Where caterer Goldy Schulz goes, good food follows. So does murder, and The Whole Enchilada, the 17th novel in the best-selling mystery series from Diane Mott Davidson, doesn't disappoint. It's got two murders, three attempted murders and — finally! — the recipe for fudge with sun-dried cherries and roasted pecans.
"People have been asking for that fudge recipe since Dying for Chocolate," Davidson says, referring to her second Goldy Schulz book, published in 1992. At the time, she mentioned that scrumptious-sounding fudge "just to move the plot along," but the demanding taste buds of Goldy fans didn't let it go, so the Evergreen-based author has finally included the recipe.
The key to perfect fudge?
"Using real butter," she says. "It's true. Don't use margarine, which many fudge recipes call for."
Recipe for success
Goldy isn't the only small-town caterer with a knack for solving mysteries, but she's one of the first. Davidson is a master at the mystery-thriller subgenre known as "cozies," in which an intelligent female amateur sleuth solves crimes using her wits rather than a gun or high-tech forensics.
The author, whose own intelligence took her through Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities, chalks up the popularity of the genre to human nature.
"I think that people enjoy reading about a puzzle, seeing a puzzle, and solving it," she says. "I also think that people enjoy reading crime stories that don't involve a lot of gratuitous violence and promiscuous sex."
That's not to say that Goldy and her friends are prudes — they're just a little more circumspect about sleeping arrangements than the grittier characters in other sorts of mysteries. And yes, people die — but the actual violence is toned down and not described in gory detail.
Instead, the close-ups and lingering touches are saved for the food. Davidson's lush descriptions of Goldy's delicacies border on the erotic, rich and sensual.
"It needs to be," Davidson says. "My editor says, 'Make me hungry.' Well, OK, I will!"
She chuckles. "At one time, my previous editor said to me, 'I have a question about page whatever, but I can't talk to you about it until after I have lunch.' I thought that was hilarious, but I knew I'd done my job."
Now, those glorious descriptions of food and the included recipes are expected, but it wasn't always so. When Davidson's agent was trying to sell the first Goldy book back in the late 1980s, "The editors said, 'No one is doing this.'"
"I would have thought that the fact that no one was doing it would be a selling point," she says. It took a while, but eventually, it became part of the package that led her to the New York Times bestseller list.
One of the elements that has led to fan devotion is having watched Goldy and her friends and family grow and develop over time. The character started as a recently divorced woman, recovering from an abusive marriage, another element that wasn't common when Davidson started writing.
"It just wasn't done. This was pre-O.J. [Simpson]," she says. "But I kept seeing it in my volunteer work, and so it became an ingredient in my emotional refrigerator."
As she wrote the first Goldy book, Davidson says, she wanted to introduce a character who'd been able to survive and thrive despite domestic violence.
"I wanted her to be someone who had come out on the other side of this experience," the author says. "I wanted to show that she had been able to take hold of her life and make not only lemonade, but lemon bars and lemon cake and lemon sorbet."
She doesn't necessarily know where Goldy's going to take her, either. Davidson's process for character development is awfully close to a real friendship. "I write letters to Goldy, and she writes back, in her voice," says Davidson. "That's how her character develops and how I figure out what comes next."
It's certainly created a loyal cadre of readers who see Goldy as someone they know and care for, which may be the source of strength for the series.
"I think that readers begin to adopt your characters as members of their own family and they want more," says Davidson. "They want to know more about this family with which they've become so identified, with which they've become so attached."
There's also, she believes, a big attraction in writing about the fictional town of Aspen Meadows, which is quite similar in some ways to Davidson's home in Evergreen.
"I think that people enjoy reading about small towns," she says, "not just about New York City and Los Angeles." And, she points out, "the town is a character, too."