Excerpt: Mystery Most Edible

Would a publisher commit murder to avoid paying for

a stolen recipe? A determined Mr. Latham entreats

Violet Harper to prove that is what happened.


September 1870, London.  Violet Harper hated Mrs. Beeton.

Well, perhaps it wasn’t a murderous hate, one that causes a person to seek out knives, pistols, or ropes, but it was a seething animosity nonetheless.

Violet’s years as an undertaker had disciplined her into demonstrating great patience for others. People in mourning were not typically at their best, and it required skill and empathy to deal serenely with some of her more . . . trying . . .customers.

But Mrs. Beeton was beyond the pale, Violet thought, as she opened the London Times, hoping her letter to the editor had been printed.

Isabella Beeton was a woman married to Samuel Orchart Beeton, the publisher of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.  Isabella had started a series of articles on domestic matters for the magazine. Her missives informed women on the precise ways to keep a home, manage servants, and prepare nourishing meals.

It was utterly impossible to follow her exacting instructions without losing one’s mind.

However, British women had gone complete dotty for the woman’s advice. Eventually, Mrs. Beeton’s articles had been compiled into a thick doorstop of a book. It had quickly become a staple of many British homes and had gone through several reissues.

With each edition, the book grew in size—and advice—until this just-published edition, which could inflict serious damage upon someone if used as a weapon.

Violet sighed. Her letter protesting the reverence of Isabella Beeton and suggesting that women not take too much stock in the advice provided in its thousand pages had not made it into yesterday’s paper.  Likely the editor did not want to anger the legion of fans of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management by printing an angry screed from a woman who was in the minority opinion on Beeton—and who was an undertaker on top of that.

Such unseemly work, people frequently told Violet.

Her husband, Sam, was wholly unconcerned with his wife’s lack of domestic skills, although he usually chided Violet gently when she became frustrated over an inability to live up to Isabella Beeton’s rigid standards.

The shop’s bell jangled as a customer entered, clearing Violet’s mind of her irritation with the publication of a book full of unrealistic expectations for the average woman.

A tall, gaunt man had entered the shop with a newspaper under his arm. Violet stood and came out from behind her walnut and glass countertop full of mourning brooches, fans, gloves, and stationery.

“Good afternoon. I am Mrs. Harper. How may I be of service to you today, sir?”

“I . . .” The man’s voice cracked. He stopped but quickly recovered himself. “My name is Elliot Latham and I need your assistance. For my wife, Winnie. She . . . She . . .” He stopped again.

“Please, Mr. Latham, won’t you sit down?” Violet guided him to one of the overstuffed chairs located on the other side of the shop for consultation.

Once he seemed comfortable enough, with his long legs crossed and his hands working nervously in his lap, Violet asked gently, “How may I be of help to your dear wife?”

Latham pulled the paper out from under his arm and opened it to a particular page near the center of the issue, folding it to emphasize what he wanted Violet to read. It was her letter to the editor. It had made it into today’s paper.

Violet was nonplussed. “Why are you bringing this to me?” For a moment, she was fearful that Latham was about to accuse her of causing his wife’s death by insulting the sainted Isabella Beeton. However, his actual intent was even more shocking.

“Mrs. Beeton murdered my wife and I want you to help me prove it,” he said.