Caterer and small-town minister's wife Faith Fairchild might never have accepted the job teaching a course on Cooking for Idiots at Mansfield Academy had it not been for Daryl Martin. An African-American student at the prestigious prep school, Daryl has lately become the target of a series of vicious and anonymous racial attacks -- and Faith is determined to put an end to the injustice. But Mansfield, she finds, is a seething cauldron of secrets, academic in-fighting, and unspoken rules that complicate her task. When someone tampers with her classroom cooking ingredients -- and then the remains of her prime suspect are discovered smoldering in a campus bonfire -- she realizes that a monstrous evil is stalking both Daryl and the school. And suddenly Faith's own life is in serious jeopardy as well!
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About the Author
Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-three previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” The recipient of the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement, she has been nominated for the Edgar, the Mary Higgins Clark, the Maine Literary, and the Macavity Awards. She lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
Body in the Bonfire, The
"You have got to be kidding! What on earth would I teach them?"
Faith Fairchild looked across the table at her friend Patsy Avery. They had met for lunch in Cambridge at the restaurant Upstairs at the Pudding. Patsy liked the braised lamb shanks and Faith liked everything.
"You've taught cooking classes before. This really wouldn't be very different."
"Number one, they're teenagers, and number two, they're boys. And did I mention that they were teenagers?"
The waiter appeared to refill their water glasses and they halted their conversation. Not that there was anything either confidential or shocking in Patsy's request that Faith teach a basic cooking course Cooking for Idiots during Mansfield Academy's upcoming Winter Project Term. Not shocking, no. But definitely surprising and puzzling. Why did Patsy with no connection to the school, as far as Faith knew want her to teach a course to a bunch of zit-faced preppies?
The restaurant occupied the top floor of Harvard's Hasty Pudding Club the Pudding, as it has been affectionately known for over two hundred years. It staged various Harvard theatricals, most notably the annual Hasty Pudding show musical comedies affording generations of Harvard undergraduates the opportunity to indulge their tastes for outrageous drag and outrageous puns. This spacious upstairs room with its high ceiling looked like a stage set itself. Strings of tiny lights hung in spun-sugar garlands over large stars suspended from the chandeliers, sending a warm glow over the rich green walls, trimmed in crimson, of course, and gold. Framed Pudding show posters adorned the walls, and a huge gilt mirror hung behind the dark wooden bar, creating the illusion of another interior. The tables with their pink cloths and the painted gold banquet chairs were doubled, along with their occupants: professors in suits, some of the men clinging proudly to their bow ties no clip-ons, please; Cantabrigian ladies fresh from the latest art show at the Fogg, eager for food and gossip; couples assignations and/or business; students with trust funds the food wasn't cheap; bearded men in corduroys and women in long, shapeless dresses with chunky amber beads who were or weren't famous writers; and herself and Patsy. Faith ended her inventory where it had started.
The water was poured. They all agreed it was a shame winter now prevented eating outside on the lovely rooftop terrace, although the room was indeed charming. "It always makes me feel as if the Sugar Plum Fairy is going to pirouette out from the kitchen with my order," Patsy said whimsically. She was not a whimsical person. The waiter lingered, offering an attempt at a soft-shoe instead, and more bread, both of which were refused with further pleasantries all around. He left. Faith finished one of her Maine crab cakes with red pepper aioli, which was quite tasty (but not peeky-toe crab), and was about to ask her friend what was going on, when Patsy started talking first.
"I did it last year and had a great time with the kids. My course was called What Letter Would You Give the Law? And they were bright, articulate plus, they kept me in stitches. Their ability to see through bullshit was truly amazing."
Patsy had given Faith the opening she needed.
"Speaking of which, why don't you tell me why you want me to do this? It can't simply be for my own pleasure, a dubious one, as I've pointed out. I'd like to keep the knowledge of what awaits me as the parent of an adolescent until the night before each of the kids' thirteenth birthdays. Teenagers may be funny and smart. They're also terrifying. Now, you have no connection to the school that I know of, other than your course, so how come this sudden desire to recruit victims for them? And I mean both the kids and whoever runs this project thing."
Patsy dipped her fork into the rosemary polenta that accompanied her lamb. "It's not why I invited you to lunch. I really did think we were long overdue, but yes, there is an ulterior motive behind the cooking class thing." She raised the fork to her mouth. Years in Boston had hardened but not destroyed her New Orleans accent, and her words still came out slowly, as if each had been chosen with care especially for the listener.
"I'm glad to hear it," Faith responded. "Ulterior motives are my favorite kind."
Patsy laughed, finished the polenta, and continued.
"I'm assuming you know about Mansfield "
Faith interrupted her. "And you're assuming wrong, counselor. Even though I've lived in Aleford for what often seems like fifty years, I've never set foot on the Mansfield campus. It could be on another planet, although there are lots of things in town that also fall into that category. I know very little about the place, other than its being all male and grades nine through twelve."
"Okay. There isn't much more you need to know about the place, that is but we'll get to the situation in a minute. Mansfield isn't one of the top schools; it isn't at the bottom. It's loosely associated with Cabot you know, the all-female school on Byford Road, going away from town. Cabot's older than Mansfield. Anyway, Mansfield started its Project Term about ten years ago to give the kids a break between midyear exams and the next semester. You can't just flake off, though. You have to keep a log of what you're doing, but what you do can be anything from learning Sanskrit to building a canoe. Faculty and people from the community basically, anyone the headmaster can ensnare offer the courses. Seniors can design their own. The kids make suggestions, and that's where you come in."
"Having been raised by liberated boomer parents, these guys now see cooking as an essential life skill so the little woman won't have to come home with the bacon and fry it up, too?"Body in the Bonfire, The
. Copyright © by Katherine Page. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.