I think I was always aware of the existence of New Orleans; I just don’t know or remember how my impressions before visiting for that first real visit were formed. I know I learned about New Orleans from my love of history; the city was too important to the development and shaping of the country to not be featured extensively in books–particularly the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice, I remember, had me wanting to come visit; I discovered Julie Smith’s New Orleans Mourning after visiting for my thirty-third birthday and realizing that I’d found the place where I belonged, needed to be, and my dreams would all come true.
New Orleans has a very deep canon of literature; you name a kind of book, one has been written in that style about the city. And just as there are a lot of subgenres of crime fiction–you can pretty much find a book about the city in any of them. There have been a number of cozy series set here, in every type of cozy style. I’ve always wanted to find a good cozy series set in New Orleans to sink my teeth into–the humorous kind–and while I’ve tried quite a few, none of them really took with me. That’s not to say the books weren’t well-done and written, or unclever; they just didn’t connect with me. I eventually stopped trying to find one, really–but of course, as with anything, just because you didn’t connect with the first two series you tried, doesn’t mean you should stop trying.
Take Ellen Byron’s Vintage Cookbook series, for one good example. I greatly enjoyed the first book in the series, Bayou Book Thief, which went on to win the Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery earlier this year. It was a terrific series launch, and had me really looking forward to the second book in the series, which is when series generally begin to find their legs and hit their stride.
And so, on my travel day to Malice, I read Wined and Died in New Orleans.
Ricki’s heart hammered as she glanced at the ominous black clouds hovering over New Orleans from the front window of her shotgun cottage home. She took a deep breath, then used masking tape to make X’s on the windowpanes of the living room’s large front window. She grunted as she hefted a mattress ontp the top of the room’s couch and positioned it over the taped window. “We’re safe now,” Ricki assured her dogs, a German shepherd mix and a Chihuahua mix, who were watching her with curiosity. “Even if the hurricane sends stuff crashing into the windows, they’ll break but won’t shatter into a million pieces. And the mattress will keep everything from flying inside.”
A violent clap of thunder shook the house. Ricki cried out. Princess and Thor, the shepherd and Chihuahua, barked at it. I choose to feel calm. I choose positive and nurturing thoughts. Ricki repeated the mantra over and over to herself. She’d been saying it a lot lately. Seconds later, rain slammed the cottage roof with an almost deafening force. Ricki’s phone sounded an alert and she grabbed it. She read the message: Hurricane watch canceled.
“Seriously?” Ricki said with a frustrated groan.
Ricki is our erstwhile heroine, who recently relocated to her birth city, New Orleans, after her husband died in a freak accident while trying to create a viral video. Since her return, she’s found a love interest with the handsome celebrity chef who lives across the street; developed a friendship with her landlady; and opened her own vintage cookbook shop at Bon Vee, the mansion of the Charbonnet family–known for owning restaurants and their delicious food. There are some great characters at the Garden District mansion since converted to a culinary museum celebrating the family that Ricki befriends as well; all in all, a lovely little community of friends and support for her.
This book is set during Ricki’s first hurricane season, and yes, Byron gets what that is like absolutely right–the constant warning texts of warnings and watches and their cancellations–as well as the blase attitude of the locals; we never get concerned terribly until we know something for sure and even then, you can’t be certain if you need to evacuate “just in case.” Evacuating for most people isn’t free, and even if the only disruption is a power outage–if it’s long enough you have to throw everything in the refrigerator out.
Thank God we didn’t make our Costco run the week of Ida, which was when we were due to go. It’s also been a hot minute since I dipped into hurricane season in one of my books. (Mississippi River Mischief does have some hurricane content, but it’s one from the previous season) But I digress.
The plot of this story is put into motion when several cases of really old wine–from the nineteenth century–are found on the estate, and because of its age, it’s really valuable. The decision is made to auction the wine off and put the money back into the museum–which doesn’t always break even–but the discovery of the wine brings some distant relations of the Charbonnet family out of the woodwork, all claiming they deserve a share of the wine sale proceeds. Ricki is also dealing with an intern; her crush across the street (with whom she time shares two dogs) has hired an assistant who sees Ricki as the competition and undermines her at every turn; and of course, one of the distant relations turns up dead and Ricki has to clear her friends–all of whom are suspects–of the murder.
There’s also a wonderful New Orleans pothole that plays a crucial role in the story.
I loved this book. I laughed out loud on the plane a couple of times–and smiled at others, when I recognized something from one of mine and Ellen’s boozy get togethers whenever she comes to town, which made the book all that much more fun to read for me. But it’s fun even if you don’t have a personal connection to it, either. Buy this book, love and cherish it!
And you can thank me later.
One thought on “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”
I love Ellen’s books (and she is how I found your books). Her catering hall mysteries make me miss the parents of my friends in Queens. I do enjoy this series, too! New Orleans is a wonderful city. I love visiting, and I miss it when I’m not there.