This was my first foray into the bestselling Booktown Mystery series, and I was a little worried that I’d be a bit lost, as this is the 10th book in. So it was a great relief to find it highly accessible—most likely because the story itself doesn’t take place in Stoneham, New Hampshire (the fabled Booktown), proper, but on an Atlantic cruise.
Quite a few Stoneham residents have embarked on this cruise to escape the New England winter, and they are looking forward to a few days of luxury as they sail to Bermuda and back. Even better, the cruise is mystery-themed, with a good number of authors (mostly in the mystery genre, but not all) aboard to hold panels as well as discuss and promote their books.
Tricia Miles, owner of one of Booktown’s many bookstores (in her case, the mystery bookstore), is aboard with her older, more outgoing sister, Angelica. Tricia is looking forward to catching up on her leisure reading and maybe picking up a few new novels; what she doesn’t anticipate is discovering the corpse of a bestselling but highly disagreeable thriller writer while on a late night trip for hot cocoa. The cruise’s security staff seems reluctant to investigate an apparent suicide, so despite her own antipathy to the deceased, Tricia decides to look into the death.
There’s a lot of fascinating ongoing character development, particularly when it comes to Tricia and her family. I was impressed with Lorna Barrett’s ability to get me to a point where I was really starting to get annoyed with Tricia’s attitude towards food—she views eating as a joyless exercise, an unlikely trait for the heroine of a culinary mystery series—but then Ms. Barrett showed us how she became that way, and I became very sympathetic. I must admit, though, that Angelica is definitely my favorite of the two sisters. Angelica’s charming personality aside, I thoroughly understood her concern for her trouble-magnet of a younger sister.
Another thing I understood: Angelica’s determination to replicate the gorgeously described food the sisters were served while on the cruise. Four recipes were included, and I had a hard time choosing which to make (and still might go back for that Lobster Newburg), but I finally decided on this one:
1 beef tenderloin (2 to 2 ½ pounds)
Ground black pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups finely chopped mushrooms
½ cup medium onion, finely chopped
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
Heat the oven to 425°F. Place the beef into a lightly greased roasting pan. Season with the black pepper, if desired. Roast for 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 130°F. Cover the pan and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Reheat the oven to 425°F. Whisk the egg and water in a small bowl. Heat the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and onion. Stir often and cook until the mushrooms are tender and the liquid is evaporated. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a rectangle 4 inches longer and 6 inches wider than the beef. Brush the pastry sheet with the egg mixture. Spoon the mushroom mixture onto the pastry sheet to within 1 inch of the edges. Place the beef in the center of the mushroom mixture. Fold the pastry over the beef and press to seal. Place the seam side onto a baking sheet. Tuck the ends under to seal. Brush the pastry with the remaining egg mixture. Bake for 25 minutes or until the pastry is a golden brown and a meat thermometer reads 140°F.
I am a sucker for Beef Wellington and invariably order it at restaurants whenever it’s available, but I had never thought to try making it at home. I’d also never seen it served in anything but individually-sized portions, so this was definitely an adventure. One I’m glad I undertook, however, as not only did I not screw up the pastry (an achievement!) but I also learned how simple this elegant and rather decadent dish is to prepare. There’s just something about a buttery puff pastry combined with tender, perfectly roasted beef that sends me on the mental equivalent of an Atlantic cruise—sans murder, of course.
Title Wave was the perfect jumping-on point for newcomers to the Booktown series. I especially loved all the gossipy insider information about the book and publishing business. I’m very much looking forward to the 11th book, which I’ll be cooking through next. Aside from reading about the goings on in Booktown itself, I’ll be considering a smorgasbord of yummy summertime zucchini recipes. Do join me!
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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.