Firstly, there is the cake which in this analogy is the mystery that forms the basis of the book. Let's face it, if you say you are writing a mystery it doesn't really matter how good your characters are, or how unusual your setting because if the mystery is too weak then the rest can't wholly make up for that.
In A Trifle Dead, the cake layer revolves around cafe owner Tabitha Darling who is at the centre of a very eclectic group of people. She has been running her cafe for a year, and during that time she has built up a solid clientele. Among them are lots of members of the Tasmanian police force. They used to get their food at the police cafe when it was run by Tabitha's mother, but since she left town, they now gravitate to Tabitha's cafe. It also gives them an opportunity to keep protective watch over Tabitha, who seems to have a knack for getting herself into interesting situations. First and foremost on the list of police who seem to keep an eye on Tabitha is Leo Bishop, gorgeous and long the object of Tabitha's daydreams.
When a dead body is found strung up in a net on the ceiling of one of the apartments above the cafe, Tabitha can't help but become involved. For the police, it is apparently a fairly clear cut case, but it doesn't quite make sense to Tabitha. There are too many questions left unanswered. How does someone end dead in a net attached to the ceiling, and what does this death have to do with the other strange crimes that are happening around town? And how on earth does someone fill a fridge with hundreds of ping pong balls?
Assisted by Scottish blogger Stewart who has recently arrived in Hobart, Tabitha and her friends set about (definitely not) investigating the murder (because that would just upset dreamboat Senior Constable Leo Bishop more than he normally is!). Soon though, it seems as though these odd events are not unrelated and that somehow Tabitha is caught up in the middle of them all.
I have been known to have cake with custard for dessert, but it isn't trifle unless there is that added layer of jelly, which in this example I am equating with the characters.
Tabitha and her friends are very artsy and eclectic, and it would have been easy for the sheer personality size of some of them to overwhelm the story. For example, one of the key plot points is about Darrow, the missing owner of the cafe. Directly connected to him is the cat suit wearing ex-girlfriend who also happens to be Tabitha's high school (but no longer) best friend and his genius school boy younger brother. His grandmother is a delightfully quirky woman who makes anatomically correct human shaped meringues amongst other things. I haven't even talked about Tabitha's engineering student housemate with a penchant for cross dressing or any of the other characters. Given that there is so much colour in the characterisation of the people, it wouldn't have been a surprise if they distracted the reader from the story, but Day manages to give both the characters and the story the space they need to expand on the page.While I don't think I would necessarily be friends with all of them, they do make for interesting characters to read about, and I look forward to visiting with them again in the next book in the series.
As well as being a crime novel, this is also a humourous novel. With so many colourful characters to contend with, getting the dialogue right becomes even more important. There were plenty of times when I found myself laughing and smiling as the characters interacted with each other. Hopefully the quote I have included below shows this a little.
When you are building on the the layers of cake (mystery) and the jelly (characters), there is the creamy, smooth layer of custard.
In this book, the custard layer was the use of Hobart as the setting. Livia Day is a resident of Hobart and it is clear that it is a place that she loves. Hobart has long had a reputation of being a quiet city, but Day shows how the artistic scene is thriving in the island city. I went to Tassie a few years ago and stayed a bit out of the city, but I definitely appreciated the way that the author used well known landmarks such as Mount Wellington, which provides a dramatic backdrop to the city, and Salamanca Place, which on weekends draws the tourist crowds to the market that is held there as well as less well known features of the city.
The introduction of the Scottish journalist/blogger Stewart was a clever move, as it gave the author the chance to show the reader around Hobart using Stewart as the eyes and ears in addition to adding additional tension to the relationship between Tabitha and Bishop - yes, a potential love triangle. Stewart's job was to find stories that showed Hobart in an interesting and unusual light. It makes perfect sense to have to explain things to him that would have only been able to given to the reader in extended info dump sections otherwise. Oh, and I would have loved to have been able to see the mural that he paints for Tabitha's cafe. It sounded awesome.
