Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Penny Warner pens a culinary mystery

This appeared in the Times, Herald, Mercury News, and Oakland Tribune.

By Jackie Burrell
Contra Costa Times

Forget those locked-room mysteries of yore.

These days, some of the hottest crime fiction revolves around caterers and chefs. The latest author to venture into culinary mystery territory is Danville's Penny Warner, whose Bay Area hero — party planner Presley Parker — runs into homicidal high jinks all over the Bay Area, starting with an Alcatraz wedding gone awry.


Gourmet mayhem may not seem like a recipe for bestsellerdom, but there's no denying the genre's popularity. Perhaps the best known practitioner is best-selling author Diane Mott Davidson, whose Colorado caterer Goldie Schultz trips over corpses as often as she slurps up high-octane espressos — which is to say, every few hours.


The stories are fun and frothy, and the recipes for Fatally Flaky Cookies, Sour Cream Cherry Coffee Cake and the like are so tasty, many have found their way into avid readers' permanent recipe files. Davidson's 15th book, "Fatally Flaky" (William Morrow, 336 pp., $25.99), will be released in paperback this spring.


Other popular authors who mix Bearnaise with poison include Jerrilyn Farmer and her Hollywood party planner hero, Madeline Bean; Katherine Hall Page and her New England caterer (and preacher's wife) Faith Fairchild; and San Francisco native and UC Berkeley grad Joanna Pence, whose books revolve around sometime chef Angie Amalfi.


The much-published Warner is an Agatha award-winning author whose books include the Connor Westphal mystery series and a Nancy Drew handbook. "How to Host a Killer Party" (Signet, 320 pp., $6.99) lands on store shelves Feb. 2 and it's a lark. No recipes, which may be just as well, considering what the corpses-to-be ate just before, er, exiting the party. But there are plenty of hosting tips, including, "Like MacGyver, a good event planner can fix any party mishap with a toothpick, duct tape, or some crepe paper. Especially those pesky blood spatters."


Meet Warner at her book launch party from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 8 at Danville's Peasant & the Pear, or at readings at the libraries in San Leandro (Jan. 30), Castro Valley (Feb. 16) and Antioch (Feb. 22), at Pleasanton's Towne Center Books (Feb. 26), and San Mateo's M is for Mystery bookstore (March 3). Details: www.pennywarner.com.

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