Cooking the Books: The Hammett Hex by Victoria Abbott

Jordan Bingham is ready for a vacation! Her beau, Officer Travis “Smiley” Dekker, has bought them two tickets to San Francisco, the stomping grounds of Sam Spade and the Continental Op, to name just two of Dashiell Hammett’s famed fictional creations. To Jordan’s delight, Smiley is a huge Hammett fan, though she prefers cozies herself. Regardless, a romantic getaway to a mystery-related setting sounds like the perfect vacation for our lovebirds.

After getting the grudging permission of her cantankerous employer, Vera van Alst, Jordan relishes the prospect of her first week off in two years. Well, mostly off: as part of the bargain she struck with Vera, she's expected to track down a signed first edition of Hammett's Red Harvest for Vera’s extensive mystery novel collection. Jordan figures this will be a breeze, what with her experience and contacts as a book researcher as well as with her larcenous family's far-flung connections.

But San Francisco has surprises in store for her, more so than merely the prospect of an engagement ring that her friends back home are relentlessly teasing her about. There are long-lost relatives to connect with but also dangers lurking down alleys and on potentially fatal cable-car rides. Soon, Jordan is using all her ingenuity to save herself and her loved ones from deadly situations.

I really enjoyed the interwoven mysteries here, as violence dogs Jordan and Smiley's steps through the City by the Bay. The plotting was as pacey and intricate as the noir of Hammett's chosen genre, and it was a lot of fun to race along with our investigative duo as they sought out the whos and whys of the attacks on themselves and their loved ones.

I'd never read any Victoria Abbott before, so I was quite charmed to find that it's the nom de plume of a mother/daughter duo who also run a delightful website advertising the Book Collector Mystery series, of which this is the fifth. Given the theme of the titles, I’m eager to find out if the previous books hew as closely in homage to the authors they’re named after as this one did!

And then, of course, there were three interesting recipes for me to choose from to cook here. I picked a dessert this week:

Tyler’s Favorite Lemon Dessert


1 ½ tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

⅞ cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon zest (1 large lemon)

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ tsp salt

3 extra large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 ½ cup milk or cream


Preheat oven to 350°F for 30-35 minutes.

Beat butter and sugar until well combined, Add lemon zest, lemon juice, egg yolks, salt and flour. Beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add milk and blend well.

Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into lemon mixture. Pour into GREASED 6-cup baking dish or casserole.

Bake at 350°F for about 35 minutes until puffed and golden.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves four (or six small portions).

Yes, my eagle-eyed readers, the recipe calls for three eggs. But I put out four because it’s smart to have a spare when separating yolks (as I may or may not have discovered firsthand in the course of writing this column).

So I'll admit, I found this recipe to be rather confusing. I could not get the lemon mixture to become “light and fluffy,” and adding milk certainly did not help towards that end. I also wondered, what was the point of folding perfectly good meringue into the runnier-than-batter lemon mixture? I'll hazard a guess that this recipe is for the lemon pudding cake briefly mentioned in the story, but it definitely comes out more pudding than cake. The meringue was utterly lost in the pudding, and I'm not quite sure it was worth all the effort of beating to add them. That said, the flavors are delicious and the portions quite generous: we managed eight servings quite comfortably.

I do rather wish they'd have included recipes for Zoya’s beef stroganoff and Gram's oatmeal, but I'm just being greedy, as they did provide instructions for Gram’s famous fried chicken and chocolate chip meringues. Perhaps that was why I was somewhat miffed at how the lemon dessert turned out, given its juxtaposition with an actual recipe for meringues.

Next week, Karin is back from sick leave, and we make party food that's perfect for beginners as I look into crime in Nevada! Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Seeds of Deception by Sheila Connolly


To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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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.

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