Pretty, down-to-earth Teeny Templeton, the protagonist of Michael Lee West’s new Southern-fried murder mystery, Gone with a Handsomer Man, comes from a long line of creative and inspired cooks. In fact, as a quirky form of therapy when faced with personal slights and setbacks, Teeny’s Aunt Bluette and her sisters, Goldie and Pinky, like to create their own recipes and record them in a private volume called Templeton Family Receipts & Whatnot. But these are not your grandma’s recipes (unless Grandma has spent time up the river): “You’ll Get Yours Peach Icing,” “Good Riddance Blueberry Pie,” and “Skewer Your Ex Kabobs” call for some pretty un-savory ingredients designed to lead to a permanent case of indigestion.
It’s all in good fun, though, and Teeny means no harm to anyone: “All I ever wanted in life was true love, a set of copper cookware, and the perfect recipe for Red Velvet Cake.” Plucked from obscurity on a Georgia peach farm, Teeny goes from baking cakes at the local Food Lion to attending fancy soirees with her fiancé, “old Charleston” native Bing Jackson. But it’s a recipe for disaster when the philandering Bing suddenly turns up dead and clueless Teeny is implicated in the crime. As she observes, “There’s no canary in the coal mine for cheating men.”
With the help of a diverse cast of supporting characters, including attorney-at-law and hunky childhood sweetheart, Cooper O’Malley; tough-talking private eye Red Butler Hill; and Teeny’s devoted bulldog, Sir, she is determined to clear her name. And with Bing’s take-charge stepmother Miss Dora on her side (“Her brassy voice always made me think of Ethel Merman songs, motorcycle gangs, pure grain alcohol, and home hair coloring gone wrong”), Teeny may just have a chance. In the process she even manages to whip up a few (non-lethal) dishes of her own—the recipes for which can be found at the end of the book. The colorful characters and surprising plot twists of Gone with a Handsomer Man keep readers wondering till the very end whether Teeny ends up serving “Vanilla Peach Coffee Cake” or time in the big house.
Lebanon, Tennessee, author Michael Lee West will discuss Gone with a Handsomer Man in Nashville on April 21, 7 p.m., at the Charlotte Pike Books-A-Million.