Cooking the Books: A Corinna Chapman Mysteryby Kerry Greenwood
Corinna Chapman, talented baker and reluctant investigator, is trying very hard to do nothing at all on her holidays. Her gorgeous Daniel is only intermittently at her side (he’s roaming the streets tracking down a multi-thousand dollar corporate theft). Jason, her baking offsider, has gone off to learn how to surf. And Kylie and Goss are fulfilling their… See more details below
Corinna Chapman, talented baker and reluctant investigator, is trying very hard to do nothing at all on her holidays. Her gorgeous Daniel is only intermittently at her side (he’s roaming the streets tracking down a multi-thousand dollar corporate theft). Jason, her baking offsider, has gone off to learn how to surf. And Kylie and Goss are fulfilling their lives’ ambition auditioning for a soapie. It should be a time of quiet reflection for Corinna but quiet reflection doesn’t seem to suit her – she’s bored. Scenting a whiff of danger, Corinna accepts an offer from a caterer friend to do the baking for the film set of a new soap called ‘Kiss the Bride’. The soapie in which Kylie and Goss have parts. Twists and turns and complications that could only happen to Corinna ensue involving, bizarrely, nursery rhymes and a tiger called Tabitha. While on the other side of town, a young woman is being unmercifully bullied by her corporate employers – employers who spend a lot of time cooking the books.The 6th in the Corinna Chapman series.
"We don’t tune in to the Chapman adventures for labyrinthine plots or shocking, right-angle twists. Rather, we’re there for Corinna, her wonderfully engaging supporting cast, and the beautifully rendered environment in which the stories unfold (the mystery is icing on the cake). Another winning entry in this consistently satisfying series." —Booklist
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Cooking the BooksA Corinna Chapman Mystery
By Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2011 Kerry Greenwood
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI was supposed to be on holiday. So what, you may ask—in fact, Daniel was actually asking—was I doing in the bakery? Apart from, self-evidently, baking?
'Bosworth Jumbles,' I explained.
He smiled at me. My heart did a complete flip-flop with pike. Beautiful Daniel, my Sabra turned private detective, who out of all women in the city picked me, an ample size 20 who worked too hard making bread at my bakery, Earthly Delights. Since the advent of Daniel I have become susceptible to the idea that miracles might really happen. He is tall, dark and gorgeous with a faint whiff of mystery. I am short and mousy and smell mostly of flour and honest labour. Not seductive.
'Why jumbles and why Bosworth?' he asked.
My apprentice, Jason, a recovering heroin addict, had taken his holiday pay and gone surfing. My shop was closed until the end of January, and my two assistants had gone to an audition for a soap of some sort. I should have been relaxing, but I didn't seem to have the knack.
'The cook died rather than disclose the recipe,' I said. 'Mrs. Dawson is giving an afternoon tea and she wanted some traditional English munchies. And as she is a famous retired society hostess, I like to think that the fact that she chose me as her baker is a great compliment.'
'How do you mean, died?' Daniel sounded intrigued.
'Was executed. He deserves to be remembered. He was Richard the Third's confectioner, a highly paid position,' I told him, forming the jumbles into little heaps on my baking sheet. 'He went with Richard to the battle of Bosworth Field, where the King was defeated and the cook was captured. Henry VII offered him his life if he would give him the recipe for these sugary little treats. He refused, and after a week Henry VII had him executed. But the cook gave the recipe to one of his jailers and the local bakers made them for centuries, all through the Tudor period. Just to remind the rulers that there had been a good king who was usurped and murdered.'
'Sedition by cookery. Impressive,' he murmured. 'What else do we have here? Isn't that fruit mince?'
'For Eccles cakes,' I agreed. 'When the parliamentarians banned Christmas, the bakers of Eccles made these little mince tarts instead of Christmas pudding. I don't know if it was just because they had a stockpile of the main ingredient, or because they wanted to bring a little joy into people's hearts in those joyless times.'
'Possibly both. And these?'
'You can have one. Or two,' I conceded. 'They're singing hinnies. Like the song.'
'She can cook an Irish stew, aye, and singing hinnies, too,' he sang, a pleasant tenor somewhat obscured by crumbs.
'And otherwise there are some Bath buns and a sand cake.'
'Sand cake,' he said flatly. 'Even for a superlative baker, sand is not a good ingredient. I recall those childhood beach picnics. It grits the teeth. Love the singing hinnies, though.'
