The chef/owner of Prune, a small but hugely successful Manhattan restaurant, Gabrielle Hamilton has shied away from the celebrity chef route; she’s not on TV, doesn’t churn out cookbooks, doesn’t have an eponymous line of products. But she is an eloquent cook and writer—and, as it happens, an eloquent narrator—and her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter simmers and sizzles. Food—making it, serving it, eating it, thinking about it—is the constant that trumps everything else in Hamilton’s life. Her French mother was a fabulous cook, and her parents loved to entertain. Left mostly on her own when they divorced, she worked in local restaurants, upped the ante with a wild bout of waitressing in New York, made her way through Europe taking food-related jobs, prepped for soulless catering companies and kept at it while getting an MFA in creative writing. Tantalizingly, she omits much about her non-cooking life. She left her Michigan girlfriend to marry an Italian doctor; they have two boys, but live apart. These parts of Hamilton’s life are served as a tasting menu, rather than full courses—but it’s always best to leave the table wanting more.
A MINGLED YARN
The “web of good and ill” that Kate Atkinson weaves in her latest Jackson Brodie novel, Started Early, Took My Dog, is wonderfully intricate, told in her easy, playful prose and perfectly performed by Graeme Malcolm. Jackson, now a semi-retired private investigator with enough time on his hands to roam the English countryside, quote Emily Dickinson and ponder his losses, has been hired to search for a young woman’s birth family. His somewhat casual sleuthing disturbs the decades-old cover-up of the nasty murder of a Leeds prostitute and the disappearance of her children. When he gets to Leeds, Jackson “liberates” an abused little dog, just as Tracy Waterhouse, a supersized former cop with a superabundance of love to share, “liberates” a four-year-old girl from her abusive hooker mother. A young cop when the Leeds murder investigation was summarily buried, Tracy is on Jackson’s “to talk to” list, but until their paths cross, Atkinson weaves Tracy’s story, with seamless flashbacks, into Jackson’s, making the parts as intriguing as their sum.
AUDIO OF THE MONTH
The Trinity Six, Charles Cumming’s fifth novel, is a marvelous mix of actual history, possible history, fast-paced, thriller-diller intrigue and credibly drawn characters. What if the famed Trinity Five—the bright young Cambridge students who spied for the Soviets from the 1930s through WWII and the Cold War—were really the Trinity Six? Cumming plays out that “what if” brilliantly by adding Edward Crane, now 91 and having the time of his long life doling out bits of information to Sam Gaddis, a professor of Russian history at University College London. When Gaddis digs into Crane’s story, he triggers the attention of both MI6 and its Russian counterpart—attention that could stop his hunt and his heart. As he follows leads and possible informants through Europe, then back to London, the dangerous, covert world of espionage, with its lethal liabilities, begins to close in on him. John Lee performs this smart, sophisticated spy story with his usual skill and virtuosity.