People looking for crime fiction at the lighter end of the mood spectrum are not always well served. An increasing number of so-called cosy mysteries rely on ridiculously quirky gimmicks rather than actual plots and these same books seemed to be aimed at barely literate 11-year olds rather than adults seeking a bit of respite from grim environments and human anguish. Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman books are therefore a very welcome aberration in that they offer proper plots, intelligent writing and loads of humour alongside the dearth of bloody corpses.
Cooking the Books is the sixth instalment of the series and sees Corinna struggling to grasp the concept of being ‘on holidays’ (I could teach the lady a thing or two here). She has closed her Melbourne bakery for a month and her apprentice has gone on a surfing holiday but when an old school mate asks for assistance with a catering job for a new TV production Corinna agrees willingly enough to bake bread and help out with other cooking duties. On the set of Kiss the Bride things are a bit fraught though as someone is playing a series of nasty practical jokes on the show’s star and tempers soon fray. Meanwhile, Corinna’s boyfriend Daniel, who is a private detective, is engaged to track down some missing bearer bonds which were left in a phone box by a harassed accounting firm intern and seem to have been spirited away by a homeless man called Pockets who has something of a literary bent. Having been raised in Israel Daniel doesn’t have the cultural references to the nursery rhymes being referenced in Pockets’ clues so relies on Corinna for some assistance with this case.
I thought this book brought the series back to its best form, showing that you can have a thoughtful and engaging crime plot even when there are no dead bodies to be seen (well not until right near the end). The theme explored particularly well here is that of bullying and its various incarnations in our workplaces. You really do get a sense of the psychology at play when some people bully and others put up with being bullied. Happily for the victims in this instance help is at hand in the form of Daniel and Corinna who are, in my experience, of a lot more practical use than real-world bullying reporting mechanisms. Sometimes a situation calls for an articulate plus-size lady (and/or a bloke who might have been in Mossad) to lay down the law rather than the completion of a form in triplicate. Just sayin.
Once again the story here involves Corinna and Daniel’s ‘family’, i.e. their neighbours in the inner-city Roman-inspired apartment building and the plethora of acquaintances they have made throughout the city. It is always nice to read a depiction of community and people helping each other out; a nice anecdote to the kind of book I read more regularly. The junk-food inhaling computer hackers, airhead actress wanabees, master salad dressing maker and white witch provide laughs, plot advancement and colour throughout the story. The arrival of an anchovy-obsessed tiger offered something new and different and I did find myself hankering for a big pussycat of my very own.
Sure Cooking the Books is a light, quick read but it’s both fun and funny, has mouth-watering descriptions of wonderful food, shows Melbourne off very nicely and offers a decent plot and warm, engaging characters to boot. What more could you want?
My rating: 3.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Allen & Unwin 
Length: 300 pages
Source: I bought it