A Culinary Mystery
Alter Ego Press, September 2020
Billed as a culinary mystery and set in Chicago, Saving Irene introduces us to Henny James whose job is to prepare ingredients for chef Irene Foxglove’s regional television cooking show. Irene fancies herself a French chef trained at the famed Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris but Henny doubts that. Rather, she is convinced that Irene learned her cooking skills at a local junior college. Nonetheless, Irene is the star and Henny the assistant. Irene is married to Howard who is very protective, perhaps overly so, of Irene and since she has received at least one threatening letter Howard asks Henny to keep an eye on Irene and help protect her at work. For me, this is a problem with this book’s premise for Henny is no more equipped to protect Irene than Irene’s daughter, the haughty and sullen Gabrielle is. Nevertheless, Henny agrees to do so – at what cost to herself remains to be seen.
When Howard dies suddenly in what appears to be an accident Henny realizes that his protectiveness of Irene was perhaps not unwarranted, and it now falls to her to take on that job. In the meantime, Irene’s publicist, Penny, is, on the one hand, urging Irene to write a cookbook while on the other scheming to advance another chef over Irene. When Penny is eventually fired by Henny, upon whom Irene has come to depend for nearly everything, Penny’s determination to ruin Irene goes into high gear.
Meanwhile, Henny has become fast friends with her neighbor the handsome, helpful, and accommodating Patrick. While Henny would love to become much closer to him, there is a problem – Patrick is gay – or at least so he seems but he is the nicest guy Henny has ever known. And then, as if there isn’t enough going on, Gabrielle disappears without a word or a trace.
A lot of people on Goodreads, Amazon, and other sites loved this book. I cannot go quite that far. It does have interesting characters and it is well written. But I could not quite suspend my disbelief enough to see Henny as a protector of the annoying, demanding, and often insulting Irene. That said, I think this book would be a quick and fun read for the beach or sitting on the porch for an afternoon.
Reviewed by Melinda Drew, May 2021.