'Sand cake is not made of sand,' I informed him, opening the oven to insert the jumbles and remove the cake. 'It's made with cornflour so it's sandy in texture, but no real sand is used in the construction, I promise. Otherwise she has potted shrimps, which I made yesterday, to eat with brown bread, and cucumber sandwiches, which also contain—'
'No sand. I understand now,' he assured me. 'How much longer will these historical sweeties detain you?'
'Just have to get the jumbles out of the oven—ten minutes or so. Can't ice the cake until it's cold.'
'I notice that none of the feline contingent have descended from the sun porch to supervise your labour,' he observed.
'Lazy creatures have been taking nonstop naps,' I said, wiping flour off my forearms onto my strong green apron. 'Though the Mouse Police are still catching rats down here at night. But they probably think that is sport, not work.'
'Cats don't do the "w" word,' he agreed solemnly. 'Even the maître d'hôtel Horatio only supervises.'
Horatio is my tabby and white gentleman and he does, indeed, oversee the moral and aesthetic standards of Earthly Delights. I sometimes feel that I cannot live up to him. He is an aristocat.
'Have you heard from Jason?' he asked, leaning a hip against a mixing tub.
'Postcard,' I said. I ducked my head at the missive on the counter, which boasted the single line: luv the beech but its hotte.
Daniel read it. 'His spelling is very Middle English, isn't it?'
'The picture is of Lorne. Surely he can't get into too much trouble in Lorne.'
'I don't know—can he swim?' asked Daniel.
'No idea,' I replied.
'And where are the girls?'
'At an audition for a pilot episode of a soap called Kiss the Bride,' I said. 'This is their second call back, so they might even get parts. I do hope so. Might even make them put on a little weight.' The girls are fervent devotees of the Goddess Anorexia. I live to see a little more flesh on their bones.
The jumbles announced by scent that they were cooked. I took them out of the oven and tumbled them gently onto a cake cooler. Then I mixed and drizzled the lemon icing over my sand cake.
'All finished. You want to help me carry them up?'
'What about scones? Afternoon tea ought to have scones,' he objected, taking up the large tin tray loaded with food.
'She's making her own, of course,' I told him. 'Up to the roof, Madame is entertaining in the garden.'
I can't imagine how the roof garden at Insula escaped unscathed when the building was allowed to run down in the sixties. A lot of Melbourne was trashed at the time. The elevator goes right there so they can't have missed it. Intervention of fate, I expect. Fate likes a good garden as much as anyone else. There is a statue of Ceres with her arms full of corn, copy of a Roman original, in the glassed-in temple, but there is also a rose bower, a lot of wisteria, and even Trudi's linden tree. Mrs. Dawson's table was laid out under the wisteria. There were no blossoms on it, of course, it being January, but delightful pale green leaves and a lot of diffused light. She had lovely china, gold and blue, and a massive samovar which Trudi was even now wheeling up to the right of the hostess.
Trudi is Dutch and sixty and wears blue and is the only person whom the freight elevator obeys. Her appearance is only unusual in that she wears a ginger kitten of fiendish aspect on her shoulder. Meroe, our witch, says he is not really diabolical; only humans have the spiritual software to be devilish. He just has a small kink in his feline soul which renders him mischievous. That's why he is called Lucifer. He's getting bigger, which is a sobering prospect ...
He made a wild dive for the cake—Lucifer will try to eat anything—and was hauled back by his harness. That harness has been the thwarting of a lot of potential adventures, especially those involving Lucifer and the fish pond in the atrium. For Insula is a Roman building, and what is a Roman building without its impluvium?
We don't know much about the lunatic who built Insula like a Roman tenement. There was a fashion then for exotic buildings—Moorish, Arabic, old English Gothick. It has some deco features but when Professor Dion ordered his apartment decorated after designs from Pompeii, they fitted beautifully. He is, for instance, the owner of the only ancient RomanTV/DVD cabinet in the world. We are a jolly collection, except for Mrs. Pemberthy, who is there to curdle the milk of human kindness and make one desire state-sponsored seclusion of everyone over eighty-five with a small rotten doggie called Traddles.
Mrs. Dawson, urbane and elegant, was wearing what my grandmother would call a hostess gown in swirly shades of rust and apricot. She is an example to us all. She surveyed the provender as Daniel and I laid it out next to her cucumber sandwiches, the potted shrimps and their thin-sliced brown bread, and a mound of scones with concomitant jam and cream. Her scones looked very good. I would have guessed as much.
'A feast,' she told me. 'Thank you so much, Corinna dear. The ladies ought to be arriving. I've stationed Dion in the atrium to welcome the early birds. I shall now descend and join him.'
She flung a cobweb-fine muslin cloth over the feast and departed in a flourish of skirts.
