A few weeks ago, as I wandered through the library stacks in search of a new book to read, I came across an author I'd never heard of: Marne Davis Kellogg. The two books at my branch of the library, Perfect and Friends in High Places, had promise. Their cover art was pretty in a sort of retro, Art Deco way, the books were set in England, Provence, the Amalfi Coast, and the Alps, and - best of all - they were about a super-smart international jewel thief named Kick Keswick. Sign me up!
Once I got into the first book, I realized I didn't just like it, I loved it. Kick a strong and interesting character, the settings are fabulous, and even though I'm not really that into jewelry, the descriptions of the jewels (and the fake jewel fabrication process) is pretty captivating. But that's not all - there's also the food. Take this passage (from Brilliant, an early Kick Keswick book):
"Do you want something for dessert?" I asked, after taking him on a quick tour. "I have some fresh apples. I could make a Tarte Tatin."
"I can't think of anything I'dlike more. I saw a bottle of '71 Chateau d'Yquem in your cellar. It'll go perfectly."
Of course. He knew without my having to tell him.
I peeled and sliced the apples and put them on to simmer in a cast-iron skillet with a huge amount of butter and sugar. While they caramelized, I went to work rolling out the pastry. Thomas poured us each a small glass of the exquisite dessert whie, which filled our mouths with the bouquets of rich, sweet fruit.
All of that took place in Kick's Provence farmhouse kitchen. Sigh.
Kellogg has an earlier series of books, too, about a lady Marshal named Lilly Bennett, who lives in a fancy, Jackson Hole-type town in Wyoming. She's just as strong a character as Kick, and they share a classic, understated brand of glamour that I find really appealing.
Don't get me wrong - these aren't deep, philosophical books. But they are great stories with strong characters and a fabulous sense of place. Just about the best beach reading I can imagine. Plus, the food. There is so much great food.