Although Jeannette de Beauvoir grew up in Angers, France, her American mother kept the home well-stocked with Golden Age mystery novels, and everything that has happened since can probably be traced back to reading them at a very young age. She writes historical and mystery fiction (often combining the two.) Learn more about Jeannette and her books at her website.
Poutine… With a Side Order of Murder!
“Poutine,” says Martine LeDuc, PR director for the city of Montréal, “is Québec’s unique contribution to the hardening of the world’s arteries: crisp French fries, mixed with cheese curds and smothered in chicken gravy. It’s horrible. It’s heavenly.”
Martine doesn’t exist in real life—she’s the protagonist of my novels Asylum and Deadly Jewels, in which she’s very busy solving murders that aren’t exactly part of her job description—but poutine very much does exist, and she’s absolutely right on both counts: it’s not the world’s healthiest food, but it’s certainly one of the most wonderful.
Remember if you will that poutine originated in Québec, a province known for long, very cold winters, and you’ll immediately see the appeal. Coming in off the snowy street to a warm café, and having a steaming bowl of something hot, filled with carbs, and delicious set in front off you… yes: that’s heavenly.
(In fact, many people believe that it originated in the 1950s in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where a great deal of the action in Deadly Jewels takes place, and where Martine and her detective friend share another memorable meal of fish and chips.)
In fact, it’s fair to say that Martine pretty much eats her way through the mysteries she solves. Whether it’s herding her stepchildren away from fast food (but giving in when it comes to St. Hubert rotisserie chicken), enjoying her husband Ivan’s signature dish of Hungarian stew, meeting a friend over red meat in a hotel steakhouse, piling up pancakes at Chez Cora, hanging out at Schwartz’s for the smoked meat, or entertaining possible suspects over elaborate dinners at l’Orignal with fresh high-end game, fish, and oysters, Martine is always on the lookout for something to get her through the day.
She loves to eat, and she lives in the right place: Montréal has more than enough choices to keep her happy. Martine happily eats her way from quartier to quartier. And when you visit Montréal, you will, too: it’s the best French food outside of France (some would say even better); be sure to try the Breton crêperies, and eat pasta in Little Italy, smoked meats at Schwartz’s, amazing Vietnamese noodle soups in Chinatown—there’s something here for every taste. And Martine says that Montréal’s bagels (at St. Viateur rather than Fairmount) are better than New York’s!
But in both Asylum and Deadly Jewels, Martine comes back to poutine. Feeling down? Have some poutine. Feeling great? Have some poutine. There just doesn’t seem to be a time when it’s not appropriate. And there are wide variants on the theme as well, as Wikipedia points out: “Some restaurants offer poutine with such toppings as sausage, chicken, bacon, or Montreal-style smoked meat. Some poutineries even boast dozens of variations of poutine. More upscale poutine with three-pepper sauce, merguez sausage, foie gras or even caviar and truffle can be found, a pre-Millennium trend that is credited to David MacMillan of Joe Beef and Globe restaurants fame.”
Whatever your take on it, try some poutine next time you’re in Montréal… or if you can’t wait, Martine’s added her own recipe for it below. Bon appétit!
1 quart vegetable oil for frying
1 (10.25 ounce) can chicken gravy
5 medium potatoes, cut into fries
2 cups cheese curds
Heat oil in a deep fryer or deep heavy skillet to 365 degrees F. While the oil is heating, begin to warm the gravy.
Place the fries into the hot oil, and cook until light brown, about 5 minutes. Make the fries in batches if necessary to allow them room to move a little in the oil. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain.
Place the fries on a serving platter, and sprinkle the cheese over them. Ladle gravy over the fries and cheese, and serve immediately.
When Martine LeDuc, publicity director for the city of Montréal, is summoned into the mayor's office, she's pleasantly surprised to find the city is due for a PR coup: a doctoral researcher at McGill University claims to have found proof that the British crown jewels were stored in Montréal during WWII.
Martine is thrilled to be part of the excavation project, until it turns out that the dig's discoveries include the skeleton of a man with diamonds in his ribcage and a hole in his skull. Is this decades-old murder leading her too far into the dangerous world of Canada’s neo-Nazi networks, or is there something going on that makes the jewels themselves deadly? Is history ever really completely buried?
With pressing personal issues crowding into her professional life, Martine needs to solve not only the puzzle of the jewels, but some more recent crimes―including another murder, a kidnapping, and the operation of an ancient cult in Montréal―and do it before the past reaches out to silence her for good.