'What a woman,' sighed Daniel.
'She is indeed. How about a tiny snack of our own?' I asked, with deep political cunning. I hoped to decoy him into my apartment for a little afternoon delight. I don't think I fooled him for a moment, but he fell in beside me willingly. In the interests of truth, I did intend to offer him tea. And cakes. As well.
All was going according to plan. He drank my Earl Grey, he ate a jumble and a slice of sand cake (I had made double, for my kitchen as well as Mrs. D's tea) and was about to kiss me with the kisses of his mouth in proper biblical fashion when the doorbell rang shrilly.
The door was answered—however grudgingly—and Kylie and Goss danced into the room, waving bits of paper and laughing. I was not in the mood for laughing and dancing, but I tried. The whole building is sort of in loco parentis (as the professor calls it) to the girls. They are so young and on their own.
'What?' asked Daniel, also uncomfortably halted in mid-kiss.
'Contracts!' they cried.
'You got the job?' he asked.
'We got the job! We both got the job! Speaking parts! I'm the kooky girl, Goss is the loser one,' cried Kylie. 'It's an office. Ooh, tea. Can we have some? We missed lunch.'
'Certainly,' I agreed, surprised. 'Get yourselves a cup and a plate each—would you like one of my jumbles?'
'Looks good,' said Kylie, and they both tucked into jumbles in a way which would have made Richard III's martyred cook glad. I was just wishing I had made some more when I was given a typescript to read. It was a mass of convoluted phrases but seemed to be a hiring agreement for the pilot episode of Kiss the Bride, binding them to what seemed like frightful hours—six am to nine pm with extensions if necessary—and a condition that they didn't lose or gain weight. Or so much as breathe a word about the show to anyone at all, even their mothers, unless required to do so in supervised interviews. They could be sacked for a list of crimes, including persistent lateness, using drugs or alcohol, something which I had to read as moral turpitude, like getting in trouble with the law, and whenever the director felt like sacking them, he or she could. I would have protested but they had clearly already signed them—and the money was quite good. I nodded and handed the papers back to Kylie, or possibly Goss. They change their appearance so often that I get confused.
'I've got an appointment for my hair tomorrow,' breathed Goss, or possibly Kylie.
'Hair?' I asked, at a loss.
'Well, duh, Corinna, the kooky girl always has red hair and the loser's always a brunette. It's sort of the way things are,' explained the girl. 'I'm kooky so I'm going to be fire-engine red, and Goss is going to be brown for the future.'
The speaker was thus revealed to be Kylie and I realised that I would be able to tell them apart for the duration of the pilot. Goss, brown; Kylie, red. That would be a change.
Daniel was trying to catch my eye, making drinking motions. I briefly mourned my lost orgy. But yes, their triumph ought to have champagne. I got out the glasses. Daniel got out the emergency bottle of unexpected-good-news champagne from the fridge.
We all drank. After a glass each, the girls giggled and fled, saying that they had to get online to tell Facebook the good news—so much for their contracts, I almost said, but if the employers of modern young women don't know that every spare thought goes onto Facebook, they should not be employing them—and looked at Daniel.
'Where were we?' he purred, and filled my glass again.
Oh yes. That's where we were ...
* * *
I woke alone. Since the advent of Daniel, I had been finding my old bed a trifle constrained what with Daniel and Horatio and, of course, me, so I had bought a new bed roughly the size of a field, which easily fitted me and Horatio and Daniel with room left over for several haymakers and possibly a picnic. Horatio had tapped my cheek with an imperious paw, conveying that it was Cat Food Time and to look sharp about it. It further suggested that taking an impromptu nap was the province of the ruling species (i.e., cats) not the subservient (i.e., humans).
I can relate to that. I sat up, draped in my new blue sheets, and looked around for my lover. Gone, but there were noises suggestive of activity in the kitchen. I dragged on a silky robe and pottered out to investigate.
Thumping noises indicated that Daniel was making chicken schnitzel, so I found the peeler and began on the potatoes. We had become so used to working together that I didn't need to be told that mashed spuds were the accompaniment to Daniel's excellent schnitzel, and the salad was already chilling in its iced water. Yum. Making love makes me hungry.
Horatio was also hungry and discussed his gourmet cat food eagerly. Potatoes on, I wandered down to the bakery to feed the Mouse Police, a rough and ready pair who secured the night hours against rodents with tooth and claw. I was just laying out the cat meat which they get as a treat once a week—they seem disinclined to eat their prey, which is fine with me—when someone rapped, quite hard, on the bakery door. Since there was a large polite sign which indicated to the enquirer that we were closed until after Australia Day, I ignored it. Then they knocked again.
