ATLANTA (AP) -- I've always been a sucker for a good detective story, especially in summer, when I can dive into a juicy plot even if there's no ocean handy.
If you also like to beat the heat by chilling out with a cool mystery, you'll want to meet Goldy Bear Schulz, professional caterer and amateur sleuth.
With the invention of Goldy, author Diane Mott Davidson set the standard for a new genre, blending the "girl detective" story with the "culinary mystery." The series of tightly plotted novels features the notoriously inept Goldy, a hilarious combination of Nancy Drew, Fanny Brice and Hayley Mills, based in Aspen Meadow, Colo.
Goldy, who seems more likely to stumble on a clue than actually detect it, just might be the funniest girl gumshoe in the bunch, and her original recipes (a few in every book) are definitely to die for.
A former battered wife who's terrified of guns, she defends herself with steamed vegetables when assaulted by animal-rights activists, and leaps fearlessly into rivers, sewers and garbage chutes to escape dicey situations.
Davidson decided to make Goldy a caterer because she herself loves to cook, she explained in a recent interview from her home in Evergreen, Colo. She apprenticed herself to a chef and a professional caterer to learn the business.
When she included a few original recipes in her first book, publishers advised her to take them out.
"They thought stores might market it as a cookbook," says Davidson, who pressed the issue and kept them in. Eleven years and several best sellers later, she's obviously found the recipe for success.
Faithful readers not only gobble up her novels as fast as she can turn them out, but have formed Goldy fan clubs whose members read each new book, make the recipes, and meet to eat and talk about them.
One such group meets at Charis Book Store in Atlanta, where they last gathered to munch on baked goods made from recipes included in the book "Tough Cookie" (Bantam, 2000).
Davidson's previous novels also include "Dying for Chocolate," "The Cereal Murders," "The Last Suppers," "The Main Corpse," "The Grilling Season," "Killer Pancake" and "Prime Cut."
Most of the action in her newest book, "Sticks and Scones" (Bantam, $23.95), takes place in an Elizabethan castle ostensibly purchased in Sussex and moved to Aspen Meadow by a turn-of-the-century silver baron. Like all good castles, this one has secret passageways, suits of armor, a ghost and a mysterious draft that opens windows and slams doors.
One of Goldy's assignments is to create menus of Elizabethan foods to be served at the hotel-restaurant the castle will ultimately become.
Davidson went to England to do research for the book, which includes recipes for "Shakespeare's Steak Pie," "Castle Scones," and "Figgy Salad," among others.
She stayed in a "British" mood back home in Colorado by going to see "Shakespeare in Love" every day for a month. "I just love that movie," she said with a laugh, "so that became my reward after a day of writing."
Goldy gets into scrapes that would never happen to the likes of Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warshawski or her other sister sleuths.
Maybe it's because she's nothing like them. They are single, athletic, childless, and strictly avoid entanglements like families and organized religion. They generally live alone, subsist on fast food, and spend their free time working out, or at the firing range.
When we first meet Goldy, she is struggling to support herself and her 11-year-old son by working as a professional caterer. When two of her clients die, she adopts their teen-age son. She loves to cook, of course, is deeply involved with her church and her son's school, and considers her 12-minute yoga routine a strenuous workout.
If she worked out or packed a gun, maybe Goldy wouldn't be assaulted in a tent with a bucket of bleach, hit by a falling corpse at her local cosmetics counter or be pushed off a cliff in a van during a blizzard.
It's her authenticity that makes Goldy so compelling, yet Davidson says publishers repeatedly rejected the first Goldy novel, "Catering to Nobody," for that very reason.
"No one liked the idea that Goldy had been a battered wife. We see stories about domestic abuse on the news all the time now, but that wasn't the case in the late 1980s. Publishers thought that surviving abuse would make Goldy seem more like a victim than a strong main character."
But Davidson stuck to her guns. "I knew readers would understand that overcoming this problem had made Goldy stronger and more resourceful."
Davidson's characters are more substantial than those of the average whodunit. Carried through from one novel to the next, they are richer, deeper and truer than most in the genre.
As well as Goldy, there's Frances Markasian, the small-town crime reporter who "looks like a Caucasian Bob Marley, dresses like a class in salvage," carries a giant switchblade and subsists on Snickers bars, Marlboros and Jolt cola.
There's also Goldy's wealthy best friend Marla, second ex-wife of her former husband, Dr. John Richard Korman, aka "The Jerk." Millionaire Marla tools around town in a white Jaguar, her plus-sized figure clad in an endless array of vivid workout suits festively trimmed with feathers, sequins and beads.
Then there's sexy police detective Tom Schulz, but that's another story in itself.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.