The author tries again to sell satire (without humor) and a thoroughly effete character on the strength of pro forma sexual pretenses and glorified gustatory lusts.
Spiced to Death (Gourmet Detective Series #2)by Peter King, Peter King
Known as "the Celestial Spice," Ko Feng was the most treasured of all of the spices in the ancient world for its extraordinary taste and its purported qualities as an aphrodisiac. Ko Feng has been lost for centuries, so when it is rediscovered, the demand is overwhelming and the price astronomical. The Gourmet Detective, called to New York by an old friend to… See more details below
Known as "the Celestial Spice," Ko Feng was the most treasured of all of the spices in the ancient world for its extraordinary taste and its purported qualities as an aphrodisiac. Ko Feng has been lost for centuries, so when it is rediscovered, the demand is overwhelming and the price astronomical. The Gourmet Detective, called to New York by an old friend to authenticate the shipment of Ko Feng, is bewildered when the spice is stolen from right under his nose. When a culinary colleague is murdered and a sinister stranger tries to push the Gourmet Detective in front of a speeding subway train, he realizes that someone is willing to do anything to keep the Ko Feng to himself. The Gourmet Detective fears for his own life as he embarks upon an extensive search through the ethnic eateries of New York City, sampling exotic dishes from Doro Wat (Ethiopian chicken stew) to swordfish kebabs in his pursuit of the killer.
"A fabulous, four-star feast of mystery and murder. Spiced to Death is a fun, fast-paced culinary whodunit. Like a sumptuous meal served with an opulent wine, you simply won't want this book to end." Michael Klauber, leading Florida restaurateur
"The imaginative premise gives King ample opportunity to describe what he really loves: food and the food industry." Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
Spiced to Death
A Gourmet Detective Mystery (Book Two)
By Peter King
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Peter King
All rights reserved.
THE FOOD LOOKED APPETIZING enough. It was the Styrofoam and the plastic wrap that spoiled the visual impact.
I opened the little package containing a knife, fork and spoon, a paper napkin, salt and pepper. It wasn't easy to open—why do they make the plastic so strong? Pulling out the fork, I broke one of the tines—why do they make the plastic so weak? But I wasn't here to make a critical survey of the plastics industry so I turned my attention back to the food.
The small salad wasn't too bad. The tomato slices were surprisingly tasty and the lettuce was reasonably crisp—not an easy achievement when it has been tightly wrapped for hours. The mustard greens and the endives were acceptable and the tiny croutons were crunchy. The dressing was too thick and too sweet for my preference but there was no pleasing every salad eater among the tens of thousands of airline passengers being served this same meal.
There was sufficient vinegar in the dressing—despite its sweetness—that I waited to finish before pouring the red Bordeaux into the plastic cup. Plastic is a terrible surrounding for any wine, especially a wine which is already struggling vainly against the disadvantaged background of being without a vintage—the vinous equivalent of being illegitimate.CHAPTER 2
I had first met Don Renshaw some years ago. I was living and working in London and he was visiting from his native Cornwall where he had a small boat-building business. His customers were mostly fishermen, who had been coming to him with increasing frequency asking how to get rid of their extra catches of lobster, crab, mussels and fish. A mutual acquaintance put us in touch with each other and I suggested that he start a soup cannery. I helped him do this and as the business prospered, Don sold the boat business and concentrated on canning.
My own business had been in existence for only a short period then. I sought out rare food ingredients, advised on the use of little-known food specialties, recommended new possibilities and marketing opportunities and put sellers in touch with buyers of exotic food products.
I had called myself a food-finder at first; then someone had dubbed me the "Gourmet Detective" and the name had stuck. I thought the title more suited to the flamboyancy of the advertising world than my humble enterprise but it was an aid in bringing in customers. The only disadvantage was that I had to keep explaining that I wasn't a detective at all in the usual sense of the word.
