Maya Corrigan's Debut Mystery Novel, first in her series
By Cook or By Crook: A Five-Ingredient Mystery. Maya Corrigan. KensingtonBooks.com New York, N.Y. ISBN: 13: 978-61773-138-9. $7.99 mass market paper. 310 pages. E-book: eISBN: 13: 978-61773-139-6.
Val Deniston has left her career as a cookbook publicist for a New York publisher and moved to the small town of Bayport on the Chesapeake Bay. She is living in the old Victorian family home with her grandfather and running the Cool Down Café at the local fitness club. Still haunting her is the car accident in which she may have been responsible for her former boss’s injury, if only she could remember what exactly had happened.
Val’s best friend and cousin Monique is very angry at Nadia Westrin who’d had an affair with Monique’s husband Maverick. Then Nadia asks Val to give her a ride home after a tennis game. Val isn’t keen on this, but she does it. They discover an old wooden tennis racket turned into a torch and burning in Nadia’s front flower garden. Nadia is sure that Monique did it, but she doesn’t want to call the police.
An old high school boyfriend of Val’s, Luke Forsa, turns up at the fire and wants to date her again. Then Nadia offers to help Val get a big catering contract, but she needs the proposal details soon. When Val shows up with the catering proposal, she finds Nadia dead in her kitchen with a wooden tennis racket whittled to make a sharp point and stuck in her throat.
The police come and Val is interrogated by an unsympathetic sheriff’s deputy. The police chief, however, is an old friend of Val’s grandfather, doesn’t see her as a murderer, and even shares some info with her, but Val worries that Monique will be arrested and decides to do some investigating of her own.
Meantime Granddad has decided he wants to learn to cook, and Val comes home to find his rum cake burning away in the smoke -filled kitchen at the oven temperature of 525 degrees, and cake batter all over the room. Considering the trouble he has caused and the mess he has created, Val is incredibly patient. She offers to teach him to cook, even though he stubbornly insists that he won’t cook more than five ingredients in a recipe.
Gunnar Swenson is a new man in town, who had been Val’s doubles partner in a recent tennis game, and calls to set up a date with her. Granddad is suspicious of Gunnar, and sometimes Val also wonders if she can trust Gunnar, since he’s always going off to answer his cell phone.
As if Val didn’t have enough worries, a car runs her off the road at night, and she becomes aware that someone is following her.
The plot in this cooking cozy moves swiftly and has lots of twists and turns, but I enjoyed most the interactions between Val and Grandad. Their conflict brings out their characters. She is very open and tender with him, despite how he infuriates her. He gives her love and support even while driving her nuts. He continues to make havoc with her planned cookbook recipe cards, but she’s so worried about Monique and the two men pursuing her affections and someone else following her that she can’t keep up with where Granddad’s cooking enthusiasm is leading.
Three are eight five-ingredient, easy-to-prepare recipes at the end of the book that look delicious.
Maya Corrigan Interview
1. When did you begin writing? Why?
I completed my first novel when I was thirteen, pecking it out on a manual typewriter. As I finished each chapter, I gave it to my best friend and watched her read it. It thrilled me to see her smile and laugh. Knowing I'd created a story that entertained someone made me want to be a writer. I spent a lot of my professional life writing nonfiction, both academic papers and technical manuals—not the most entertaining fare, but that’s what people paid me to write. Now I’m delighted to be writing fiction again and hoping that my books are as entertaining as what I wrote when I was thirteen.
2. When and why did you begin writing mysteries?
I’ve been a mystery reader for many years. My fourth grade teacher gave me her Nancy Drew collection. My mother brought home stacks of detective books from the library. I’ve read all the classic mystery authors—Christie, Sayers, Marsh, Tey, Hammett, Chandler. By writing a mystery, I was following the advice most aspiring fiction authors hear—write what you know. I’ve been honing my skills as a mystery writer over the last two decades and, like most people who are publishing their first book, I have manuscripts in my drawer that should never see the light of day and in which I made all the mistakes fledgling fiction writers make.
3. Are you writing a series or a stand-alone? Explain your basic idea for your series.
BY COOK OR BY CROOK is the first in the Five-Ingredient Mystery series. Set in a historic Chesapeake Bay town, the series features a café manager and former cookbook publicist who solves murders with help from her foodie friends and grumpy grandfather. The books include five-ingredient recipes.
4. Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.
An early version of BY COOK OR BY CROOK, under a different title, was a finalist in the Malice Domestic Contest for debut mystery writers. I’d queried agents about the book before the judge chose it for the finals, but by the time I found out the results of the contest, I was at work on another mystery and reluctant to take the time to query. As I was finishing that second book, I heard through Sisters in Crime about an agent willing to represent a cozy mystery series based on a proposal. I reworked the earlier book to highlight its cozy elements, wrote a synopsis for two more books in the series, and sent in the proposal. The agent took on the series and sold it to Kensington.
5. Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?
Food plays a role in whatever I write even if the subject has nothing to do with cooking. For example, I’ve described a room as painted in lemon chiffon with woodwork dark as chocolate mousse. When I feel like eating, which is most of the time, even the walls remind me of food. A few years ago, I found my niche writing a short story, “Delicious Death,” in which cooking, eating, and conversation about food are the key ingredients in a suspicious death. The story is on my website. My culinary mystery series grew out of that story although the characters in the story don’t appear in the series . . . at least not yet. Maybe I’ll bring one or two of them back in a later book.
6. How have you found it to be published? Share that experience.
It’s all been an adventure. The intricacies of getting a book from manuscript into print has amazed me—so many steps in the process, so much needing to be done far in advance of publication. For example, as I’m writing this, I haven’t yet turned in the manuscript for the second book in the series. That book, complete with its cover image, is already up on Amazon and available for pre-order. Obviously, deadline pressure is a key feature of publishing a series.
7. Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?
“Cozy mystery readers will the love the puzzle and the enjoyable look into this small tourist town by the sea.” —Nancy Coco, author of To Fudge or Not to Fudge.
“Maya Corrigan's concept of Five Ingredients, Five Suspects, Five Clues fits this scrumptious culinary mystery like a glove.” —Barbara Ross, author of the Agatha-nominated Clammed Up.
8. What other books have you published and where, when?
This is my first book. Under my full name of Mary Ann Corrigan, I’ve published stories in anthologies: Chesapeake Crimes 3 (2008), Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin’ (2010), and A Shaker of Margaritas: A Bad Hair Day (2012).
9. Do you have a work in progress now? Is it part of a series?
I’m finishing up the manuscript for SCAM CHOWDER, the second book in the Five-Ingredient Mystery series, scheduled for publication on June 30, 2015. Val’s grandfather, now known as the Codger Cook, has a larger role in this book than in the first one. In fact, I’m afraid he might take over the series. I’m going to have to watch him very carefully as I plot the third book.
10. If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful? How?
I’ve made many writer friends through Sisters in Crime, taken courses sponsored by the Guppies that helped me develop my craft, and kept up with what’s happening in the mystery world by reading the groups’ mailings lists. The members of SinC and Guppies are welcoming to newcomers and generous with their advice. I would not have received a publishing contract if it weren’t for Guppies who shared their own road to publication with other mystery writers.
11. What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?
Malice Domestic brings together a community of people who love mysteries as I do. I enjoy meeting writers and readers informally. Attending panels gives me a chance to hear what the authors have just published and plan to write next, so I know what to put on my reading list. For the last five or so years, I’ve moderated panels at Malice, which gave me the opportunity to become better acquainted with several cozy authors.
12. What else would like to say about your books, the next one in your series?
The next book, SCAM CHOWDER, takes up a crime that I’ve seen first hand, and I’m sure many other people in my baby-boomer cohort have also witnessed—fraud against senior citizens. Swindlers preying on older people often operate with impunity. The crime is rampant and under-reported. Like other crimes that the police and the district attorney don’t have the resources to solve and prosecute, this one can lead to murder.
Maya Corrigan lives near Washington, D.C., within easy driving distance of Maryland's Eastern Shore, the setting for her Five-Ingredient Mystery series. She has taught courses in writing, detective fiction, and American literature at Georgetown University and NOVA community college. A winner of the 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in unpublished Mystery and Suspense, she has short stories and essays on drama published under her full name of Mary Ann Corrigan. Her website, mayacorrigan.com, features trivia and quizzes on mysteries.