As the temperature around here creeps up closer to 30 degrees, there are various warnings for thunderstorms, and the flying ants have emerged I've spent my day looking at the Booksellers round-up of autumn releases including all sorts of Christmas-related books - which is where we're at in retail. Rosemary Shrager's The Proof In The Pudding came out in February and I'm assuming will be in paperback in time for Christmas (I checked - it is) which is more or less when it's set.
I was sent a review copy, possibly back in February - I'm seriously losing track, and obviously waited for a heat wave to start reading. I liked The Last Super, and this one is very much more of the same. I like Prudence Bulstrode, National Treasure and one time celebrity TV cook now semi-retired and doing the private catering circuit whilst occasionally solving a murder, I like the character of Suki, her assistant and granddaughter, and there are plenty of plot elements that work well. there are some more that don't.
Prudence's age isn't specifically discussed but kitchen work is hard work and the general impression is that she's somewhere in her early 60s (which makes her quite, but not impossibly, young to have a 17 year old granddaughter) but her attitude towards any kind of technology belongs to a much older woman. Rosemary Shrager will know better smartphones have been around for a while now, and I can't quite believe that Prudence wouldn't have any idea of how to operate one.
I had hoped for a little bit more character development too, and maybe some evolution of the writing style from book one - neither really happen. On the other hand, if you want some easy reading, an undemanding mystery, and a lot of fun food details you won't be disappointed.
It's the food details that make these books for me. I have a lot of respect for the observational skills of professional cooks. Back in my wine days I was on a training course where the tutors consistently used confusion as a tactic - tasting white rum, vodka, gin, and silver tequila blind side by side to try and tell which was which (harder than it perhaps sounds) or tasting the same wine blind with 3 sets of notes and then having to vote for which was the best. The only person who wasn't fooled by the last one was an ex-chef. As well-trained as the rest of us were, we were also infinitely more suggestible when it came to taste and smell.
That power of observation and the ability to rely on more than just what you can see and hear seems like an excellent skill for a detective. There's also the added delight of the menu planning and Pru's various reminiscences of old TV shows that she's done - these are the moments that lift the book and make it worth picking up. Look out for the paperback this autumn if for some jolly seasonal reading.