Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Penhallow Train Incident...

Thanks so much for having me, Ella, and giving me the opportunity to talk about my new mystery romance, The Penhallow Train Incident. Today I’d like to look at our hero, Griffin Tate, a retired Middle East history professor, and his pet theory about recipe migration.

It is generally accepted that the similarity among many dishes found from the Horn of Africa to Kazakhstan is due to the influence of the Ottoman Turks. Turkish food, some would argue, represents the epitome of Middle Eastern cuisine. However, Griffin, hero of the Penhallow Train Incident has a different theory, worth considering for those of you interested in how recipes travel. A retired Middle Eastern history professor, he hypothesizes that dishes such as çaçik (yogurt cucumber salad) or tabbouleh (bulgur and tomato salad) actually came from the south and west and not from the north and east. In other words, perhaps they arrived with the cooks in the Queen of Sheba’s train when she visited King Solomon. 

A little lagniappe: my recipe for Tabbouleh:

1 cup fine bulgur

3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 cup scallions, minced
1 large bunch parsley, chopped
½ cup fresh mint, chopped
1 cup lemon juice
4-6 tablespoons olive oil (preferably Greek)

Soak bulgur in ½ cup water, ½ cup lemon juice for 15 minutes until soft.
Add all ingredients and toss. Serve immediately.

However, as the excerpt below shows. Griffin does not limit his palate to Middle Eastern dishes.

M. S. Spencer
Sweet Cravings Publishing (June 23, 2015)
Romantic Suspense/Mystery, M/F, 2 flames


In the sleepy coastal Maine town of Penhallow, a  stranger dies on a train, drawing Rachel Tinker, director of the Penhallow Historical Society, and Griffin Tate,  curmudgeonly retired professor, into a spider’s web of archaeological obsession and greed. The victim’s rival confesses that they were both after a map to the Queen of Sheba’s tomb, and with his help they set out to find it. Their plans are stymied, however, when a tug of war erupts between the sheriff and a state police detective who want to arrest the same man—one for murder and one for bank robbery. It falls to Rachel to solve both crimes…and two more murders, if she is to unlock the soft heart that beats under Griffin’s hard crust. 

