Cinnamon and Gunpowder

Eli Brown. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-91605-3
Brown’s second novel follows up his prize-winning The Great Days with an early 19th-century tale of culinary seduction and swashbuckling antics, featuring characters who evoke the desperate ingenuity of Scheherazade and the hell-bent ruthlessness of Ahab. Owen Wedgwood is complacently preparing meals on the English seaside for a tea baron before the first Opium War, until the pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot braves a mission under the noses of bounty hunters and the Royal Navy to assassinate Wedgwood’s pirate-hunting boss. With Wedgwood held captive as Mabbot’s personal chef, Brown explores the mysteries of flavor with prose that any word-savoring foodie will delight in. Wedgwood gains our sympathy as he triumphs under the meager circumstances of a pirate’s galley, keeping himself alive with his cooking, but the book bogs down in handwringing over being party to villainy; diary entries give the chef’s delayed capitulation to the pirate’s life too much space. The story, the characters, and the ingenious battle scenes are far too colorful for moral dilemmas, which are made irrelevant when Mabbot is revealed as something of a humanitarian out to reset the wrongs of British imperialism. Agent: Laurie Fox, the Linda Chester Literary Agency. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/01/2013
Genre: Fiction
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