Fans of this bookstore mystery series will love plunging back into the world of the Read ‘Em and Eat bookstore café! Co-owners and best friends Sassy Cabot and Bridgey Mayfield have organized a field trip for the last book club of the snowbird season, when their seasonal guests who’ve been escaping the colder climes up north for the Florida sunshine are getting ready to pack up and head home.
As their last read was The Florida Life of Thomas Edison, the book club takes a day trip to the nearby Edison and Ford Winter Estates, catered by the café, of course. The pleasant excursion takes a shocking twist when, shortly after returning to the Read ‘Em and Eat, the local driver they’d hired for the day is found murdered in the parking lot.
Bubbly Bridgey quickly becomes the prime suspect—despite the lack of any apparent motive—due to her having discovered the body and blurting out “I’m sorry” in the presence of witnesses. Sardonic Sassy refuses to let her best friend go down without a fight and calls in all the help she can get, leading to some really well-realized passages on family and friendship. Of course, this wouldn’t be a cozy mystery if Sassy didn’t investigate for herself as well, running all over the island (and plunging into some rather sticky situations) in order to find out not only whodunit, but why.
Terrie Farley Moran’s love for her South Florida locale is palpable throughout, with great descriptions of both the natural scenery and the man-made attractions. As a newcomer to the series, I also really enjoyed the different literary allusions used in the café—especially for this eye-catching menu item:
Old Man and The Sea Chowder
2 tablespoons oil
2 small onions, chopped
½ cup sliced celery
½ cup sliced carrots
4 cups peeled, diced potato
4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons clam juice
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ teaspoons tarragon
2 teaspoons parsley flakes
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon paprika
2 pounds catfish fillets, cut into small pieces
1 dozen shrimp, cleaned, deveined and cut into two or three pieces each
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup flour
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper
Heat oil in large pot. Saute onion and celery until tender. Add carrots, potato, chicken broth, clam juice, water and spices. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add catfish. Simmer 10 minutes. Add shrimp. Continue to simmer 5 to 10 minutes or until catfish flakes. Melt butter and mix with flour until smooth. Drop tiny dollops of flour mixture into chowder. Whisk each dollop gradually and thoroughly. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Lower heat, add milk, stir 3 to 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
As has happened in nearly every entry since starting this series, I learned a new cooking technique! I’d never thickened a soup with roux before, despite having seen it described and done elsewhere, and this recipe made it very simple. All that whisking was a pretty awesome upper-arm workout, as well—always nice to be able to multitask while standing at the stove.
I was also impressed by how this recipe uses classic French cooking techniques to make a really satisfying seafood chowder. My only reservation was how very strong the catfish flavor was at first, though after the first bowl that came fresh from the stovetop, the flavor seemed to mellow considerably.
I did find myself wondering whether catfish was really the best fish for a dish named after a book which prominently features a marlin, but I’m not a fish expert, so I will happily defer to Ms. Moran on this one. I wound up serving the soup with a slice of cheesy garlic toast, as pictured. With a side salad (not pictured), it’s a filling and delicious meal.
Books like this always make me wish I had a bookstore café nearby to visit (and the time to do it regularly!). That said, none of the ones I’ve had the good fortune to frequent so far have had quite the charm of the Read ‘Em and Eat, with its clever book clubs and delightful food. At least I have this recipe to console me as I dine with a book at home!
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.