Mmmm… the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has made quite a lot of progress on our treacherous trek through the letters. My thanks as ever to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for such a well-oganised and enjoyable (if dangerous…) trip. Today we’re stopping at M & Co., the world-famous restaurant. Our table isn’t ready yet, so while we’re waiting, I’ll share my contribution for this stop: mushrooms.
Mushrooms can be delicious additions to a lot of different dishes, but as most people know, some varieties are deadly, And that of course makes mushrooms a very effective murder weapon. After all, you can’t easily prove that such a killing was deliberate; the various kinds of mushrooms can be difficult to sort out. And it doesn’t take a lot of technical knowledge, strength or skill to use deadly mushrooms. No wonder they show up all the time in crime fiction.
For instance, in 4:50 From Paddington, Elspeth McGillicuddy is on a train on her way to visit her friend Miss Marple. When another train passes in the same direction, Mrs. McGillicuddy glances through the other train’s window just in time to witness a woman being strangled. At first no-one believes her because a body isn’t discovered on the train. But Miss Marple does, and deduces that the body must be on the property of Rutherford Hall, which is owned by Luther Crackenthorpe and his family. So Miss Marple fixes it up so that her friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow gets a position there as housekeeper, with the understanding that Lucy will search for the body. When she does find the body the police are called in and begin to investigate. Shortly afterwards, everyone gets sick at lunch one day and the mushrooms that Lucy included in the meal are blamed. Then, one of the family members dies. Now it’s clear that someone wants to wreak havoc on the Crackenthorpe family. With help from Lucy’s observant eyes and ears, Miss Marple figures out who the killer is and how that death is related to the death of the unknown woman on the train.
In Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s The Cosy Knave, murder and poisoning come to the small town of Knavesborough. Small-town-boy-made-good Mark Baldwin, who now calls himself Marco Bellini, returns to Knavesborough after having lived abroad for many years. He throws a housewarming party at which Rose Walnut-Whip becomes ill. Not long afterwards she is found stabbed. Constable Archibald ‘Archie’ Penrose ends up investigating the murder and he and his fiancée Rhapsody Gershwin look into the case. They soon find that more than one person wanted to murder the victim. They’re working on the investigation when another villager Jack Warburton is murdered. His body is discovered by avid mushroom collector Arnold Kickinbottom. Kickinbottom also had a motive for murdering Rose Walnut-Whip and he is most definitely a suspect in this second death too, having (perhaps too conveniently) found the body. Then Kickinbottom himself is poisoned by mushrooms. Perhaps the poisoning was a clever way to throw suspicion from himself, or perhaps there’s a serial killer loose in Knavesborough…
Ariana Franklin’s The Serpent’s Tale is the story of the murder of Rosamund Clifford, mistress of King Henry II. When someone feeds Rosamund poisoned mushrooms, the case threatens to cause a major upheaval for the country, especially since there is talk that Queen Eleanor may have been responsible. If she is guilty, the result could be a civil war. The king summons Adelia Aguilar, a doctor and ‘mistress of the art of death’ to find out what really happened to his mistress. She will have to tread very lightly though, since this murder has so many important political ramifications.
Mushrooms also wreak havoc in Julie Smith’s short story Project Mushroom. Katherine is a botanist who’s hired to work on a public-relations project to promote California’s mushroom industry. Project head Martin Larson is infuriating enough that everyone on the project wants to kill him. The longer Katherine works with the team the more she sees how he drives everyone else mad. One night there’s to be a banquet to celebrate the group’s work and call attention to the project. All of the dishes at the banquet contain different varieties of mushrooms. That’s where Larson learns what happens when you aren’t good to the people who work with you. The next morning, the headlines are full of the news of his death, and with all of the mushrooms served at the dinner, the police believe that he must have died from accidental mushroom poisoning. But Katherine knows better…
Dance troupe manager Victor Owens finds out a similar thing in Kaitlyn Dunnett’s Scone Cold Dead. Owens is the leader of a Scottish dancing troupe that has decided to go on tour. Former member Liss Macrimmon find out about the tour and invites the group to make a stop in her adopted town of Moosetookalook, Maine, to which she retired after an injury. One night she throws a party for the dance troupe at which different Scottish foods will be featured. Shortly after the party, Owens dies of anaphylaxis brought on by eating a scone filled with mushrooms, to which Owens was violently allergic. Liss soon comes under suspicion since she threw the party and since she was no friend of Owens. But Owens was an obnoxious person who alienated just about everyone and who sexually harassed more than one person. So as Liss tries to clear her own name, she finds plenty of possible ‘replacement suspects.’
See what I mean? Mushrooms can be nasty things if they’re not carefully chosen and properly handled and cooked. But when done right, they really are delicious, don’t you think? Oh, I’ve just been told that our table is ready. Care to join us???