Friday, March 21, 2014

The Cook’s Temptation by Joyce Wayne, reviewed by Donna Kirk

Mosaic Press, 340 pages, paperback $15.88, Kindle, $9.39 from Amazon; signed copy, $22 from Mosaic Press here. Or catch Joyce at one of her book-signings.
The Cook’s Temptation, a work of historical, literary fiction, is Joyce Wayne’s debut novel. The tale is set in County Devon, England, from 1881 to 1915; an era of disease, disaster and social turmoil.
The heroine, Cordelia Tilley, a flame-haired Jewess and nineteen in 1881, has not been born into Quality, as her Maman would say. Maman, a French Jew who married beneath herself, now slaves in the kitchen of the Devil’s Stone Inn (and brothel), where she teaches her daughter all the fine points of French cuisine.
Maman encourages Cordelia to escape the drudgery of what will become her life and wed Frederick Wendice, the wealthiest man in the West Country and a patron at the Inn. Wendice is older and a confirmed bachelor, rumoured to never have found the perfect wife, a woman who would also have to meet the approval of his Mater.
But he asks for Cordelia’s hand in marriage! Why? asks Cordelia. Surely the Mater will never approve. But Wendice says Mater does approve! Why? asks Cordelia again.
Maman has just died of Typhoid and her dying wish was very clear. Cordelia marries Frederick Wendice. As lady of Wendice Manor, she’ll live a charmed life and escape from her father and her brothers. But Cordelia trades the drudgery of the Devil’s Stone Inn to a life of isolation and prejudice.
“Jew bitch,” she’s called. “Your cooking at the Devil’s Stone Inn was the cause of the typhoid outbreak. Jews are the cause of typhoid fever.” This, from the man who kisses her with passion one moment, then flings hate and loathing in her face the next. “Why have you married me?” Cordeila screams.
Frederick is obsessed with the evil he imagines is living within Cordelia. His relentless ranting makes her wonder if she is indeed as destructive and mysterious as he claims. She has no one to turn to. She can’t return to the Devil’s Stone Inn. With the exception of one brother, her family hates her, too.
After their beloved son William is born, Cordelia uncovers a Wendice secret, one that could ruin the family’s reputation and ruin their business. Cordelia realizes she must escape the prison of the manor. But first, she has a job to do….
Author Joyce Wayne adds to the mystery by introducing and reintroducing people who have been in Cordelia’s life before and after the typhoid outbreak, both friend and foe.  Friends offer safe solutions and foes disguised as new friends, threaten to imprison her in new and different ways. Cordelia is not what she seems. Victims can learn to fight back.
This first novel is a powerful social statement. It is set just before the First World War and before global persecution of the Jews. This book is a must read. Is the reality of the eighteen hundreds any different from the twenty-first century?
Donna Kirk is the author of Finding Matthew, a Child with Brain Damage, a Young Man with Mental Illness, a Son and Brother with Exceptional Spirit. Visit Donna at

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