Who doesn’t like donuts? Today we’re joined by retired journalist and award-winning mystery author Gerrie Ferris Finger who gives us a peek at her latest Moriah Dru/Richard Lake mystery and shares a recipe for sugar donuts. Learn more about Gerrie and her books at her website and blog.
In this scene from The Devil Laughed the precocious horror -- as Judge Portia Devon calls Evangeline Broussard -- and her Uncle Baron Bonnet have invited Moriah Dru and Lieutenant Richard Lake to their home near Cape Fear for breakfast.
Evangeline’s mother Candice and two other boaters disappeared after their sailboat went down in Lake Lanier four years ago. Candice’s husband Johnny was found dead at their last known marina. Evangeline believes her mother is alive and insists that Dru fine her. It was Dru who spotted the sailboat’s stern protruding from the lake. The stern had been exposed because the lake was low due to a lingering drought. Dru -- a child finder not an all-purpose PI -- is not fond of Evangeline, but feels invested in finding the missing boaters because it was she who found the sailboat.
Evangeline skipped past a staircase. At the back of the house an enormous pantry included a flight of steps leading to servants’ quarters upstairs. An Hispanic woman stood at the door. She smiled at Evangeline like she had a knife hidden in her apron.
“That’s Soledad,” Evangeline said, tossing her hand toward the woman.
“Morning Soledad,” Lake and I said.
Her face broadened into a beautiful grin. “Mornin’.”
In the kitchen, we met Benny, the cook. He was a large black man with a face so round and eyes so wide he couldn’t scowl if his life depended on it. “I got your message, Miss E. We’re all set for a meal fit for a hungry policeman.”
Not me? Am I chopped liver?
Evangeline grabbed Benny’s hand with both of hers and held it to her cheek, the first endearing gesture I’d seen. “Did you make sugar donuts, Benny?”
He beamed down at her. “I sho did, Miss Evangeline.”
She swung hands with him as they walked over to a platter covered with chef’s cloth. He picked up the cloth and she started to take a donut.
Soledad spoke from behind us. “Miss E, your guests come first, and you must wash your hands.”
Evangeline turned, flames threatened to leap from her black eyes.
Soledad smiled at Lake. “The table is set on the verandah.” She looked at Evangeline, “Your hands, Miss.”
“My hands are perfectly clean,” Evangeline said and stalked to the kitchen door, dashed out, and held the door for us to step onto the covered verandah.
It was a gracious setting, the stairs going down to a lovely garden featuring oleander and crape myrtle. Gardenias, planted around the balustrade, provided the scent. On my left, I spotted a pond with a water fountain. I walked to the rail and smelled the clean air of water and wind. Then I saw a tee box. I laughed. “Evangeline, who plays golf?”
“We all do,” she said. “That’s my practice tee for getting over the water.”
“What’s the carry? A hundred yards?”
“One-twenty. My success rate is one in three, but it used to be one in ten.”
“Progress,” I said.
We settled at the table, and Benny and Soledad brought out silver plated dishes of egg casserole, bacon and sausage, a heaping plate of fat biscuits, gravy, cheese grits and, of course, the donuts.
“I love donuts,” Evangeline declared, picking two off the Spode plate. They were so fresh, her fingers imprinted them.
I love donuts, too, and they love me so much they stick around, lazing on my hips and thighs. I didn’t feel like running a marathon today to shed the donuts, but I did take a biscuit and butter. Eggs I can do without, but the cheese grits were too tempting. Okay, a half marathon today. Lake, of course, was filling his plate like a lumberjack who’d gone without food for three days.
An old Springer spaniel wobbled up the steps. “That’s Dixie,” Evangeline said. “She’s named after the song.” She rocked her shoulders back and forth and sang, “Wish I was in Dixie, Away, Away . . .”
Baron said, “We’re at the breakfast table, E.”
Lake looked up from his plate. “Dixie. Written by a Yankee. Most folks don’t know that.”
Evangeline bristled. “Daniel Emmett didn’t write that song. His minstrel show performed it. The lyrics were written by an African-American woman named Evelyn Snowden to her father because she missed her home in Dixie. Some idiots see it as racist, but it is a part of everyone’s Southern heritage.” To emphasize, she shoved half a donut in her mouth.
I piped in. “My schoolbooks said the word Dixie devolved from the man who drew the north and south borders called the Mason-Dixon Line.”
Swallowing, she looked at me like I had the brains of a rabbit. “Then it would be Dixon, or Mason, or Mason-Dixon.”
“You make a point,” Lake said with his mouth full.
Evangeline said with utmost authority, sugar-coated lips be damned, “The word is about money.”
And so The Devil Laughed is about money . . . and wine . . . and is as evil as the devil can make it.
Cape Fear Sugar Donuts
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
8 cups vegetable oil
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Whisk together 1 cup sugar, buttermilk, butter, and eggs in another bowl, then add to flour and stir until a dough forms (dough will be sticky).
Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and knead gently 8 times. Flour dough and a rolling pin, then roll out dough into a 12-inch round (about 1/2 inch thick). Cut out as many doughnuts as possible with floured 3-inch doughnut cutter and transfer to lightly floured baking sheets. Gather scraps, reroll, and cut more doughnuts in same manner.
Heat oil in a 5-quart heavy pot until thermometer registers 375°F. Working in batches of 3, slide doughnuts into oil and fry. Once each doughnut floats to surface, turn over and fry 50 seconds, then turn again and fry 50 seconds more. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Cool slightly and dredge in remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar.
The Devil Laughed
In this Moriah Dru, Richard Lake mystery series entry, Dru discovers the stern of a boat protruding from a deep-water cove. It's the sailboat Scuppernong, missing nearly four years. Two couples -- Laurant and Janet, and Johnny and Candice -- partied on the boat the night they and the sailboat disappeared. Johnny's body was discovered with his head bashed in at the marina. The other three and the boat disappeared without a trace. Investigators find no bodies and theories abound. Popular among them is adulterers Laurant and Candice skipped to Rio, a country they visited. In a reverse of her child finder role, Dru is hired to find Candice by thirteen-year-old Evangeline, a precocious girl who has unshakeable faith that her mother is alive.