This was my first Kerry Greenwood book and it caught me completely by surprise – consider me a convert. I knew the story was the start of a series about an amateur sleuth in Melbourne and I thought, OK, it’s Australia but a cosy mystery with a baker as the main character? I know how this goes. How wrong I was.
‘Earthly Delights‘ was fresh and different. How many cosy mysteries start with having to give CPR to a blue-in-the-face and apparently dead junkie that our heroine finds at 5.00 am in the alley behind her bakery?
This is a cosy mystery – no graphic violence or sex, no gratuitous cruelty, no existential angst – but it’s also firmly rooted in the world we all live in rather than some mythical village where everyone is nicer than us and our neighbours, except for the murderer who’s faking it and the red herrings, who aren’t.
I liked the main character, Corinna Chapman. She was pragmatic and focused but was also kind, open-minded and clever. She’s a used-to-be who has built a life she loves. She used to be married to a feckless man she divorced. She used to be an accountant but found that her real passion was baking. She owns and runs a bakery in Calico Alley, a fiction little street in the heart of Melbourne. She loves the rhythm of her life: rising early to bake, making things worth eating and sell her wares, mostly to restaurants and hotels but also from her shop. She’s passionate about baking but she’ll also make what people want to buy, including ‘healthy’ bread that’s had all the good bit taken out and tastes like nothing but penance.
Corinna gets on with her neighbours who run off-beat stores including an occult supply shop and a shop for fetish wear. She treats her staff, who are both out of work actors looking for roles in a soap, well while still imposing some discipline. She’s willing to give a junkie a chance but has the good sense to keep a close eye on him and not expect too much.
One of the things that worked well about the book is that Corinna was not someone I’d expect to go looking for mysteries or to get involved in solving them. She isn’t a closet Sherlock Holmes fan. She just wants to get on with her life. So the mysteries have to find her. There are two of them. One is that someone seems to be killing the junkies who hang out in her area, something she comes to know about from the junkie she rescues and from the tall, dark and not necessarily trustworthy soup kitchen guy who collects bread from her. The other is about threatening misogynistic notes being left for her and her neighbours.
As Corinna gets pulled into these mysteries, she builds some friendships, finds out more about her neighbours, has a mild romance and uses her analytical mind and pragmatic approach to sort everything out. She has some fun along the way. The whole story is peppered with humour, most of it based on close observations of people and the absurd things we all do.
Unusually for the first book in a series, the book ends with Corinna saying she never wants to get involved with solving mysteries again. She wants to bake and live her life. Which makes me wonder if this was initially intended as a stand-alone novel or if there was always a plan for a series? I think, given the time invested in creating the core ensemble cast, the series was always there but it’s going to be about a baker being pulled into things, not about a wannabe PI. I like the sounds of that.
Kerry Greenwood is an Australian author and lawyer.
She is best known for her twenty historical detective novels centred on the character of Phryne Fisher.
She writes mysteries, science-fiction, historical fiction, children’s stories, and plays.