Cooking the Books, Kerry Greenwood
When I signed up for the TBR Double-dare, this was the only new book that I claimed an exemption for. I found out too late about two other books published the very same day, both eagerly-awaited, C.S Harris's When Maidens Mourn (the latest in a series of Regency mysteries) and Naomi Novik's Crucible of Gold (the latest in a series sometimes described as Patrick O'Brian with dragons). Both are now sitting right here as I type, tempting me.
It's been a long wait for Cooking the Books, the sixth in Kerry Greenwood's series of Corinna Chapman books. The last, Forbidden Fruits, came out in 2010, and the North American release of this new book comes months after it was published last year in Australia. Having to wait for this book made me realize again how spoiled I have become, with the global reach of internet buying.
Cooking the Books is a welcome addition to the series. Set in Melbourne, they feature Corinna, who gave up a career in accounting to become a master bread baker. She has a very successful bakery called Earthly Delights, and in her spare time she solves crimes with her stunning Israeli partner Daniel, a private investigator. Corinna lives above her shop, which is on the ground floor of Insula, an apartment building modeled on one from ancient Rome. The other tenants, some of whom also own businesses in the ground-floor shops, are sometimes clients and sometimes partners in investigation. They form a surrogate family, and it is always a pleasure to meet them, and their cats, again.
This book actually takes Corinna out of her familiar setting for much of the story. It opens just after Christmas, when the bakery is closed for a month-long holiday. A request from an old school friend, which quickly turns into friendly blackmail, leads Corinna to accept a temporary job as a baker for a catering company. The company is providing the food for a film crew working on a TV soap about a wedding planning business. Daniel, meanwhile, is helping a young intern at a financial company who has mislaid a set of bearer bonds worth $1 million. When Corinna discovers that someone at the studio is playing vicious pranks on the Joan Collins-esque star, Daniel is brought in to investigate that as well, and as usual the cases begin to overlap. In addition to the familiar characters, there is the cast and crew of the soap, as well as the caterers, and all the backstage drama they bring. Corinna and Daniel also spend a lot of time out and about in Melbourne, tracking a mysterious set of clues, based in nursery rhymes and songs, to locate the bearer bonds.
I have enjoyed every book in this series. I suppose they would qualify as cozy, since there is little violence, though the urban setting is anything but pastoral. Corinna's apprentice Jason is a former street kid, a recovering addict, and in this book as in others the city's homeless play an important part in the story. On the other hand, the surrogate family of the tenants makes Insula a refuge. Corinna, a zaftig woman comfortable with herself, is someone I'd love to sit down and have a cup of tea with, and I'd really like to wander into her shop for some of her bread. I am always hungry reading these books (Greenwood includes recipes in the afterwords and on her website). We could definitely chat about books over tea, since Corinna is a fan of Georgette Heyer, Patrick O'Brian and Terry Pratchett, among others (not to mention Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Doctor Who).