EXCERPT (PG): Salmonello’s

He sat back. “Okay, turn left here. Now right on Union Street. There it is—Salmonello’s.” He chuckled. “Not what you’d call a felicitous choice for a restaurant name.”
They walked into what a native Mainer might envision a traditional Italian trattoria to be. That is, if a traditional trattoria consisted of a room filled with Formica tables and farm implements, a salad bar, and a wall of pinball machines. “Doesn’t look like lobster roll is on the menu. Too bad,” Griffin said jocularly.
The place was empty except for a group of women at the bar talking in loud voices. A girl of about sixteen with a long braid and braces skipped over to them. “Anywhere.”
Rachel knew that Griffin was biting his tongue to keep the retort at bay and loved him for it. “Thanks.”
They found a table as far away from the din as possible, which wasn’t. Griffin ordered a carafe of their house wine—”please, God, at least make it Italian”—and they perused the menu. Without looking up, Griffin asked, “So, how did George strike you?”
“He only hit the furniture.”
“No, I mean, do you think he’s telling the truth?”
“About what?”
“Really Rachel, I’d hate to think you’re being deliberately obtuse. His story of Masri’s perfidy.”
“I don’t have any idea. You’re the Middle East expert. Does it make sense?”
“There are lots of stories out there of fanatical academics pursuing the elusive tomb or artifact. It’s not impossible. I have a call in to a friend at Harvard.”
“Harvard? Oh, right, about George.”
“And one to a friend at Cairo University about Masri.”
The waitress plunked a basket of bread and a glass carafe on the table. Drawing two plastic wine glasses from her pockets, she inserted the bowls into the bases and set them down. And left. Griffin poured a smidgen of wine into his glass. With an affected simper, he rotated it, then sipped, holding the wine on the tip of his tongue before swallowing it. His eyes opened wide. “Whaddya know? It’s excellent. How refreshing.”
Rachel sipped hers. “You’re right. Go figure.”
He called the waitress over. “My dear child, can you tell me the name of this delightful beverage?”
“Huh? Oh, the wine? I’ll go ask Dad.” She shuffled back a minute later and read from the back of her hand. “Tig…Tin…Tignanello, he says.” She read further. “Two thousand nine vintage. Dad gets it from his cousin in Tuscany. He says it’s ready to drink now.” She smiled perkily, the fluorescent light pinging off her braces.
“Tell Dad he’s right. Thanks…”
“Sally. You want some more time?”
“No, we’re ready. Rachel?”
“I’ll have the tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese.”
“The spaghetti in meat sauce. Gotcha. You?”
“How’s the veal?”
“My brother just brought it in from Kenworthy Farm. You know, the place that raises all those weird breeds? Calf got its leg caught in a fence and they had to put her down. Butchered her yesterday. That’s why it’s on special.”
With a slightly green face, Griffin handed her the menu. “I’ll have that.”
Rachel laughed. “For a tough guy you can be pretty squeamish.”
He produced a rueful grin. “I suppose if I’m going to eat it I should be able to hear how it made its way to my plate.”
Sally returned and slid tiny simulated wood bowls of wilted lettuce drenched in what looked like tomato soup under their noses. “Your salads.”
Rachel took a gulp of wine to fortify herself and said with determination, “I’m going in.”
Griffin watched her take a forkful, chew slowly, and push the bowl away. “I hope the wine and not the salad is a portent of things to come.”
They took a moment to gaze into each other’s eyes before waking up to the fact that they were gazing into each other’s eyes. In the lull, while both desperately sought something to say, a raspy female voice rang out.
“I tell you, Jackie, that sheriff was way outta line. He as much as told me I’m a liar!” They both turned to see a woman of about fifty with a staggering cascade of pumpkin-colored hair. Her red lipstick was a little smeared and her lashes, thick with mascara, blinked rapidly.
Rachel nudged Griffin. “I think that’s Noreen Fowler, Stan Holiday’s girlfriend,” she whispered. “At least she looks like the woman Edna Mae Quimby described.”
Confirming Rachel’s guess, a tiny woman with a nose that could follow a cold scent twittered, “Well, Noreen, you gotta admit your story sounded pretty flimsy. I mean, there were witnesses who saw John on the train.”
“Witnesses? A bunch’a tourists who were busy watching that moronic cowboy show. Probably didn’t give him a second glance. John’s not exactly a standout in the looks department. I love him for his personality.”
“Personality? Or money?” The klatch broke out in snickers.
“Laugh all you want, Ellen. I’ll swear he was with me that day.”
Someone in the back of the pack cried out, “And what day was that, Noreen?”
She hesitated. “Last week. I forget the day exactly.”
Jackie piped up. “It was last Saturday.”
“Wait a minute.” A tall, gaunt woman in jeans spoke slowly. “Wasn’t Stan Holiday up here with you last Saturday? I thought I saw you two on the sidewalk by the cafe.”
Noreen gulped down her beer. “That was earlier, Betty Jo. John came by later.”
Betty Jo seemed to mull this over, then stubbed out her cigarette. “But I ran into Maude Jewett in the Penhallow co-op last week and she told me Stan was supposed to drive the train.” She wagged her chin. “That he missed it because he was with you, Noreen.”
The voices rose and intertwined in a cacophony of anger and insults and the women spilled out the door.

Although M. S. Spencer has lived or traveled in five continents, the last 30 years were spent mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, birdwatcher, kayaker, policy wonk, non-profit director, and parent. She has two fabulous grown children, and currently divides her time between the Gulf coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.



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Romantic suspense and mystery, they are available in ebook and print from Secret Cravings Publishing and all fine on-line book stores. For more information, visit

1 comment:

  1. A belated thanks for having me Ella--I hope your readers enjoyed the excerpt! M. s.