Some time passed before our paths crossed again. Don was in London and looked me up, enlisting my help in locating new markets for hawthorn, which was widely used in the Middle Ages for heart and blood problems. He told me that he had added an herb and spice operation and was planning on specializing in this area as the business was really thriving. When we had our concluding conversation, he told me that his wife, Peggy, had a brother who had emigrated to the States at an early age and done very well with a trucking business. At his instigation, Don had been persuaded to consider opening an American outlet.
Don called me once after that. He was back in England briefly after deciding to move permanently to the States. In New York, his Spice Warehouse, catering to a rapidly expanding demand for herbs and spices, was doing phenomenally well. I had not heard from him then for some years. Then came the phone call ...
After we had exchanged greetings, statements of health, interchanges of how long it had been and so on, Don asked, "How busy are you?"
"Things are ticking over," I told him.
"I have been busier," I admitted. "You know how it is—up and down."
"How about helping me out with a small job?"
"I probably could," I said, not wanting to sound too anxious.
"You'd have to come over here."
"For how long? I have to give evidence in Scotland next week. Some poaching is going on in the trout streams—"
"I prefer them grilled myself."
"This is the other kind. I have to give evidence on whether I consider that the trout that were caught are the property of a certain laird or whether they are free souls, blithely independent, owing allegiance to no one."
"Like the poacher."
"He's innocent until caught with a rod in his hand and a trout on the line."
"Well," Don said, "this job won't interfere with that. It'll only take a couple of days, three at the most. Besides, it's one you won't be able to resist."
I knew Don well enough to know that if he said that, it must be something out of the ordinary.
"How long since you were over here last?" he went on.
"Some years," I admitted.
"And I recall you saying that New York was one of your favorite cities?"
"Don—your sales pitch has worked. What's the job?"
He chuckled. "I managed to get a contract to authenticate a shipment coming into New York from Asia. I did a job for this outfit once before and he threw this one my way. The thing is—" He hesitated.
"Go on," I urged. "What is the thing?"
"Because of the importance of this shipment, the buyer insists on having two referees. He's prepared to accept my recommendation on the second referee and I thought of you."
"Authenticate a shipment, you say?"
"Like in examine it, smell it, test it, taste it, whatever else?"
"You've got it."
"Our choice on methods?"
"Then declare that to the best of our knowledge, et cetera, et cetera ..."
"Or not—as the case may be."
"Well," I said, "sounds straightforward enough to me. And—Don, you're right, I would like to see the Big Apple again."
"It has been some years since you were here, hasn't it? We call it the Big Bagel now. I can count you in, then?"
"What's the fee?"
"Five hundred a day—dollars, that is. First-class travel and accommodation. Two days, maybe three. You'll be back in time for your fish."
"Sounds good. What's the shipment?"
There was a couple of seconds hesitation, which should have given me some kind of a clue ...
"You know about my Spice Warehouse, don't you?" he asked.
"You mentioned that's what you were going into when I talked to you last."
"Yes, well, I've disposed of all the other activities and am really building this business up."
"Fine. How's it going?"
"Tremendous. Planning on expanding again. In fact"—he paused and there was a flatness in his tone that sounded peculiar—"after this job, I'll be able to really expand."
"And this is a spice shipment that's coming in? They're usually pretty easy, emphasis on aroma and taste, difficult to substitute—"
"This one won't be that easy."
"Go on," I urged. "What's the problem? Which spice?"
"It's Ko Feng," he said and I almost dropped the phone.CHAPTER 3
That conversation had taken place thirty-six hours earlier. I finished the salad and cut into the steak, which was reasonably succulent, and poured some more Bordeaux. The pepper on the steak activated the tannin in the wine and gave its powers of self-assertion a much-needed boost.
The rest of our telephone conversation had been taken up with a discussion of Ko Feng, which was something like playing a game of tennis without a ball. In my business, I often handle spices so I know something of them and am aware of their long history and the vital part they have played in the annals of food.
The ancient world had many famous spices. The earliest of these was what today we refer to as "ordinary" black pepper but two to three thousand years ago, it was anything but ordinary. In fact, it was so valuable that it was sold by the individual peppercorn. All the early trading caravans carried huge quantities of it as they tracked across the deserts of the Middle East, and fortunes were made from a string of camels and a great deal of risk and hardship.
