can read a review of Cold Tuscan Stone here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/tuscany-days-and-nights/

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Gin and Juice

The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance by Thomas McNamee (Free Press, $27.00, 339 pages)

This is the biography of Craig Claiborne, a food writer and premier restaurant reviewer for the New York Times, who was to attack the bland, boring, heavy American diet of the 1960s and substitute, in its place, “a refined, if painstaking, cuisine.”   The food championed by Claiborne was international, primarily French, but with the understanding that each and every culture in the American melting pot offers outstanding dishes.   It may be that Claiborne’s prime mission was to de-anglicize the starchy, meat and potatoes diet that was once the province of the American cafeteria; a diet that – ironically – has returned to rule the roost via fast food outlets (with all the related health problems attached to such a non-diverse menu).

Claiborne might have said that variety  is the spice of diet, and he was nothing if not courageous in popularizing Chilean, Mexican, Greek, Turkish, Indian and other foods during his career.   Thomas McNamee earlier wrote the highly acclaimed bio of California’s Alice Waters,  Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, and while he praises Claiborne, this account is much less laudatory.   It seems that Claiborne had a number of issues as a human being, and they’re all put on the table in this telling.   (Unfortunately, the account is harmed by some odd typos and errors.   For example, on page 97 of the finished book, the year 1961 is referred to as “Ninety-sixty-one”.)

Claiborne grew up rather poor, but he came to identify with what we would now call the “one percenters.”   He was always to fly first class on his frequent trips to Europe, even when he had very little money to his name.   Later, the Times would take care of his expense accounts but Claiborne became controversial for his outlandish spending habits.   In 1978, he wrote a front page story about a $4,000 dinner he arranged in Paris.   The paper received 1,000 letters of complaint – there was a recession on after all.   At least two-thirds of the letters were very negative about Claiborne’s “in your face” ostentatiousness.   As McNamee notes, three years later interviewers were still asking Claiborne – the once poor boy from Sunflower, Missouri – to justify his behavior.

While Claiborne’s mother ran a bed-and-breakfast and taught him much about food preparation, he was to literally disown her and refused to attend the funerals of his mother and his brother.   Claiborne was in the closet during his lifetime, and he attached himself to two different married men, neither of whom went on to leave his spouse.   And while Claiborne lived to the age of 79, his days included no exercise and no less than 14 alcoholic drinks per day.   Claiborne was to openly admit to People magazine that he drank six margaritas before dinner, six glasses of wine during dinner, and as many stingers “as he needed…” until he got the “click in (his) head that makes me feel peaceful.”   In 1979, his blood pressure rate was found to be 186/112 – compared to an upper normal rate of 140/80 for a man in his late 50s.

You might wonder how Claiborne, as a public figure, got away with all of this…?   Well, he had his tricks.   After suffering a brain hemorrhage, he was to enlist his physician in his drinking activities.   Yes, his own doctor, who had ordered Claiborne to significantly reduce his alcohol intake, was charmed enough by the then-celebrity to sit and drink with him in restaurants.   Sometimes the doctor even included his wife in these drinking parties.

McNamee is just as honest – despite the book’s title – about Claiborne’s role in changing American eating habits.   Although Claiborne wrote the national bestseller, The New York Times Cook Book, McNamee admits that, “it is impossible to say whether the book had caught the wave of an entirely new American enthusiasm for food and cooking or had set it in motion.”   But the man is given full credit, as is his due, for popularizing the foods of all cultures and changing the once-dull face of food in The Big Apple:

“The clear result of his critical rigor was a continuous increase in the quality of New York’s restaurants and in others across the country…  By the time Craig left the Times, New York was teeming with restaurants as varied as the city’s clans, cults, allegiances, and heritages.   From the Bronx to the Battery were Chinese restaurants galore – including the fiery (regional dishes) that Craig had done so much to popularize.   Virtually every corner of Italy was represented.   Japanese cuisine of high refinement was easily had.   There were Brazilian, Vietnamese, Cuban-Chinese, Swiss, Swedish, and Syrian restaurants.   No longer were Greek, Indian and Mexican food served only in cheap joints.

Craig Claiborne may have been a man flawed in his personal habits, but he was also a visionary who proved the truth of the words that in diversity there is strength.   This is an engaging read for foodies and non-foodies alike.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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