Twenty-eight-year-old widow Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid Internet stunt. The Big Easy is where she was born and adopted by the NICU nurse who cared for her after Ricki’s teen mother disappeared from the hospital.
Ricki’s dream comes true when she joins the quirky staff of Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, the spectacular former Garden District home of late bon vivant Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet, the city’s legendary restauranteur. Ricki is excited about turning her avocation—collecting vintage cookbooks—into a vocation by launching the museum’s gift shop, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware. Then she discovers that a box of donated vintage cookbooks contains the body of a cantankerous Bon Vee employee who was fired after being exposed as a book thief.
The skills Ricki has developed ferreting out hidden vintage treasures come in handy for investigations. But both her business and Bon Vee could wind up as deadstock when Ricki’s past as curator of a billionaire’s first edition collection comes back to haunt her.
Will Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware be a success … or a recipe for disaster?
Ellen Byron recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest mystery, BAYOU BOOK THEIF:
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
I’m often driven by setting, and that applies to this new series. I love New Orleans, where I attended college, and always wanted to set a book there. I got close with my Cajun Country Mysteries! My characters from that series have visited the Big Easy on several occasions. But with BAYOU BOOK THEIF, the first book in the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries, my protagonist gets to work in the Garden District, live in the Irish Channel, and hang out in the French Quarter. And that’s just in the series’ first book!
What attracts you to this book’s genre?
I love writing the heart and humor you find in a cozy mystery. I was taught as a playwright that you only use profanity in writing when you can’t think of a better way to express something, so I love that writing cozies, which are generally devoid of it, force me to be more creative. I also don’t have to write sex scenes, which I’m terrible at! And even though I’m not a cook, my books always seem to call for recipes. That proved great for this book because I got to share some I culled and adapted from my own personal vintage cookbook collection.
What’s the one question you wish someone would ask you about this book, or your work in general? And please answer the question too!
Q: Why are you so obsessed with New Orleans and Cajun Country?
A: I’ve thought about this a lot. My passion for the city began with my love of playwright Tennessee Williams. To walk the streets he once walked, see his former home in the French Quarter, ride the streetcar like he once did, is magical to this day.
As to Cajun Country, it’s a culture within the broader culture of America, with its own food, music, language… My mother is Italian. As a child, I could spend a weekend at family functions where no one spoke English. So I relate to experiencing a culture within a culture. Plus, I love the music, food, and exotic, swampy environs!
Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. BAYOU BOOK THIEF will be the first book in her new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. She also writes the Catering Hall Mystery series under the name Maria DiRico.
Ellen is an award-winning playwright and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. An alum of New Orleans’ Tulane University, she blogs with Chicks on the Case, is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, and will be the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.