The reason for pepper's value was simple. The diet of those days was coarse, monotonous and unpalatable by modern standards. Food spoiled quickly. Pepper—and later other spices—served two purposes. Not only did they add flavor but their antioxidant qualities retarded spoilage, particularly of meat.
Other spices included ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and many others which are lost to us today. These others were used for drug and medicinal purposes and extraordinary claims were made for them. The Code of Hammurabi stipulated that a surgeon was to have his hands cut off if a patient died under his care so it is understandable that the use of drugs was extensive.
One papyrus found in China listed eight hundred herbs and spices with medicinal value and when the Magi brought their gifts to Bethlehem, myrrh was rated next in value to gold. Myrrh was also the biggest selling commodity in the little spice shop in Mecca run by Mohammed before he became the prophet of Islam.
All these thoughts were tumbling through my mind as Don and I exchanged information. He reminded me that silphium was a much sought-after drug in the ancient world and was exchanged on a weight-for-weight basis with silver. It was already extinct by the end of the first century.
But the most famous of all was Ko Feng, known as the Celestial Spice.
"It's been unknown now for—how long? Four hundred years? Five hundred?" I asked Don.
"Something like that. Maybe more."
"And now somebody's found some?"
"Or say they have."
"That's where you and I come in," he said cheerfully but I was feeling a slight chill.
"This is some authentication job," I said grimly.
"Want to back out?"
"How could I? This may be one of the most exciting moments in the history of food since Nicolas Appert discovered how to preserve it in cans."
"Okay, then you and I are going to have some Ko Feng in our hands next Tuesday."
"Or not—as the case may be."
"Maybe, but it's hard to believe."
"True. I guess I've had a little longer to adjust to it," Don had said.
I finished the steak and unwrapped the cheese. It needed to sit exposed to the air for a short time so that it could recover some taste after its incarceration in aluminum foil and plastic.
Don and I had concluded our conversation with details on how, where and when. I had called him back with flight information and he had given me hotel reservation numbers. He would like to meet me at JFK, he said, but the buyer of the Ko Feng wanted a last- minute meeting with him. Don's wife, Peggy, would be taking care of the Spice Warehouse so she couldn't come either. I assured him that I could easily find my own way to the hotel in Manhattan.
Sunlight glinted off the silver wing outside my window. This time tomorrow I would be looking at some Ko Feng, the miraculous spice from thousands of years ago. I tingled with impatience. It was like anticipating a date with Cleopatra.CHAPTER 4
"Reeger," said the cab driver, jerking a thumb toward his chest. He had a slight stubble and tired eyes, and he wore a cap that was more nautical than automotive. He didn't handle the cab like a true professional and I presumed he was new at it, perhaps forced to switch jobs by the recession. Evidently he wanted me to know that his name was Reeger but I was looking at the identification tag fastened to the dashboard. It said that his name was Janis Rezekne and his photo looked worse than he did.
He told me a lot about himself with the plexiglass slide between us pulled open—another sign that his cab-driving experience was not only recent but downright contemporary. At least, I supposed he was telling me about himself. I could only understand about one word in ten and wondered if I had been away from New York too long. But no, that couldn't be the reason because just last week I had watched an Al Pacino movie on television and understood every other word.
I didn't want to uphold my end of the conversation with too much conviction as I was afraid I might distract him from his driving, which needed a lot more practice. So I managed an occasional nod or look of comprehension. By concentrating on his words, I learned that he was a Latvian and from Riga, which was what he had been proudly trying to tell me. He had only been here six months. I would have believed six days but didn't press the point as he used fingers to illustrate the number and that didn't leave any hands for the wheel. America was a wonderful country, he told me, and we embroidered on that theme all the way in to Manhattan, making full use of our joint vocabulary, which eventually stretched to about two dozen words.
New York hadn't changed that much, I noted. Traffic was just as thick and the cars seemed so much bigger as they always do. The streets were a little dirtier and more untidy but then, on returning to London after a spell away, that was noticeable there too. People looked more polyglot as they now look in all big cities.
