TV-13 | 10 episodes | Dark Comedy | mystery | Sep 5, 2022
Nothing helps instill the coziness in so-called “cozy mysteries” like comfort food. Diane Mott Davidson wrote perhaps the most popular novels combining murder with recipes, but even “Paddington” author Michael Bond had a long-running series of culinary mysteries, featuring Monsieur Pamplemousse, a food critic for a prestigious Michelin-esque guide book.
Sally Andrew joined their ranks with her “Tannie Maria” novels, set in the picturesque South African countryside. Like many chefs, Maria Purvis (played by Maria Doyle Kennedy) much prefers the pleasant calmness of her kitchen, but her keen nose for scents and taste for flavors makes her a surprisingly perceptive amateur sleuth in Karen Jeynes 10-episode “Recipes for Love and Murder,” which premieres Sept. 5 on Acorn.
‘Dear Tannie Maria’
Purvis was always satisfied writing for the “Karoo Gazette,” but she must change with the times when her editor cuts her recipes in favor of an advice column. Yet Purvis slyly includes her signature recipes when counseling the heartbroken and the lovelorn, under the pen-name “Tannie Maria” (Tannie being an Afrikaans term meaning “Auntie”).
At first, it annoys her editor, but she stops arguing when Tannie Maria goes viral, thanks to her response to an anonymous letter writer, who wrote of the pain she experienced living with an abusive husband.
Purvis soon discovers that letter came from the recently murdered Martine Burger. Naturally, Purvis suspects Burger’s husband Dirk, but despite his violent outbursts, the cops equally focus on her torch-carrying platonic friend, whose prints are found all over the crime scene.
Of course, Detective Khaya Meyer does not want Purvis or her crime-beat reporter colleague Jessie September interfering in his investigation, but he is not a bad guy. The recent transfer from the big city is just not accused yet to the more relaxed way of life in Karoo.
Initially, the duo will have better luck approaching veteran local cop Piet Kasin and young rookie Regardt Snyman, who is clearly infatuated with September. However, Purvis’s culinary care packages left at the station will slowly win Meyer over.
Cozy Mystery With an Edge
“Recipes” is definitely cozy stuff, but the murder and subsequent criminal incidents have more edge than you would expect. Initially, Burger’s murder looks relatively straightforward, but many complications ensue. There is also a bit of a mystery surrounding Purvis herself.
At the end of the first episode, we learn she has a secret history in Scotland, which she would very much like to keep buried in the past. However, her activities as “Tannie Maria” raise her online profile, bringing unwanted attention.
Probably the most enticing aspect of the show is the stunning natural landscapes surrounding Karoo. Frankly, the series should be a boon for South African tourism. The recipes also sound legitimate and viewers can easily jot them down, thanks to the slow, reassuring voiceover narration.
However, they do reflect the local preferences and livestock availability, so do not be shocked when Tannie Maria serves up an ostrich-mince pie (keep an open mind, it’s probably quite tasty).
On the other hand, the vignettes depicting Tannie Maria’s other advice-seekers and the recipes she crafts for each of their dilemmas are mostly cheesy, in a Hallmark Channel romance sort of way. Frankly, Purvis is a bit mousy for a lead protagonist.
Interesting Cop Characters
In fact, the three cops are some of the series’ most interesting characters. The multi-ethnic composition of the cast (and particularly the police station) is also notable, especially given South Africa’s troubled history.
Maria Doyle Kennedy has a warm screen presence as Purvis, but the character needs more fire (at least in the episodes provided for review). On the other hand, Tony Kgoroge definitely stands out, for his charismatic intensity as Det. Meyer, while Elton Landrow nicely counterbalances him as the easy-going Kasin.
However, there are a lot of quirky small town stock characters in “Recipes,” whose cute eccentricities are a little too forced.
Still, the driving crime story is relatively mature and thoughtful. If Jeyne’s adaptation gave viewers more recipes for murder and fewer for love, it might have been a grabbier viewing experience.
Instead, its audience will mostly be built on the armchair travel scenery and the food (honestly, the mutton curry sounds delicious). Mostly recommended for foodies who take their cozy-style mysteries, “Recipes for Love and Murder” starts streaming Sept. 5 on Acorn.
‘Recipes for Love and Murder’
Director: Christiaan Olwagen, David Isaacs
Starring: Maria Doyle Kennedy, Doyle Kgoroge, Kylie Fisher
MTAA Rating: TV-13
Running Time: 10 episodes
Release Date: Sept. 5, 2022
Rated: 3 stars out of 5