Published in the Big Thrill (01/07/2022)
The Milk Tart Murders is Sally Andrew’s fourth mystery featuring the delightful Tannie Maria.
Set in Ladismith in the Klein Karoo (where Andrew herself lives), Maria works with Jessie and Hattie for the Klein Karoo Gazette, writing a love advice and recipe column. She lives outside town with her hens and her flowers and is a superb cook.
As usual, the novel is dotted with delicious recipes, a selection of which are given in detail at the end of the book. If you haven’t met Tannie Maria before, you should do so, and you should try some of those recipes. It’s good to start at the beginning of the series with Recipes for Love and Murder (now a prime time TV series) and follow her adventures from there, but all the stories are standalone (as are the recipes).
Tannie Maria’s latest adventure starts when Oupa Frik, a movie buff, dies while screening an old movie. Since he was in his 90s, everyone assumes he had a heart attack, but it turns out that he was poisoned. As usual, Jessie smells a big story, drops everything, and ropes Maria into the investigation. Soon they are at odds with Henk, the detective investigating the case who wants them to leave the matter to the police. Henk is Maria’s partner, but trouble is ahead for their relationship.
Oupa Frik has a complicated family who all seem to have a motive to get their hands on his home and his rumoured treasure — his nephew Tom and his avaricious wife, his son Abe, and his daughter Elzaan, who seems angry with everyone. But they aren’t the only ones who have a motive. There’s his caregiver Helmina and her demented mother, and there’s Betty, who stands to inherit the house for her orphanage. The mystery is complicated, with secret letters and notes left by the dead man, and a mysterious treasure that might or might not exist. It’ll keep you guessing.
In The Milk Tart Murders, Maria has to deal with doubts and jealousies about her relationship with Henk. It affects her emotionally, and it affects her work. It even affects her relationship with food. Is this the strongest pointer to her unhappiness?
With Maria, so much is bound up with food. Her initial jealousy is not of a woman but of another woman’s food. Jealousy is an interesting emotion which I have struggled with myself. It is a difficult one to get to grips with, because it pulls your energy away from yourself, focusing on others, when in fact it requires a returning to self. Self-confidence, self-worth, self-trust, self-love. This is Maria’s journey in this book.
On the rebound from Henk, Maria starts to eat with Oupa Frik’s son, Abe. They share a love of food. Abe is most partial to hamburgers and milkshakes, but Maria shares his enthusiasm. Is she subconsciously trying to make Henk jealous, or does she simply need someone to enjoy meals with?
In her misery, Maria is escaping her feelings by overeating junk food. I don’t think she is deliberately trying to make Henk jealous, but perhaps subconsciously she is. Later, with the help of counselling groups run by Ricus, the Satanic Mechanic, she learns: “Face your stuff; don’t stuff your face.”
Can you tell us why Marilyn Monroe features on the cover of the book?
How could I miss an opportunity to put this iconic woman on my cover alongside a milk tart? Oupa Frik is a big fan of Marilyn’s movies. He dies while Maria and Henk are watching her vintage movie Some Like It Hot. The themes of this movie (as described by Maria in chapter two) overlap with The Milk Tart Murders, and in fact with my and Maria’s philosophies on life.
What will Tannie Maria be up to next?
She will be producing a cookbook, at last. Featuring the recipes from the four novels and maybe a few more.
The cookbook will also contain a short story (The Killer Canary) that follows on from the romantic ending of this book. In that story, Maria is suspected of murder. But I make sure she and Henk have a lovely time, to make up for the really hard time I gave them both in The Milk Tart Murders.
Click here to continue reading their conversation.