Earthly Delights by Australian author Kerry Greenwood is a 2004 mystery novel set in Melbourne. Corinna Chapman used to be an accountant and married to James, but when she left the world of numbers, she left James, a toxic, fat-shaming tool, too. Now, Corinna lives in an apartment building with shops on the first floor. Her bread shop is Earthly Delights, named after the Hieronymus Bosch print on the wall. A fat, single woman in her thirties, Corinna loves her three cats and her simple routine of waking up at 4:00AM, throwing on some “trackies” (fashion police forgive her, in my opinion), and mixing dough. . .
Until the morning one of her cats comes skittering back into the bakery with a hypodermic needle stuck in the pad of its foot. Corinna’s neighborhood has been inundated with victims of heroin addiction, and now there is a girl who has overdosed on her doorstep. In fact, several addicts have died recently, causing the volunteers who drive in a large van to feed, care, and pray for this community to become suspicious of foul play.
Firstly, the fat representation in Greenwood’s novel is fantastic. Corinna has diverse interests, which sounds like any person, I know, but a lot of fat women in fiction have tend to have one hobby or passion. A lover of horror movies, Corinna watches Nosferatu too late one night and scares herself, “Even if it is a triumph of German Expressionism.” When she hears a song, she recognizes it is “Bella, qui tiens ma vie” and knows the dance to it (the pavane). And though I had to look up the political references, Corinna compares something bad to having “…been trapped for days in a life with Philip Ruddock talking about border protection,” or if something goes wrong, it develops “the same way as a John Howard election promise about Medicare.” Discussing Roman versus Greek gods, Corinna is well-read and culturally savvy.
My rule when reading books about fat women is that they may not diet or date their way to happiness, but I recognize their bodies may change shape and sex and romance are not off the table. Corinna meets a muscular ex-Israeli soldier, born in Australia and recently returned to the country. Daniel is immediately attracted to Corinna, and she’s not shy herself. Although she doesn’t think a handsome man would be physically attracted to her, especially with her young, thin employees around the bakery, she stops herself from thinking that way because self-loathing is what society expects of fat women, and she isn’t a bad person for being fat. She is her size, no self-blame or fear of sin — and no hesitation about dressing up as a dominatrix (hint, hint).
Corinna’s head is an interesting place to be, and the details she notices make for some realistic scenes. When poor kitty comes in with that sharp is his foot, I was curling my toes in sympathy. After she finds the over-dosed girl, Corinna considers CPR but realistically acknowledges that this person may have blood-born infections. She uses kitchen latex gloves on her hands and cling wrap with a small hole over the girl’s mouth to reduce contact. I was taught these methods the many times I took CPR, and seeing Corinna’s thought process in an emergency was stimulating.
Despite Earthly Delights designation of mystery, the whodunnit aspect isn’t central to the character development, nor is it terribly interesting. Multiple mini mysteries dog pile onto the search for who is killing heroin addicts, including a new tenant moving into the apartment building whose teen daughter has been missing for three years, someone who keeps sending the women in the building notes claiming they are unchaste, and Daniel’s address and occupation. Sure, he volunteers for a midnight shift with the folks feeding the hungry and addicted in Melbourne, but where does he get money?
While some hints made it easy to answer most of these mysteries, so little was made of the big issue (who is making the addicts overdose?) that I didn’t care. Other clues were muddled, such as a religious tract in the mail that Corinna brushes off on page three, but when she’s asked by another store owner if she received a threatening letter, she says yes. However, I found that the de-emphasis on the mystery did not detract from my enjoyment of the book at all, and I would have been perfectly happy following Corinna without the clues and crimes.
There were details about Corinna’s and Daniel’s lives that I’d like to see emphasized in future books, details that were mentioned but not explored or essential to their characters. Corinna’s parents were unhinged survivalists who tried to go off the grid. She nearly died until her grandma came and took her away. This past isn’t referenced much, nor does it seem ingrained in her psyche. Perhaps that’s because when her grandma took her away — and she didn’t know how to tie shoes, use silverware, or turn on a light switch — Corinna was five. But then why create such a backstory?
Daniel’s experiences as a soldier in Israel should further complicate his character, but this is another backstory I didn’t see much done with. I note these flaws not to scare you off from Earthly Delights — I certainly enjoyed it — but to be fair about what you’re getting into. The first book in a series, Earthy Delights is not quite a cozy mystery, not quite a mystery, but definitely an interesting read with a fat female protagonist.