When the cabby dropped me at the Courtney Park Hotel, it was like the parting of two old friends. He clapped me on the back and let me lift my own bags out of the cab.
The lobby was stunning with a tinkling fountain in the center and a chandelier above it that would have had the Phantom gnashing his teeth in envy. Shops and boutiques ran off along small streets in all directions from the fountain and the sign said that the display of life-size sculpture was changed every week. Don Renshaw had meant it when he said that accommodation would be first class.
There were lines waiting at each of the four check-in desks and though I switched a couple of times, I was still in the longest when I signed in. I was handed a note from Don saying that he and his wife, Peggy, would pick me up at 7:30 for dinner.
This was my home away from home, the brochure in the room assured me, but they obviously didn't know that my apartment in Hammersmith in West London could fit into the bathroom here. From the window I could see a corner of Central Park. I had a long and leisurely shower, then watched some television.
This was something that had changed in the country since I was here last. Television's emphasis was no longer on entertainment but on exploitation. I watched in near disbelief as first a black woman was encouraging a studio audience to applaud couples consisting of men and women who had stolen their best friend's spouse; then a Puerto Rican gentleman was investigating homosexuality in mental institutions; and then an Asian interviewer was telling how she used promises of confidentiality to persuade guests on her show to divulge scurrilous opinions of famous people, then blabbed them on the air. I skimmed through the channels but Bugs Bunny seemed to be the nearest I could get to entertainment.
I dressed and went downstairs. The shops and boutiques were full of fabulous merchandise at what, by London standards, were extremely low prices. I made a second tour and then sat by the fountain until Don and Peggy arrived.
They didn't look a lot different, possibly a little fatter and more affluent. Don was stocky, of medium height with fair, thinning hair and a ruddy complexion. He greeted me effusively, then Peggy and I exchanged hugs. She was light blond with a smooth English complexion and eyes that always looked happy.
The short taxi ride to the restaurant was taken up with exchanges of information on mutual acquaintances, their progress and problems. It was not until we were seated that I was able to get to the questions that had been burning in my brain ever since Don's phone call.
"Sorry to talk business so soon, Peggy," I said, "but this is the most exciting thing that's happened in the food business since an innovative caveman found that meat tasted better cooked than raw. Finding a crop of Ko Feng—it's amazing!"
Don smiled. "I know. I felt the same way at first. I've had some time to get used to the idea so I'm finally beginning to accept it. It certainly sounded incredible when I first heard about it."
"I take care of the Spice Warehouse when Don's away, buying or whatever," Peggy said, "so I'm just as enthusiastic as you. I must admit I hadn't heard of Ko Feng before this, though."
"It's been extinct for centuries, so not many people know it," Don said. "Folks in the trade have heard of it, of course, just as many have heard of Melegueta peppers."
"Known as the Grains of Paradise," I contributed. "Nobody expects to hear of either of them cropping up today, though."
"Nice choice of a verb," commented Don.
Excerpted from Spiced to Death by Peter King. Copyright © 1997 Peter King. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Don't know what it is about the Gourmet Detective books that interest me so, but they definitely intrigue me. This one was better than the first one. Perhaps because the mystery was much better--a closed room type. I also love all things Asian cooking, and the spices, meals, and restaurants spoken about in this book were mouth watering and familiar to me. There was also lots of name dropping stories about the times and life in New York. In this book, the Gourmet Detective, who never gets a name, is called from England to New York to authenticate Ko Feng. This spice has been missing from the world for over 500 years, so everyone from chefs, to pharmaceutical companies want to acquire some, and many are willing to do anything to get some. It's worth a fortune and now it's missing and one of the men involved is dead too. The GD seems to do much of his investigating with beautiful and intriguing women. This mystery has a definite feel of Christie's mysteries, with the gathering of suspects at the end of the story, where the culprits are revealed. If you're a foodie and can stand a bit of snobbery in your characters, you'll enjoy these books.