Lo­cal au­thor brings Greek chef back for sec­onds

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Ron Robin­son

WIN­NIPEG mys­tery writer Karen Dud­ley’s lat­est fan­tasy novel demon­strates once again that she has a taste for tall tales. And once again she trav­els through time to an­cient Greece for a mash-up that mixes a good nosh with non­sense. Dud­ley has al­ways shown an af­fec­tion for the eclec­tic cir­cus ap­proach to her sub­ject mat­ter, mov­ing from non-fic­tion wildlife ti­tles to her en­vi­ron­men­tal mys­ter­ies fea­tur­ing Robyn De­vara, and most re­cently into fan­tasy. Kraken Bake continues the suc­cess­ful style of Food for the Gods. The good news is you don’t have to have read the ear­lier one to savour the new one. Once again Chef Pelops, who was cut up and served to the gods be­fore be­ing re­con­sti­tuted in the first book, is be­set with dif­fi­cul­ties. Hav­ing an­gered Po­sei­don by hav­ing turned down his of­fer of hanky-panky, he finds his cook­ing skills fail him when it comes to pre­par­ing kraken (rhymes with bracken). Which is too bad; there’s a lot of it around since Perseus slew the great beast, and bits of it keep wash­ing up on shore. Who knew the gods could be so petty? Pelops’ prob­lems mul­ti­ply with the an­nounce­ment of a Bronze Chef com­pe­ti­tion (with a mys­tery in­gre­di­ent), as well as the rev­e­la­tion that the woman he loves is to marry his best friend. And, of course, be­ing in the food busi­ness, he has a cash-flow prob­lem. Dud­ley never met a Greek god she didn’t like, and so they ap­pear and are in­tro­duced in a steady stream. A randy, spite­ful lot they are — party-go­ers, of­ten un­scrupu­lous shape-shifters, and when two of them, Diony­sus and Her­mes, of­fer to help Pelops, his plot be­gins to boil. Her­mo­genes, Pelops’ right-hand man, gets to work mar­ket­ing his boss, and that means mar­ket­ing his skill as well as his looks (both hair and cloth­ing) and find­ing a suit­able spon­sor. The tale takes a twist when Perseus, the mighty Kraken slayer, ar­rives on the scene with his winged horse, Pegasus. Perseus turns out to be an awe­some dude with the brain of a pea and the man­ners of a goat. Turns out he’s also re­lated to Pelops, al­though dis­tantly is what Pelops comes to wish for, as the scrapes and the Greek equiv­a­lent of mul­ti­ple faux-pas come fast and winc­ingly fu­ri­ous. Imag­ine a Lon­don-ac­cented stage pro­duc­tion of A Funny Thing Hap­pened on the Way to the Fo­rum, with, say, Frankie How­erd as the naughty slave Pseu­do­lus (in this case named Her­mo­genes), now a free man but with a mouth on him like a Cock­ney bar­row boy. Add a recipe or two in a plummy voice from Ju­lia Childs (and there re­ally are recipes to try) and sim­mer with a dol­lop of boy-loses-girl ro­mance. The silli­ness de­scrib­ing the day-to-day life of a Greek city would seem over-thetop and straight out the great Cana­dian com­edy team of Wayne and Shus­ter (who took a sim­i­lar ap­proach to things Ro­man with Rinse the Blood Off My Toga), ex­cept that enough graf­fiti has been un­cov­ered to in­di­cate Dud­ley’s not far off the mark de­scrib­ing life on the streets, in the mar­ket­place and in the homes. In­deed, one Win­nipeg clas­sics pro­fes­sor spotted read­ing Kraken Bake was over­heard to say, “She doesn’t get much wrong.” To sum up, then: “Too silly” (as Monty Python might have said), never half-baked, and end­ing with a sug­ges­tion that Chef Pelops could make a re­turn ap­pear­ance in an­other novel. It’s on the knees of the gods. Ron Robin­son is a Win­nipeg broad­caster who

loves baklava.

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