The Incompetent Cook by Ivor Thomas

The Incompetent Cook

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World traveler Idris Granger doesn’t cook well, but in Thomas’ collection of short stories, he collects recipes for different delicious dishes everywhere he goes.

Over the course of these 10 tales, Granger sees parts of the world that most people wouldn’t think of visiting. Each story is accompanied by a recipe Granger learned from one of the other characters, who range from the daughter of an Irish pub owner to a would-be kidnapper in Australia to Granger’s roommate in South Africa. The stories are either full of action or personal tension. For instance, working in a mining camp in Tasu, British Columbia, Granger discovers a cook who abuses his assistant, and the story centers around what the rest of the crew do about it. Granger leaves with a recipe for fish pie. He gets a recipe for seafood chowder from his friend Dan, a “fugitive recovery agent”—aka bounty hunter—in Italy. While hunting pigs in Australia, Granger and a boxing champion come across kidnappers, one of whom gets a lighter sentence for being coerced into his crime and for having a great recipe for lamb shanks. Tales like the latter strain credulity to the breaking point, and at times, the recipe element seems forced into the story for the sake of the theme. Only the most dedicated gourmand would accept that a kidnapper could cook meat well enough for it to factor into a legal judgment. Thomas does have an eye for description, though. His characters frequently feel real, and his settings capture danger and beauty, whether at a camp in Israel or in a sprawling countryside. What readers don’t get is any real sense of who Granger is, what he might believe or why food is so important to him. He’s an empty vessel, a stand-in for the reader, often a mere spectator. He simply drifts, leaving the settings and supporting characters to do the heavy lifting.

A diverting travelogue with some admirable writing but little arc or narrative theme beyond assorted recipes.    

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1477580301
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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