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The Spice Box

By Lou Jane Temple

      Bridget Heaney’s family left their native Ireland to escape the potato famine, but now there is just Bridget left, searching for her missing sister. Since leaving the orphanage, she has endeavored to better herself, and now starts a job as a cook in the grand house of department store owner Isaac Gold. Unfortunately, on her first day at work Isaac’s missing younger son turns up dead in the dough box. With her boss’s sanction, it is time for Bridget to turn investigator.

      This is the first in a new series of culinary-themed historical mysteries, and if you like your crime cozy, then this will surely fit the bill. At times it seems almost too much so to be entirely convincing, as Isaac presents himself as a philanthropist who at the same time is keen to play detective with his new cook (about whom he knows nothing) in tow. Having swallowed this, I enjoyed the descriptions of the dishes that Bridget prepares (there are even some genuine 19th century recipes at the back) and the images of New York as it struggles to lose its Tammany Hall taint and go upmarket. Rich and poor, master and servant mingle in a remarkably egalitarian manner in here as immigrants strive to become Americans and the Civil War rages on. It is a novel of a fascinating time in history, and I would have liked more of the background to have intruded, but this aside, I enjoyed the story.

The Book

Berkley Prime Crime (Penguin Group USA)
May 2005
Historical Crime [1864, New York]
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The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2005
© 2005