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Edith/Maddie writing from a wintry north of Boston. I’m already packing for my trip to Puerto Rico in a week, but I’m never too busy to welcome great friend Ellen Byron. She has a new book out and you won’t want to miss Wined and Dined in New Orleans!
It’s hurricane season in New Orleans and vintage cookbook fan Ricki James-Diaz is trying to shelve her weather-related fears and focus on her business, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbook and Kitchenware Shop, housed in the magnificent Bon Vee Culinary House Museum. In this second Vintage Cookbook Mystery, Ricki has to help solve a murder, untangle family secrets, and grow her business, all while living under the threat of a hurricane that could wipe out everything from her home to Bon Vee.
Repairs on the property unearth crates of very old, very valuable French wine, buried by the home’s builder. Ricki, who’s been struggling to attract more customers to Miss Vee’s, is thrilled when her post about this long-buried treasure goes viral. She’s less thrilled when the post brings distant family members out of the woodwork, all clamoring for a cut of the wine’s sale. When a dead body turns up in Bon Vee’s cheery fall decorations, Ricki is determined to uncover the culprit, but she can’t help wondering what kind of secret her mentor has bottled up, and fears what might happen if she uncorks it.
Take it away, Ellen!
On October 29th, 2020, the day after Hurricane Zeta had blown through New Orleans, my husband and I left Los Angeles to visit our daughter, then a junior at NOLA’s Loyola University in New Orleans. We arrived at midnight to a half-dark city; half-dark because the hurricane’s path had been capricious, leaving the lights on some places and pitch-blackness in others. Unfortunately, the power for our daughter’s apartment took a hit. We spent a cold night sleeping in our clothes on the floor of her living room, on a mattress one of her roommates happened to be getting rid of.
That was just a warmup to Hurricane Ida.
I returned to New Orleans at the end of August 2021. My plan was to do research for Wined and Died in New Orleans, my second Vintage Cookbook Mystery, and then segue into a mother-daughter weekend with my kid.
I arrived on a Wednesday to murmurs of an impending hurricane named Ida. The murmurs became a drumbeat, prompting an agonizing debate: evacuate or stick it out? I passed employees boarding up French Quarter storefronts and families throwing their belongings into cars.
I wanted to stay. Having attended the city’s Tulane University, I’d had my own brushes with hurricanes that never made landfall in the city, veering in another direction at the last minute. I made my case to my daughter. But she put her foot down. “We’re leaving.”
We evacuated to Houston.
Ironically, the agonizing debate of whether to stick it out or evacuate became the research I needed for Wined and Died in New Orleans. I transferred my experience and emotions to my protagonist, Ricki James-Diaz. I took literary license, of course. There’s a gripping scene near the end of the mystery that’s pure fiction. But it’s based on the reality of what could happen when a hurricane collides with New Orleans’ notoriously deep potholes. (Picture shows a pothole hiding under an orange traffic thing.)
Given the toll these regular disasters take on the Big Easy, I am in awe of the city’s resilience, so well summed up in their motto, Laissez les bons temps rouler—”Let the good times roll.” I’m so grateful I got a chance to pay tribute to that resilience in Wined and Died in New Orleans. And pray that catastrophic weather disasters are in the city’s past, not its future.
Readers: have you been through a weather-related emergency? Comment to be entered to win a copy of Bayou Book Thief, Vintage Cookbook #1 (US only).
Ellen Byron’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won two Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Wined and Died in New Orleans is the second book in her new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. She also writes the Catering Hall Mystery series under the name Maria DiRico.
Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. Please visit her at https://www.ellenbyron.com/