There are more elements that can be added to a trifle, including maybe a sprinkling of alcohol but the other major additional element that I expect in a trifle is some sort of fruit, which I am equating with the the foodie elements that are very present in this book. The fruit pieces in a trifle are the extra flavour that give that extra burst of taste in every bite and that is definitely true in the book too. I was left very, hungry while reading this book and having drooled a lot!
As an example of this, I thought I would share a short passage from the beginning of the novel which gives some idea of the foodie feel of the novel, but also because it shows the voice of the author and the dialogue between some of the characters.
When I was growing up, a salad roll was a confection-like sticky bun filled with cheese, tomato, lettuce, beetroot and sliced egg, all glued together with a mock-mayonnaise. Good old Australian corner shop tucker. Now, if it didn't have cranberry sauce, gouda or red pesto on it, our customers whinged the roof down. Oh, and ham wasn't good enough for most of the hipster lunch set, even if it was triple smoked and carved off an organic local pig. Fat-free turkey and smoked salmon were where it was at - with a growing interest in grilled mushrooms and haloumi.Of course, the final element in any trifle is the beautiful glass bowl that enables you to see the various layers once they are all assembled together, without distracting the eye. In this case, I think that the cover is very effective and eye catching.
I realised I had reached the point of no return when I put 'tofu and ricotta salad roll, deconstructed' on the menu, and it became my biggest seller. After that, I started really having fun. If food isn't creative, what's the point?
Unfortunately, I still had a very vocal (if minority) group of customers who were firmly attache to the Gold Old Days, and relied on me to provide the basic staples of Man Food. Steak, friend potato products and pies. I never had this much trouble with the uni students when I was working at the cafe on campus. At least students appreciated an ironic sprout when they saw one.
Well, no more. The old guard were going to have to find their pies somewhere else. I had hipsters to feed. The customer bell twanged loudly in the cafe.
'In a minute,' I protested as Nin's eyebrows became stern and judgmental. 'Egg emergency.'
As I picked up the phone, a tall, dark and handsome police officer in street uniform put his head through the swinging doors. 'Tish, the natives are getting restless.'
I rolled my eyes at the old nickname, and handed the phone to Nin. 'Call Monica. We're going to need another three dozen. Might require grovelling.'
She dialled, knowing a good deal when she saw one. 'So,' I said to Senior Constable Leo Bishop, 'by natives, you mean the usual gang of reprobate?'
Bishop grinned his gorgeous grin at me. 'The accepted term is still police officers, you know.'
Okay, I think that I need to give the trifle/mystery comparison a rest now!
It is no surprise that the week that I was reading this book, I suddenly found myself craving trifle. How fortuitous for me that I managed to stuff up making a never-failed-before chocolate cake so I was able to make a basic trifle just for me! Of course, it wasn't as exotic as the two recipes that are included in the back of the book. The publisher ran a contest asking readers to share trifle recipes and the two that are included sound absolutely fantastic - Chocolate Lime Shot Trifles and Death by Trifle: Cherry and Marzipan Trifle.
I have been a fan of Australian small publisher Twelfth Planet Press for a few years now. They mainly publish spec fic novels including the fantastic Twelve Planet series, which are short story collections from twelve Australian authors. Given that I already was a fan, I knew that I would be reading this book which is the first book that has been published under their new crime imprint,
This fun, cosy style novel is the start of a new mystery series which features a quirky Australian voice, memorable characters and delicious sounding food. I am looking forward to the next one, and also to see which other Australian voices the Headline imprint manages to uncover.
Tabitha Darling has always had a dab hand for pastry and a knack for getting into trouble. Which was fine when she was a tearaway teen, but not so useful now she’s trying to run a hipster urban cafe, invent the perfect trendy dessert, and stop feeding the many (oh so unfashionable) policemen in her life.
When a dead muso is found in the flat upstairs, Tabitha does her best (honestly) not to interfere with the investigation, despite the cute Scottish blogger who keeps angling for her help. Her superpower is gossip, not solving murder mysteries, and those are totally not the same thing, right?
But as that strange death turns into a string of random crimes across the city of Hobart, Tabitha can’t shake the unsettling feeling that maybe, for once, it really is ALL ABOUT HER.
And maybe she’s figured out the deadly truth a trifle late…
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