Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Plotting the Next Move

Having done it myself, I know the mechanics of plotting a novel, but when I read someone else's work I marvel again at the genius of different authors to make plots airtight, believable, and compelling.

Josi Kilpack has done it so well in her Sadie Hoffmiller culinary mystery series. In Lemon Tart, English Trifle and Devil's Food Cake, things happen fast, which is what keeps mystery readers involved. I've never been a great mystery fan, although I'm married to one, so this normally isn't my genre. However, these are published by Deseret Book so they're clean, and I appreciate that. It's one thing to go for gritty realism, but it's such a relief to read a good story without foul, offensive language.

Sadie is fastidious almost to a fault, and that's what makes her such a good detective, albeit amateur, able to know what to do when she finds herself in situations where the police may be absent or incompetent or resentful of her involvement. She doesn't really try to inject herself into police work, but somehow things happen to Sadie that keep her life from getting dull. Once involved, she knows when to dance around the truth and when to be unrelentingly honest.

Usually the surface is calm for Sadie, the 56-year-old widow just trying to keep up with her two college-age children and her charity work, but underneath is a layer of uncertainty and impending catastrophe that keeps a mystery reader going. There's a good balance of dramatic tension to move the story along and laugh-out-loud humor to give relief and keep the characters interesting. Although I haven't tried any of the recipes scattered throughout the text, some of the less caloric have practical appeal for my lifestyle. These dishes are an integral part of the story.

There's also an ongoing hint of romance, although that isn't as important as the food. Sadie knows some interesting men and isn't entirely opposed to having a close relationship again, but even after twenty years as a widow she hasn't forgotten her first love. Her ambivalence gets in the way at crucial moments.

Extraordinary things happen to ordinary people in these books, and that's the subtle brilliance of plotting an imaginative piece of fiction. I look forward to the next in the series, Key Lime Pie, which is due out in the fall. In the meantime, I'm going to pick up another Kilpack novel next time I'm in the bookstore.


jww said...

Oooo, oooo, can I borrow them when you're done??? They sound GREAT! I enjoy mysteries, too.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of weaving recipes into a story. If one wished, one could make the dish and taste, thereby gaining a deeper understanding of the authors text. Brilliant use of more than one sense.

I would like to put a soundtrack to the teen fiction novel I am writing.