Cookbook by mystery writers offers killer recipes

December 22, 1991|By Lynn Williams

For some people, cooking is murder.

From the leg of lamb used as a murder weapon to the traces of arsenic in the elderberry wine, food has often played a role in literary mayhem. So when a group of mystery writers collaborates on a cookbook, you'd better believe their prose has little in common with Betty Crocker's.

Poring through "Cooking With Malice Domestic," a cookbook devised by Jean and Ron McMillen, owners of Mystery Bookshop: Bethesda, readers will come across such evocative directions as "beat to death," "flay and dismember half a small chicken" and "crack those eggs -- show no mercy." Gleeful malice aside, the recipes contained in this collection are varied, author-tested and strychnine-free; when these writers (unlike Colonel Mustard) go into the kitchen, something good is likely to result.

Malice Domestic, for which the cookbook is named, is an annual convention honoring the "cozy" mystery genre, whose most celebrated practitioner was Agatha Christie. Cozies -- a term of endearment, not scorn -- often have a village setting, and are more likely to feature an amateur or female sleuth than "hard-boiled" mysteries with their gritty urban locales and cynical private investigators.

Noting the critical attention and big bucks garnered by macho mysteries, a group of friends -- including Takoma Park mystery fan Mary Morman and Frederick mystery writer Barbara Mertz (a k a Elizabeth Peters) -- conspired to draw attention to their favorite genre by holding a convention. The first Malice Domestic (which takes its name from a speech in Shakespeare's "Macbeth") was held in Silver Spring in 1989, and has become a regular spring event. The convention, which is attended by both authors and fans, features guest speeches, panels and an awards dinner; the Agatha, a china teapot with a skull-and-bones motif, is awarded to the year's best cozies.

The McMillens, who are on the convention committee, came up with the cookbook idea last fall, and turned it into a fund-raising project.

"Ron and I decided it would be fun to celebrate the 'home' aspects of Malice Domestic, because some of the authors are cooks, and some of their characters are cooks," Ms. McMillen says.

Some, she adds, are even food-world professionals, including Rebecca York (who, as Ruth Glick, writes cookbooks), food journalist Sarah Shankman, and Dorothy Cannell, who worked in a gourmet shop before hitting the best-seller lists.

The McMillens rounded up a batch of mystery pros (58, including themselves) and had them write down their favorite recipes, and/or the favorite recipes of their characters. Less than six months later the results were published, just in time for the third Malice Domestic.

The authors came through with more than 170 recipes, representing a wide range of origins, from Orthodox Jewish to Japanese to Edwardian English. They were also encouraged to introduce their contributions in true malice domestic style, with LTC witty results. Dorothy Cannell, for instance, declares that her hot cheese balls are "the perfect alibi": "No one will suspect you had sufficient time to make these and nip up the road to bump off the church warden."

"Cooking With Malice Domestic" is available from Mystery Bookshop: Bethesda, 7700 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, Md. 20814. Copies cost $14.95, plus $4 shipping charge.

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