Cooking the Books: Seas the Day by Maggie Toussaint

River Holloway is a caterer with a reputation for being able to find lost things, so when family friend Estelle Bolz calls begging her to find Estelle’s missing son, Chili, River readily accepts. Chili was like a brother to River growing up, but as she starts asking around their small Georgia community, she discovers that there’s a lot about him she doesn’t know. While he ran a fishing outfit that occasionally supplied her own enterprise, too many other details of his life remain as elusive to her as his whereabouts.

Deputy Lance Hamlyn gets wind of River’s efforts and decides to join forces with her, at least temporarily. As a relative newcomer to Shell Island, he’s found that the locals aren’t as forthcoming with him as they would be with someone with which they’re more familiar. Since helping to find Chili will put him in good stead for the promotion he’s angling for, he’s more than happy to spend time with the pretty River—even if she isn’t quite as single as he’d prefer.

Things take a turn for the decidedly sinister when River, concerned that Estelle isn’t returning her calls, pays the older woman a visit and finds her nearly beaten to death in her own home. If River hadn’t been completely convinced that Chili’s disappearance was the result of foul play before, she knows some terrible force has the Bolz family in its clutches now. As she searches desperately for Chili, she’ll discover that Shell Island is not the sleepy backwater she’s always believed it to be—and that her own staid life could be easily upended if not ended altogether.

Seas the Day was definitely a little darker and a lot grittier than most culinary cozy mysteries out there, and that’s pretty awesome. Maggie Toussaint explores the seamier side of small-town life in the South, really evoking a sense of place with her descriptions of the marshes and marinas of Shell Island. River’s gradual loss of innocence was compelling, particularly when juxtaposed with the return of her worldlier boyfriend, Pete Merrick, from a business venture that failed under suspicious circumstances. Shifting allegiances among a cast who seem wholesome on the outside but hide dangerous secrets inside made for surprisingly suspenseful reading.

There were three delicious recipes included, and as a Marylander, I felt duty-bound to try this one of River’s signature dishes:

River Cakes a.k.a Crab Cakes

Ingredients

1 pound crab meat

1 large egg

1 tsp Tabasco sauce

1 tbsp lime juice

¼ tsp Old Bay seasoning

3 tbsp mayonnaise

Scant handful of flour*

½ stick of butter*

Instructions

Mix all ingredients except butter.

Shape into hamburger-sized patties. Place in large frying pan with melted butter. Cover. Cook over medium heat until bottom browns, about five minutes. Flip and cook again until bottom browns. Enjoy!

*For those with dietary restrictions, other flours and fats may be substituted.

It’s a little embarrassing that I’ve never actually made my own crab cakes at home before, but this was a really terrific recipe for me to get started with! I do take pride in the fact that Old Bay—that quintessential Maryland spice blend—is key to this dish. I was also surprised by how easy it was to put together! I served mine on toasted buns with small side salads, but the possibilities are endless for plating these delicious seafood patties. Sure, they’re a little on the pricey side, but why not treat yourself every once in a while? Plus, they’re still cheaper and more convenient to make at home, especially in these trying times.

Next week, we travel north up the coast and inland a ways to make another dish that’s both super easy and super tasty while investigating murder most foul. Do join me!

See alsoCooking the Books: Death of a Blueberry Tart by Lee Hollis

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