Latest Tannie Maria mystery reviewed

The Milk Tart Murders

Sally Andrew

Umuzi, Penguin Random House

Review: Karen Watkins

Who would have thought that a Little Karoo dorpie could have so much drama.

This wonderful mystery cum love story is set in Ladismith in spring.

Maria wakes to birds chirping as she links fingers to weave a warm nest with local police detective boyfriend Henk.

Maria writes Tannie Maria’s Love Advice and Recipe Column for the Klein Karoo Gazette. She finds it easy to add a perfectly matched recipe to the answers she gives to her letter writers.

Maria is always cooking treats − Karoo Zoo soetkoekies, marmalade rusks, naartjie milk tart – which are sure to have readers salivating. Andrew has included the recipes at the end of the book.

Henk and Maria have been talking about moving in together even though his home is full of his late wife’s stuff. On his dead wife’s birthday an ex-colleague bakes a red velvet cake that Henk drools over.

Maria is unhappy and grapples with suspicion and how this relates to her sense of self-worth.

She buries herself in food knowing it has a way of filling the dark spaces, for better or for worse.

But it doesn’t perform the magic it used to and hinders her advice column.

Meanwhile, later in the day the couple meet at Oupa Frik’s Fantastiques treasure and junk shop for the screening of a classic Marilyn Monroe movie.

Instead, dozens of residents witness the death of Oupa Frik. The doctor suspects he was murdered – and t the screening is a suspect.

Maria and her feisty young journalist colleague, Jessie whose boyfriend Reghardt is also a policeman, are soon sleuthing and piecing clever clues together when a second murder takes place.

Henk and Reghardt are also looking for the perpetrator.

They and the women’s paths cross at every corner as Maria and Jessie come up with some real, yet crazy, hypotheses.

Maria’s chickens, a goat called Mildred, Jessie’s scooter and Henk’s chestnut moustache adds to a story that twists and turns before falling into place, as expected.

For me this was one of those rare, comfortable, easy, stay up after midnight reads that I devoured with a few giggles along the way.

While I did not understand some of the Afrikaans, the South Africanisms are wonderful – and Andrew’s storytelling, pace and attention to detail are delicious. Every chapter ends with a cliff hanger that had me wanting to finish that elusive “one more chapter”.

A great read which I have no hesitation in recommending.

This is the fourth in the Tannie Maria mysteries, after Recipes for Love and Murder, The Satanic Mechanic and Death on the Limpopo.

Andrew’s lives in the Klein Karoo with her partner, artist Bowen Boshier and also spends time in Muizenberg.