'If You Can't Stand the Heat'
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., July 22, 2011
by Robin Allen (Midnight Ink, 288 pp., $16.95, paper)
My most enjoyable reading diversion so far this summer has been a new culinary mystery by San Antonio native Robin Allen: If You Can't Stand the Heat, the first installment of an Austin-based mystery series starring "culinary cop" Poppy Markham. Poppy is a former chef turned health department sanitarian who is trying to solve a murder that took place in her beloved father's (fictitious) Austin restaurant. Poppy's dad has hired a Michelin-starred chef to help him relaunch his restaurant, but when the arrogant little Frenchman turns up dead opening night, Poppy is determined to solve the case and save the family business from ruinous bad publicity. She's got plenty of prime suspects. Could the murderer be the resentful chef; an ambitious, philandering sous chef; the Frenchman's jealous wife; a sexy waitress; or maybe the greedy new general manager? They are well-drawn characters all.
Austinites will recognize many of the locations that crop up during Poppy's investigation, and the potential loss of locally owned business to avaricious developers is a theme certain to resonate with Austin readers. As a restaurant veteran, I found Allen's characterizations of restaurant workers and the interplay between the front and back of the house at Markham's restaurant to be spot-on, with only one minor exception – no one swears.
In order for a mystery series to work and have any degree of longevity, the protagonist has to have the potential to explore many different situations. Allen has chosen the perfect job for her main character. As a health inspector, Poppy Markham can stick her nose into all kinds of fascinating culinary investigations, establishing the possibility for a long fictional career. The second installment of Allen's series, Stick a Fork in It, is due out next spring. I can't wait for a taste.