Tuesday, February 06, 2018

"A Necessary Ingredient" by Art Taylor

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea ed. Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks, Down and Out Books, 2017, p. 208-239

Last week, the annual Bethesda, Maryland convention Malice Domestic announced its 2017 nominees for the Agatha Awards, honoring traditional mysteries as typified by the works of Agatha Christie, containing no explicit sex, excessive gore, or gratuitous violence. An April 2018 vote of Malice attendees will determine the winners. In the meantime, as part of the announcement, the Best Short Story nominees are freely available online.

At the outset of Art Taylor's nominated story, narrator Ambrose Thornton declares he is not a detective. Pressured by his wealthy, locally influential father to do something with his time, he's taken a correspondence course in investigation and set up an office, but the case in this story is his first.

Esmé, owner of a new eponymous restaurant down the street from Thornton's office, hires him on the rumor someone in town is growing tonka beans, aromatic South American beans banned by the FDA for their deleterious effect on the liver. Esmé, however, asserts one would have to consume a preposterous amount to bring on said effect. She wants in on the source to use the beans in her recipes.

I had read a few of Taylor's Del & Louise stories, about a convenience store clerk who runs off with a criminal she senses has nobler ambitions. "A Necessary Ingredient" is told in a similarly pleasant, conversational style so its well-placed plot twists sneak up.

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