Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: The Red Door

A wife paints her farmhouse door bright red to welcome home her returning-soldier husband at the end of the Great War. But he never comes.

An upstanding family man disappears in London, and then reappears with apparent amnesia.

A woman with the same surname is found dead in another part of the country.

These are the threads which Charles Todd weaves into the murder mystery The Red Door (William Morrow, 2010). This is the twelvth installment of the Inspector Rutledge Mysteries. I usually like to start a series at the beginning but this is my first introduction to Ian Rutledge and the post-war trauma that fills his every waking - and sleeping - hour. I've already marked this series down to read more.

The structure and prose of this story are very well done. The dialogue was authentic and realistic. The descriptions and the manner in moving the story forward were reminiscent of the best of the true Golden Age detective fiction.

Rutledge is a sympathetic character, internally tormented by the voice of a dead Scottish soldier who served under him at the Somme. His immediate superior doesn't like him, the girl he likes will barely give him the time of day, and he is being pressured to reunite with his godfather, also Scotch, for the first time since the end of the war. He is intelligent and brave, a good brother to his sister, Frances, and he carries out his duties at the Yard to his best ability, despite the wrath of his boss.

Memorable Morsels
  • Dundee Cake
Links to Investigate Further:

Buy the Book: The Red Door: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery

Authors' Page on Wikipedia
Authors' Website
Authors' Page on LibraryThing
Book's Page on LibraryThing

The Final Analysis:

Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program. This did not influence my review.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Molasses Candy

I've finally had a moment's peace to try out a recipe for molasses candy inspired by the book The Ninth Daughter. The fictional Abigail Adams has had a trying morning, but must stop at the market to procure the family dinner.

"[Abigail] borrowed a market basket from one of the farm wives ... and filled it with squash and corn and beans, pears and the best of the available remaining pumpkins, two chickens, and a lobster. She also paid a farthing for molasses candy..."

I chose a recipe which appeared in a magazine called Arthur's Home Magazine, Volume 43, published in 1875, and mercifully required no pulling.

The final product was somewhat soft and sticky. Like a very soft caramel or taffy. The addition of vinegar was a definite asset, and the overall flavor was rich without being sickly sweet. My notes are in italics.

  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
Butter a 15 x 10 jelly roll pan and set aside.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer and stir until very thick. This took about 20 minutes, and a candy thermometer measured 250˚. Turn out into jelly roll pan.

Cool and cut into squares.  This turned out too soft to cut into squares. Instead, when cool, I scored the candy lengthwise, then cut into strips. Roll the strips up and place on a plate. Foil candy wrappers would be excellent here.

This candy did not do well at room temperature. I stored it in the fridge. Let it warm up a bit before eating, or you can microwave it for 15 seconds to soften it quickly.

As you enjoy a gooey piece of molasses candy, imagine being a child in colonial America, where treats were rare.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Book Review: The Ninth Daughter

The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton (Berkley, 2009) is the first in a new series of mysteries featuring real-life Patriot Abigail Adams. The setting for this installment is Boston, in the weeks leading up to the Boston Tea Party. With this historical event as a backdrop, Hamilton weaves a fictional tale of murder and conspiracy. Some real-life Patriots take on supporting roles: there is, of course, Abigail's own husband John, the future President. Little Johnny will grow up to be President as well. Sam Adams, Paul Revere and Dr. Warren all put in appearances in relatively minor parts. The other main characters, as well as the crimes themselves, are fictional.

My ambivalence to real-life persons being fictionalized into something they weren't, wasn't assuaged by this tale. The tale could have been told had the heroine not been the future First Lady. There is something, well, assuming about placing thoughts into the heads and actions into the lives of the long-deceased. But, it is what it is.

The story opens with the discovery of the corpse. The length, breadth and detail of the description of the crime and the scene left me a bit queasy. It calls into question whether this tale could be categorized as a "cozy" mystery at all. Cozies are supposed to be absent any extraneous gorey details. I always references Dame Agatha herself in all matters relating to proper taste in such matters.  What would she think of it?

Once past the unpleasant beginnings the tale moves along with interest. Hamilton has done a fine job of describing the realities of occupied Boston. There is much tension between the British and the Loyalists who support the King, and the Patriots who disagree with His Majesty on matters of governance and taxation. Slavery also finds a theme in this tale, as Abigail interacts with three different African slaves while unraveling this mystery.

Some of Abigail's actions are improbable, but serve to make the story enjoyable and the plot moving along. I've taken them with a grain of salt, in the spirit that the heroine must really do something in a tale like this. Whether a woman in Abigail's position in colonial Boston would actually be able to take some of the actions she did is another matter.

There were many food references, starting in Chapter Six, to make one's mouth water. Since the setting was late November, much of the fare is autumn food. I have gleaned some interesting recipes and ideas from the pages of The Ninth Daughter, but many will not make their appearance here until they are in season. Who wants mulled cider in spring, after all?

Memorable Morsels:
  • Molasses Candy
  • Roasted Chicken
  • Boiled Lobster
  • Pumpkin Cooked with Apples and Corn
  • Dumplings
  • Green Goose Pie
  • Veal Fritters
  • Indian Pudding
  • Stewed Chicken
  • Bread
  • Churned Butter
  • Cheese
  • Oatmeal

Links to Investigate Further:

Buy the Book: The Ninth Daughter (An Abigail Adams Mystery)
Author's Page on LibraryThing
Book's Page on LibraryThing

The Final Analysis