How long Is a longtime?
by Judy Schultz
That’s how long I’ve been writing this column. A longtime.
It’s been eight years of columns, many written from New Zealand or elsewhere. Happily, I’ve never missed a deadline, and it’s been great fun ranting away in The Tomato about anything from soup to nuts; but enough. Time to move on.
Mary Bailey, intrepid editor, writer and friend, has generously allowed me to use this final column as a shameless plug for my next project. (Yes! Thank you Mary!)
So here we go. For six of the past eight years I’ve been a closet mystery writer. I’m not speedy, so I’ve churned out one novella a year. Novellas—shorter than novels, longer than short stories—are a lot like good meals. You should have enough to feel satisfied, but still be a little bit hungry for the next one.
The mystery project was inspired by one of my all-time favourite food movies, a comedy/mystery flick called Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? It was loaded with revenge murders that could only have happened in a kitchen or dining room.
My project has a working title: Best Served Cold. I borrowed it from the French novel, Dangerous Liaisons, where somebody announced, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
After all those years of midnight keyboarding, I’m left with a modest- but-toothsome selection of murderous novellas, each one exploring the art of revenge in some wickedly juicy way, each one cooked up in a different Canadian kitchen, starting right here, in Edmonton.
The kitchen, after all, is a room that overflows with opportunity. Suppose you want to get rid of some inconvenient rodent who’s in your face, or on your back. Is it a faithless lover, a cheating spouse or an evil boss who is giving you grief? Is some badass rival constantly stealing your thunder? Whatever their trespasses, if they deserve to be done in, the kitchen’s the place to start.
Early on, I explored possible weaponry for each plot. Even a halfway-adequate kitchen offers a full selection of stabbers, slicers and dicers. Ice picks come to mind, as do carving knives and cleavers. There’s a mother lode of items for enemy-bashing; meat mallets, rolling pins and wine bottles for starters.
For finishing off the enemy with more prolonged drama, you’ve got your walk- in freezers with malfunctioning doors, your gas leaks, your deep fryers, your ovens, your giant pots of scalding-hot liquids.
High on my list of other possibilities were broken glass and ground glass, followed by tainted clams, bad oysters and cheeses that ran afoul of some rogue bacteria.
Along the way, I found books filled with beautifully-illustrated mushrooms, all deadly. Any one of them could finish an enemy with style, secrecy and considerable personal misery.
Having attended cooking school in Italy and watched my husband suffer through food poisoning caused by a mushroom omelet I made during class, I know what I’m talking about. Yes, friends, I nearly did in my own husband, without even trying. He still looks nervous when there’s a mushroom in the vicinity.
That, dear reader, is only the beginning. What more do you need to dispatch an enemy? The seven final plagues? (It’s a Doomsday thing.) If you can’t murder somebody in a kitchen, you’re not trying very hard.
Regarding plots, motives and malice aforethought, show me a kitchen without malice and I’ll show you a church basement during Christmas dinner.
Malice, the essential ingredient of a murder plot, was probably invented by a chef. Along with professional jealousy, malice is the je ne sais quoi of the professional kitchen. If you disagree, I invite you to watch a hare-brained Food Network reality show called Chopped, or any of its equally-witless knock-offs.
Like every writing project, mine needs a marketing plan. So far? Nothing. Not a clue. That’s why I have six of them stacked up. If I was any good at marketing, would I still have a full carton of my first books mouldering away in the basement?
Last words: I invite you to watch The Tomato for information on where to find a series of six (or so) kitchen mysteries called Best Served Cold: Fifteen Minutes of Fame (plus five other titles), doubtless with cheesy-looking paperback covers, suitable for reading in the bath, or on the bus, or while making dinner for a feckless lover you’re planning to finish off, or anytime you’re hell-bent on cooking up something so bad it’s good.