Theme cookbooks quickly become cute, sometimes a little too cute, but Recipe for Murder balances the literary and culinary just right. Its recipes are inspired by literature’s greatest scoundrels from Agrippina to Tom Ripley. And the dishes are both of their time and place—what the anti-hero might have found in the kitchen, and inspired by the story.
Although there are a few punning recipes—the dishes are described as “to die for,” and the Big Bad Wolf serves up pigs in blankets while Snow White is treated to a caramel apple. But for the most part, the menu choices avoid cliche. The obvious dish for Hannibal Lecter would have been liver and fava beans, instead we are fed a much more sophisticated dish of sweetbreads with pickled shallots.
Along with kitchen experiments, the recipes may give you a new perspective on the story. Why would the author choose Beets in a Salt Crust for Mr. Hyde? Because salt, as an excerpt from the novel shows, is a chemist’s basic element and one that brings Dr. Jekyll’s changing potion to life. And the beets are a luscious blood red.
Other recipes will bring a murderous frisson into you own kitchen. Cathy’s Dead Bean Salad calls for a dressing mixed with the essential oils of basil, thyme, and lemon, inspired by the croton oil in a salad dressing served to torture in the guise of a thoughtful sickbed meal in East of Eden. The recipe comes complete with advice on how to use these potentially difficult oils.
Flipping through the book’s stories of passion, betrayal, and murder, accompanied by the author’s insightful interpretations, you’ll begin to see evil in the most innocent egg or blushing peach. These things that sustain us are intimately linked to death, and something always dies so we can eat and live.
But it will be hard to resist these dishes from the complicated Chicken Chaudfroid inspired by the treacherous Milady deWinter of The Three Musketeers to the elegantly simple Venetian Lemon Chicken inspired by Tom Ripley’s Italian sojourn.
Whether you end up in the kitchen with a frying pan or in the library with a candlestick, it will be time well spent.