Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Devilishly Delicious: Guest post by Katherine Hall Page

Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-three previous Faith Fairchild mysteries. The recipient of Malice Domestic’s Lifetime Achievement Award, she has received Agathas for best first mystery (The Body in the Belfry), best novel (The Body in the Snowdrift), and best short story, (“The Would-Be Widower”). She has also been nominated for the Edgar, the Mary Higgins Clark, the Macavity, and the Maine Literary Award. She lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband.

Katherine Hall Page:
Devilishly Delicious 

I have always wanted to write a country house mystery, compressing the action to only several days—a “Saturday to Monday” the British called these weekends—with the cast of characters limited to those invited. Well, perhaps a surprise uninvited guest or two. We first met Hercule Poirot at Styles and Agatha Christie set many other books in manor houses, as did so many others in the Golden Age. Many of these books revolve around a particular celebration— coming to one’s majority, a wedding anniversary, or a significant birthday.

In The Body in the Casket, Max Dane is throwing himself a 70th birthday party at Rowan House, his secluded mansion not far from my series sleuth Faith Fairchild’s hometown, Aleford, Massachusetts. Dane is a legendary Broadway producer, famed for musicals, but his last, Heaven Or Hell, was such a flop that even Joe Allen’s didn’t put the poster on the 46th Street restaurant’s notorious wall of duds. Max never produced another show. It’s twenty years later and after receiving a death threat in an extremely unusual form with the failed production’s Playbill tucked inside, Max sends out invitations to a carefully selected group of cast and crew: ______________________________________________________

Max Dane Presents 
A Birthday Party 
Come As You Are— 
Or Be Cast 
Rowan House 
Havencrest, Massachusetts 
January 29-31 


He also gets in touch with Faith and after giving her a tour of the sprawling house, tells her he wants her to cater the weekend more for her “sleuthing ability” than her culinary skills—fine as they are. In short, it’s Faith’s job to unmask the killer before he or she is successful and no one will be sending Max a birthday card again.

Growing up near New York City meant, growing up with theater and especially musicals. Preparing to write Casket, I had a great deal of fun going back over Playbills saved from favorites, reading biographies of producers like David Merrick and Hal Prince, listening to scores, and recalling my own brief experience trodding the boards as Emily in Our Town at Livingston High School. But what became equally enticing was researching devilishly—and heavenly—delicious food. Max suggests the birthday dinner include a few dishes referencing the musical’s title and Faith runs with it.

Devil’s Food Cake immediately came to mind—and there is a terrific mystery, Devil’s Food, by Janice Weber. So too did Angel Food Cake. A guilty treat, sinful? There seemed to be plenty of desserts referencing heaven and hell. I found Angel Frosting, a fluffy marshmallow one that Faith decides to use for one of the two chocolate cakes, leaving the Angel Food one unadorned with a mixed berry coulis on the side for those who wished. She also bakes a few dozen mini cupcakes, including red velvet ones to suggest certain fires, and decorates them with fondant halos and pitchforks.

Max wants all the food more than over the top, giving Faith an unlimited budget. This means the deviled eggs—always the first items to disappear at a party or picnic—are topped with caviar. And for a first course, the primo, the pasta Faith selects is Lobster Fra Diavolo. It is unclear where Fra Diavolo, “brother devil” style originated, but most sources place it in New York’s Little Italy on or before the 1930s. Some insist that it was brought over here from Naples. Whatever the truth, it is a blessing with just enough red pepper flakes to give the lobster a kick!

I began asking friends for suggestions and in so doing discovered a dish to include that I have also been making this fall. Andrew Palmer, a wonderful cook, told me about a German farm dish, Himmel Und Erde (Heaven and Earth), which combines potatoes, from the ground, and apples from above. It is a variation of mashed potatoes with plenty of butter. The apples should be slightly tart, and it’s delicious with pork or chicken.

Finally, I wanted a special libation and discovered the perfect one from London’s Savoy Hotel bar, a Fallen Angel Cocktail. It combines gin, fresh lime juice, white crème de menthe with a dash of Angostura bitters. Not sure whether the “fallen” part refers to one’s behavior before or after, but it packs a wallop and may send you searching for a flapper headband or top hat.

Recalling Thackeray’s apt quotation—Next to eating good dinners, a healthy man with a benevolent turn of mind, must like, I think, to read about them—I hope you will enjoy The Body in the Casket’s food as well as the crime!

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