What is this about?: This is the second in the Tannie Maria series, and is nothing like I expected. Yes, there’s a murder a mystery, but with this and Andrew weaves in a story about Maria’s experience with domestic violence and PTSD, as well as how it’s affecting her relationship with Henk, her policeman boyfriend…. and she ties this all together so wonderfully.
What else is this about?: I think Andrew balances both aspects of this story so well, letting Maria’s personal story take precedence over the mystery and the mystery take precedence over Maria’s story when the need arose.
Blurb: Meet Tannie Maria – recipe writer turned crime fighter – and before she has time to take her Venus Chocolate Cake out of the oven, our glorious heroine finds herself embroiled in another mystery.
In this wonderful sequel to Recipes for Love and Murder, Slimkat the bushman finds his life under threat and Tannie Maria is determined to find out who wants to kill him.
But her boyfriend is keen to keep Tannie out of danger, and she’s pretty sure he’s hiding something so Tannie has mysteries of her own solve . . .
Blending a perfect whodunnit with lovable characters, Sally Andrew really does have the perfect recipe for a crime series.
Stars: ALL of them. And more.
The Tannie Maria series is one that’s easy to underestimate, I think. From my experience with the first book, I was sure it would be a wonderful cosy mystery set in the Klein Karoo, but it was so much more than that.
Andrew delves into Maria’s relationship with Henk, and how her experience with her now dead first husband and domestic violence at his hands affects that. And all the while interspersing glorious food everywhere.
So let me set the scene…
Almost as soon as we are introduced to Maria and Henk in a relationship, we see them start investigating the murder of SlimKat, a Bushman (of the San people) who is a key figure in a fight against a mining company bid for Bushmen land. When the book opens, SlimKat is murdered — poisoned in fact through a particularly delicious sauce and food at a KKK fair (not that KKK), where Henk is supposed to have been there protecting him, while Maria, Jessie and Hattie were there covering the fair for their paper.
From there, while Henk is involved in the case in his own way, Maria finds herself embroiled in the story because Jessie begins to cover it for the paper, and Maria finds herself with SlimKat as he dies, and is unable to shake the memory of him.
And then with all that, is this…
Maria and Henk
Maria and Henk are in love. They have since the first book begun a relationship and are happy — and ready to progress the relationship. But here, is where things start to fall apart. Maria was abused by her previous husband, horribly so and when she and Henk try to be intimate, those memories haunt her.
This was an unexpected part of the story to say the least, but Andrew handles this with such care and tenderness, I was captivated by this part of the story, and kind of forgot there was a mystery to be solved at times.
Maria wants to be with Henk, she loves him dearly and she wants to have the life she did not think was possible with her first husband. In what we do learn of the abuse she suffered, the idea that she was supposed to stay with him and bear his abuse was horrifying — but realistic. As is her PTSD and problems with becoming intimate with Henk.
Henk himself is more fully drawn than the first book when it comes to his relationship with Maria, and as a cop. He loves her, he is patient and he is afraid of losing her when she gets involved in the SlimKat case. What I appreciated was, while there were other reasons fuelling their issues (on her side in a way), she didn’t promise not to get involved in the case, or any other case.
She needed to find SlimKat’s killer and she wasn’t going to let Henk keep that from her.
Andrew follows Maria as she tries to figure out how to deal with her intimacy issues. One doctor prescribes anti-depressants and another cottons on to her relationship with food as an issue that’s indicative of her PTSD and prescribes diet pills. And she proceeds to take them both.
But it is the Satanic Mechanic that actually proves to be the best thing for her.
The Satanic Mechanic
Yeah, I didn’t expect the Satanic Mechanic to be a counsellor leading an informal PTSD group therapy session either.
To be more accurate though, Ricus is a former Satanist, turned counsellor, and held in high esteem by pretty much everyone Maria talks to. His current group is filled with a diverse set of people, all of whom are suffering PTSD from various events in their lives. And into this group comes Maria as she tries to find a way to come to terms with her own experiences with Fanie, and her guilt over her part in his death.
Both plotlines dovetail wonderfully in this group, leading to a conclusion that reminds you when it comes down to it, even the most complicated of crimes can be distilled to very simple emotions.
And of course, there’s the food
The food, the glorious food!
Andrew maintains a steady flow of recipes, interwoven with her story, and Maria’s job as Agony Aunt at the Klein Karoo.
The letters provide some lovely lenses through which to view parts of the story, and they continue to be a highlight of the story.
But, Maria’s own relationship with food is dissected as well in this story. God knows, it’s far too common to have a unhealthy relationship with food, and while a doctor points out how Maria might have one in her own way to deal with her PTSD, it’s her therapy group that helps her come to terms with that too, in a way.
The Satanic Mechanic is about Maria and Henk try in their own way to come to terms with their hang-ups involving their relationship, but then it’s far simpler than that too: it’s a love story — theirs, to be honest, Maria’s love for food, and how it shapes the good and the bad in her life.