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Marfa Shadows: A Chef Brett Mystery

The culinary-themed mystery genre isn't new, but DeMers sidesteps the common 'cozy' into a world heavily influenced by noirs

Reviewed by MM Pack, Fri., June 25, 2010

Marfa Shadows: A Chef Brett Mystery

by John DeMers
Bright Sky, 256 pp., $23.95

If chefs can be media sensations, why not a chef antihero starring in a mystery series? Why not indeed, and Houston-based writer and radio commentator John DeMers introduces Brett Baldwin, a world-weary culinarian who's returned to his West Texas roots to run a fine-dining restaurant in Marfa. There he finds himself sucked into a complicated and confusing intrigue of the borderlands that's rife with lawyers, guns, money ... and, oh yeah, international drug wars.

The culinary-themed mystery genre isn't new, but DeMers sidesteps the common "cozy" into a darker world heavily influenced by mid-20th century noirs. All the usual suspects turn up in Marfa, beginning with the cynical but softhearted hero exchanging witty repartee with his hulking and spiritually inclined Native American sidekick in charge of firepower. There's the beauteous but duplicitous homegirl making it big in Holly­wood, the bent cop, the smarmy L.A. lawyer, a pair of buttoned-up FBI agents, the mysterious drug kingpin, and his heinous henchmen.

And Marfa itself constitutes a major character. Anyone who's visited this tiny anomalous spot in the wilds of the Trans-Pecos will recognize the adobes and the ranch folk, the New York art scene transplanted to the middle of nowhere, the peaches-and-cream courthouse and Hotel Paísano, the roving Food Shark truck, the renowned Marfa Lights, and Kathy's Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe in Terlingua. Along the way, DeMers has fun with literary and pop culture references ranging from Raymond Chandler to Star Wars to a triumphant drug lord's re-enactment of Achilles dragging Hector's body around the walls of Troy.

Marfa Shadows is the first in a planned Chef Brett series, and it's a good thing – there are lots more dinner specials to dream up, bad guys to face down, quips to exchange, and pyrotechnics to detonate. And who knows, perhaps even a hooker with a heart of gold will put in an appearance. Bring it on!

John DeMers will showcase Chef Brett's recipes and sign books at Central Market Cooking School on Sunday, June 27, at 6:30pm (reservations at www.centralmarket.com). His radio show, Delicious Mischief, airs on 1370AM at 10am on Saturdays.

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