Nancy Pickard and Virginia Rich
When I first came back from Kenya, where we were desperate for reading material and used fully half our packed-into-the-bush weight on books, one of the first new mysteries I read was Virginia Rich's The Cooking School Murder. The protagonist was an older woman - but not Miss Marple or Miss Silver - an ordinary person, a widow, a pleasant person with a believable life. And there were recipes! A first! I was charmed!
I eagerly awaited and devoured her next two books, The Baked Bean Supper Murders and The Nantucket Diet Murders, only to hear that there would be no more books from Virginia Rich. According to the forward in The Blue Corn Murders, Virginia Rich was married to a cattle rancher and began her mystery writing career in her early sixties. She was published at almost seventy and died shortly thereafter. By that time she had written two more books in the series, was working on a fourth, and had collected material and started chapters for several more. When her husband found the boxes of her material, he asked her agent if another writer could continue the series.
With astonishing good judgement, they asked Nancy Pickard, award-winning author of the Jennie Cain mysteries. I don't know why an author would take on the task of trying to maintain another's vision but fortunately for us, Nancy Pickard was and is a fan of Virginia Rich. She accepted the challenge and has done a sterling job. Do I think the character changed a bit in the process? Well, yes, of course. The mark of a good series is the growth of the character and Eugenia has grown and changed but she is still basically our Eugenia. And, after all, we don't know how the character would have changed were Virginia Rich still writing the series.
And if you are worrying that you will spend all your time on a ranch in Arizona, not so. 'Genia is only part time on the ranch and I think only one book takes place there; otherwise, she is in Maine, Iowa, and on a dig in Colorado.
A few years ago, everybody was knocking himself out trying to make Beef Wellington. Then there had been the rage for fondues (and the rage at burned tongues, from those too forgetful to change forks after plunging their bits of steak or whatever into the communal pot of boiling oil). Next, was it quiches? And then there had been crępes, crępe-makers, cręperies, until it seemed that nothing new could possibly be rolled into a pancake. … On a more homey, less sophisticated plane, thought Mrs. Potter, there was carrot cake. One day you'd never head of it, and the next, everyone you knew was making one and every restaurant in town (this was in Tucson when she'd come in to town from the ranch) was featuring it. Carrot cake. Food fads are like jokes, she thought. You don't understand how they get around, but all at once everyone in the country is repeating the same one.
The Cooking School Murders
It had come as a welcome surprise to her to discover that one's life could grow larger and richer and more delicious the farther one moved down its road, instead of narrowing and contracting and growing regretful. She was often simply astonished -and a bit superstitious - about how good it felt to be a woman sixty-four years old in America of the late twentieth century. Because she wasn't callous, she knew perfectly well that her good fortune had a great deal to do with money and health. If she could have bottled them she would have given those same ingredients in great doses to everyone.
The Blue Corn Murders
Mysterious Women is a newsletter about mysteries written in series rather than mysteries in general. It is published four times a year with descriptions of favorite mystery series, both old and new. These are not reviews or critiques but simply descriptions designed to give you enough information to help you choose your next reading treat.
Like all good mysteries, these are full of rich characters, compelling stories, and interesting settings. There is a touch of humor and some exposure to human foibles. Despite the subject matter, these are not too far off cozy and Eugenia Potter is a doll! The first two books are out of print and may be hard to come by. In this series, however, I would just grab any book and start in. The following information is for pb's only.