A few weeks ago a friend sent me a novel by an author new to me, Kerry Greenwood. ‘I thought it would make you smile,’ she said.
She was right. It did. And think. And feel. And count my blessings. And want to bake something.
Earthly Delights is formally a detective story but absolutely nothing about it is conventional. It’s set in Melbourne, in an idyllic corner of the city where the small shopkeepers are eccentric, have a working community and help each other out. The narrator heroine is an artisan baker. She lives in a Roman-themed apartment block called Insula, complete with fountain in the entrance hall and blissful rooftop garden. Cosy crime meets pure fantasy, you might say.
Except that it’s not that cosy – OK the cats, are pretty cosy; I’m particularly taken with the dusbtin moggies on the bakery strength as the Mouse Police – but this is a world where bad things are happening and, anyway, none of these characters comes without baggage, some of it pretty nasty. The hero in particular is a mystery: sex on a stick, but also unsettling. Neither the heroine nor the reader is quite sure what she is signing up for.
But, oh, that heroine. She is, quite simply, bliss. Corinna Chapman has escaped the rat race to bake professionally but she likes figures. She was a happy accountant, she just hated the mad rush-to-the-office and the life that goes with it. Every day, as commuters come in to her shop to buy their breakfast muffins, you can feel her sympathy and her delight that the poor deluded fools have a moment of pleasure in their tense, nasty, money-making days. Apart from that, she is creative, warm, practical, kind, affectionate and so very, very, sane.
Add that it is beautifully written, deeply civilised, sprinkled with unpretenious reflections that set you thinking and just a touch kinky, and you will see that this book is a real original. To illustrate my point: there are two covers on line. Both fit the story. Like the Goddess Hera, Corinna has a domestic aspect and a distinctly dangerous one. And she’s pretty sexy, too.
Buy it for someone you love this Chrismas. Better read it first, though.