I was in a drowsy, pleasant mood. I opened the door to say, 'Sorry, no bread,' when a frantic hand seized me and dragged me into the street. I was about to deck my attacker—I do not allow myself to be dragged—when I recognised her. Almost. I had seen her before, somewhere ... wearing a uniform ... yes, of course, it was Thomasina, head girl and hockey fiend, from my very tough girls school. She had never been at all friendly toward me. But she hadn't actually mistreated me. I freed my arm from her anxious clutch.
'Corinna!' she cried. 'I thought it must be you! You've got to help me!'
This was a bit much for the hungry end of a delightful afternoon.
'Why?' I asked simply.
'Because we're old school mates,' she said. 'Because you're the best baker in town—everyone says so. Please!'
'Suppose you come inside and tell me about it,' I said, not wanting to conduct this interview in the street. 'But I haven't got long—I have a dinner date.'
'You?' she asked with that touch of incredulity which flicks a fat woman on the raw. I resolved that I would try to do the Christian thing and forgive my enemies, but that did not require me to present the other cheek. Especially since the Thomasina I remembered had a formidable right hook.
I sat her down in the assistant's chair. She had aged badly, looked haggard and lined. One advantage of being fat is that one does not wrinkle like the slim and gorgeous. Her hair had been a strong blonde. Now it was almost as mousy as mine. And she now wore glasses. I admit that I gloated, just a little bit. Corinna, your karma!
'What's this all about?' I asked.
'I started a company, catering for big events,' she told me. 'Gourmet food, you know, best of everything, hire my company and we do the works: decor, cutlery and crockery if required, flowers, staff, food, wine. The best people recommend us. You must have heard of us. Maîtresse.'
'I've heard of you,' I agreed. One saw announcements in the fashionable press about weddings, for instance; dresses by someone or other, event by Maîtresse. So Thomasina had done well. Good for her. 'What has that got to do with me?' I asked.
'My baker has gone to Malta for his father's funeral,' she said, making a raking grab for my arm again. 'I've got a big commission for a TV pilot. Not much going on this early in the year, most people are on holidays, this could make a big difference to us.'
'Me and Julia. You remember Julia.'
'I do. I had a crush on her in year eight.'
'I've had a crush on her ever since school,' grinned Thomasina. 'And luckily she likes me too—we're an item, so remember that if you recall your crush while you're working for us.'
'I don't know what you want me to do ... and time is ticking on.' I hinted. I almost hoped that Daniel might wander down to find out what was keeping me. Even a stone butch like Tommy would have to admit that he was gorgeous ... But nothing would deflect her from her mission.
Excerpted from Cooking the Books by Kerry Greenwood Copyright © 2011 by Kerry Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Kerry Greenwood is the author of more than 40 novels and six non-fiction books. Among her many honors, Ms. Greenwood1 has received the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers’ Association of Australia. When she is not writing she is an advocate in Magistrates’ Courts for the Legal Aid Commission. She is not married, has no children and lives with a registered Wizard.
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Corinna Chapman is on holiday and looking forward to spending time with her lover, Daniel. Her assistant Jason is off surfing and her sometimes helpers have gotten bit parts in a film/soap opera called Kiss the Bride. Corinna’s holiday is interrupted when she gets guilted into helping an old school mate do catering for the film production and Daniel gets offered a case to work on. Lena, an overweight accountant, has lost bearer bonds that her company wanted her to register and they are threatening her job if the bonds aren’t found. Daniel agrees to take the case and tracks down one bond to a homeless man named Pockets. In the meantime, Corinna is dealing with an interesting cast of characters (pardon the pun) on the movie set. The film’s star is a major diva and there have been a rash of pranks directed at her. There is a serial womanizer who is making up to the baker who is working with Corinna, a handsome but vain leading man, a harassed assistant to the star, and other assorted people who could be the culprits. Soon Corinna finds herself in the middle of the drama and pulls Daniel in. He gets asked by the diva to find her long lost son who she put up for adoption. Corinna and Daniel are getting nowhere with Pockets and he starts them on a merry chase looking for clues that he leaves all over the city. The clues are based on popular nursery rhymes and Daniel has little to no experience with them so Corinna finds herself involved in his case. Added to the stress is the fact that her empty headed helpers have told Jason she has replaced him and Corinna is worried he will go back to drugs. A restful holiday it is not! I really love this series (and the Phrynne Fisher series) written by Ms. Greenwood. Corinna is an interesting character, an overweight ex- accountant who became a successful baker. She and Daniel have a wonderful relationship and they work together well. The secondary characters always fit just right into the story and we learn a little more about them in each book. This mystery is totally believable and even the missing baby story has a very plausible resolution with an added twist. I enjoy the little tidbits about the culture of Australia in the books. This book is a great addition to the series!
