I don't usually read anything in the 'thriller' genre, but After Alice Fell by Kim Taylor Blakemore* intrigued me as a historical thriller. I wasn't actually sure what to expect from this novel. But I'm glad I read it.
On the Page
Set just after the Civil War, this book was dark and disturbing. But the writing was also incredibly beautiful. War widow and nurse Marion has returned home to live with her brother, Lionel; sister-in-law, Cathy; and nephew from her brother's first marriage, Toby. Marion's sister, the titular Alice, has died while a patient in an asylum and Marion is convinced that the institution is hiding something.
Alice had been mute since she was fourteen years old. And, when we discover the cause of her silence, I am pretty sure I gasped aloud. That's a successful thriller, right?
Lionel's first wife and Toby's mother, Lydia, died tragically as well. And though Marion isn't initially investigating that death, she does uncover some unsettling truths there as well.
When Saorise helps to keep Marion a prisoner in the family home, Marion narrates, "My hand is numb, but not the wrist. Not the break. I clamp my jaw, swallowing back a keen of pain. Scoot forward again. 'Why?' She shakes her head, ''Tis a cursed family, this one.' Stands and hobbles back, pulling the door shut with a click and clunk of the lock" (pg. 241).
I'm not sure they were cursed exactly, but they were certainly in a tragedy of their own making! Even though this wasn't my usual genre, I enjoyed Blakemore's storytelling.
On the Plate
There was quite a bit of food mentioned, including a raspberry charlotte that I will be making soon. But it was the Marion's alibi of her dinner at the Phoenix that sent me to the kitchen. As she was being coached on her story, she practices saying, "'Dinner at the Phoenix.' 'Good.' The feather mattress plumps as she stands and paces along the windows. 'You had lamb and mint. Strawberry tart.' 'I don’t like mint.' 'Stewed apples.' The window casing groans as she opens it. The outside noises slip in: horse hooves and boys calling and the constant rumble of people living life. 'Someone might ask'."
Well, unlike Marion, we do love lamb and mint. In fact, one of our favorite lamb dishes: grilled lamb lollipops! However, since I was staying away from mint and Marion also invented having had stewed apples with her lamb, I decided to make an apple-herb chutney. My chutney is spicy with a hint of sweet. The rib chops absorb a great deal of flavor from their paste-rub in 30 minutes and, then, they cook up to be perfectly browned in under four minutes per side.
- rack of lamb, sliced into individual pops
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 Tablespoons garlic, peeled and pressed
- 1 teaspoon fennel powder (optional, if you don't have any!)
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons olive oil
Chutney makes 4 pint jars
- 6 apples
- 1 large onion
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
- 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup organic dark brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons yellow mustard seed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 large sweet red bell pepper, diced
- 1 jalapeno, diced
- 1 teaspoon ground all-spice
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- herbs (I used fresh rosemary and mint to mirror the flavors in the lamb)
Combine the onion, garlic, ginger, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, and salt in a medium-size saucepan. Add the apples, adding them as you chop to keep them from turning brown. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the sweet pepper, jalapeno, and ground all-spice and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, approximately another 30 minutes. Add in the raisins, cranberries, and herbs. You can process these in a water bath if you wish, but I usually just cap them and store them in the refrigerator to use within a month or so.Lamb Lollipops
In a small bowl, combine the garlic, fennel powder (if using), rosemary, parsley, mint, and 1 Tablespoon olive oil make a wet paste. Rub the paste all over the lamb chops and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Generously season both sides of the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining oil in a sauté pan or a grill pan until very hot.*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.
I wipe off most of the paste before grilling as the garlic tends to burn easily. Sear the chops until well-browned on one side, approximately 3 minutes. Flip the chops and cook until the second side has browned, approximately 3 minutes for medium. Transfer the chops to a plate and cover loosely with foil. Let rest for approximately 5 minutes before serving with chutney.
Click to see what everyone else read in February 2021: here.