Being a South African, any new local writing that pops into my line of sight, makes me grab it with two hands. Sometimes a review appears in print, or an interview on radio sparks an interest. Often it is just the wonderful Librarians in our small public library where I live on the Cape West Coast who have stocked up with something interesting.
This time, the book I picked up was just plain fun to read. It is very South African, so full of the flavour of the setting.
Entitled “Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic” by Sally Andrew it purports to be about some amateur detective work and is coupled with plenty of eating pleasures. This is her second book about Tannie Maria.
In the countryside here we often show respect by calling people Aunt and Uncle even without family connections. This “Tannie” Maria, belongs in the Klein Karoo, a part of our country which is semi-desert and known for its vast sweep of landscape and harsh conditions. It has a bushy hardy plant kingdom and wonderful succulents that thrive without too much rain. The terrain is often rocky and uninviting. That is, until you stay a while and fall in love with the stillness and wide sky.
Maria is widowed but ready for a new man in her life. She has also been instrumental in helping to solve another police case in her area. These two threads are drawn together because her new heart-throb is a Detective who definitely does not want her involved. Everyday life where she lives is full of sights and sounds of nature and her few egg-laying hens, whose protective “hok” holds out night-time predators, usually of the feline variety, big and small.
We see Maria off to work at her local newspaper where she writes as the “agony aunt” with help and advice which she intersperses with talk of food and its capacity to fix so many situations. She herself is a comfort-eater of note and if troubled, just bakes another wondrous creation of irresistible taste and texture. You find yourself returning to the kitchen yourself to try your own skills at quelling that urge for sugary treats. There are recipes given at the end of the book for some of the foodie remedies she promotes.
Add in some quirky people in her village, a Cultural Festival in a neighbouring town, some of the local political issues of the day, such as land tenure, and the vestiges of the Apartheid Era lurking beneath some local actions. There is a little bit of everything to colour this story. Then a murder occurs and there is more to follow that needs her ingenuity and cooking to help to unravel the mystery along with everyone’s personal story and guilt. This plump “tannie” is the embodiment of some that we may have met and known ourselves in the Klein Karoo, a world of hearty meals, fattening cakes and plump personages.
Take a break from serious literature and treat yourself to this most enjoyable read but do not forget to arm yourself first with a steaming cup of coffee and some mosbolletjie rusks.