Another great read from Kerry Greenwood. Love the series.
Prefer it over her tv series and borrowed those books including the complete dvd s. Who to cast as a tradionsl figured woman? Wonderful charactet parts make each book a really good read. These are not in Aussie outback. Receipes have english measures.
A real pussey cat of a read
This is a fsvorite series and i bought everyone a strong supporting cast spices every thing up the setting of building with stores and condos adds layers to the tales there are character cats an awful little fuzz mop dog we have all known and a good dog introduced later there are widows and widower transgender gay couple recovering aa and sa weavers and gardeners ethnic and religious mix happy family and sime not so nice o k love this series to pay over three dollars Page counter's mom
Corinna Chapman, the less-than-svelte baker of bread, in this latest chapter in a long-running series, is supposedly on vacation (with Heavenly Delights closed as her apprentice is away learning how to surf) when she is “blackmailed” into helping out a school chum cater the film set of a TV pilot. Meanwhile, Daniel, her Israeli private detective lover, is preoccupied on a case involving a young girl who has lost $1 million of bearer bonds. So the stage is set for each of them to solve a number of mysteries, including who is tampering with the star’s food creating turmoil on the set. Since the title of the pilot is “Kiss the Bride,” it is fitting that much of the novel reflects the soap opera-ish aspect of the simultaneous stories, especially the use of nursery rhymes as clues to the discovery of the location of the missing bonds. Ms Chapman is a delightful character and has fulfilled the role many times. The plot presents the reader with enough alternatives to maintain interest, and the writing, as usual, is excellent. Whether the denouement is acceptable is the only question in this reader’s mind, since it unfolds quickly and seems contrived to bring the episode to an end. But in total, it is an enjoyable read, and is recommended.
This is a tasty read, the latest in Greenwood's Corinna Chapman series. This book finds Corinna at loose ends, in the midst of a break, or "stay-cation" from her baking duties. Jason, her Assistant Baker, is off on a real vacation, sending Corinna occasional text or e-mail messages which Corinna deciphers as being akin to Chaucer-ian Middle English. Her two Shop Girls, Kylie and Goss, have landed bona-fide acting roles on a soap-opera-ish production, and Daniel, her live-in love, is trying to untangle the lines of a problem involving valuable bonds. Some of the bonds have been mysteriously cashed, and seem to lead to a homeless man who was a former accountant at the company. The young woman who had been given the bonds to deliver, has been fired and later goes missing. Corinna, with extra time on her hands, assists Daniel in trying to track down the whereabouts of the roving homeless man and the missing girl. Corinna, still bored with all the extra time on her hands, succumbs to the pleas of a former school mate, and finds herself the replacement baker on the set of the aforementioned film production, and also being drawn into the on-set mystery of who is trying to sabotage the production through a series of pranks played on the star, a Diva who is unlikeable but a real talent whose loss would mean disaster for the producers. Corinna is also requested by the Diva-actress to find her missing child, whom she gave up for adoption years earlier. There's some evidence that points to the child being one of the actors or crew on set, bent on getting revenge on mother for her desertion, so Corinna finds herself baking AND sleuthing again. A further complication arises with the ditsy girls sending Jason a communique telling him that Corinna has replaced him, and Corinna fears that Jason, a former heroin addict, will respond badly through a disastrous relapse. Will Corinna and Daniel be able to bring their cases to a satisfactory ending? Readers will no doubt enjoy munching their way through this delicious mystery to find the dessert at the end. There's a delightful, scrumptious denoument too, with a tiger, Tabitha, or "Tabby" on the film set who goes "walkies" after one film take too many, and the resulting chaos and panic reveals a most clever Corinna, who tempts Tabitha with a treat of anchovies. The only quibble I have with the book is Greenwood's overuse of fragmented sentences. I found so many of them, at first I thought perhaps a different author had been brought in on the book, but after I re-read one of the earlier Chapman mysteries, I found that this is part of Greenwood's style. There are many more of these unattached dependent clauses in this book, though, and I must note I found it irritating enough to temporarily distract me from the plot line, which is why I am giving this book a four instead of five star rating. Grammar purists, be warned. Other readers of mysteries who are not so fussy about sentence structure will find this book an unalloyed pleasure.