LAWRENCE G. BLOCHMAN. Recipe for Homicide (1952).

07 Dec

A tale that pivots around an apparent scheme by Communist saboteurs to poison several batches of U.S. Army soup rations just can’t date very well, and this novel fully reeks of the McCarthyist hysteria of the Korean War years. At its best, it serves up choice artifacts to include in a time capsule of that period: scenes from both the shop floor and the executive suite at the Barzac Canning Company, located in a Midwestern industrial city called Northbank; glimpses of thriving mid-century American institutions, including the stock market, the public-relations industry, and the FBI; and, yes, samplings of the addled public mood that emerged after McCarthy and his ilk had Red-scared a good many Americans out of their wits. RecipeHomicide.jpg Much less fascinating, however (yet also typical of its era), is an assembly-line mystery plot that combines a fetish for science with a bias toward random, hurly-burly action. Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee, a pathologist at the Pasteur Institute, delivers the science; readers can watch as he and his comic sidekick, Dr. Motilal Mukerji, run a Reinsch test or section the brain of a murder victim. Covering the action side, meanwhile, is Bob Gilmore, PR manager at the soup company, who gets caught both in a political crossfire and in a literal crossfire. These two protagonists—neither of them quite fits the role of detective—take turns at stirring Blochman’s weak broth.

[ADDENDUM: For a shrewdly observed and generally countervailing perspective on this book, see the review posted online by Mike Grost. Certainly, Grost gives Blochman more credit than I do. “Blochman,” he writes, “shows US daily life as the operating ground of many powerful forces, technological, scientific, economic, political. It comes across as a very interesting, dynamic place.”]


Posted by on December 7, 2013 in American, Novel, Puzzle


5 responses to “LAWRENCE G. BLOCHMAN. Recipe for Homicide (1952).

  1. John

    December 8, 2013 at 7:24 AM

    I’ve only read Blochman’s early books set in India where he was a reporter for fours years in the 1920s. I’ve wanted to read the Dr. Coffee stories only because they were some of the first to deal with forensic pathology in crime fiction. I have a copy of this novel somewhere but Heaven only knows in what box I stored it. I doubt I’ll go digging for it after your review.

    I can recommend Bombay Mail, Bengali Fire and Blow Down among his novels set in India. More thrillers than detective novels, but good examples of that type of book plus chockful of authentic atmosphere and cultural background. I don’t remember any cartoon stereotyping.

    • Mike

      December 9, 2013 at 12:03 AM

      I confess that if the core murder puzzle in “Recipe” were more compelling, I would eagerly forgive its other flaws. And, in any event, I probably enjoyed this book more than my review of it lets on. I studied US history in graduate school, so I *like* a good time-capsule novel. By the way, I’ve read one of Blochman’s India tales, and I reviewed it here:

  2. Jerry House

    December 27, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    I haven’t read this one, but I remember enjoying the first Dr. Coffee collection DIAGNOSIS: HOMICIDE.

  3. vinochica

    October 26, 2014 at 5:20 AM

    This is my first Blochman book, and I really enjoyed it. I agree that the social elements are quite dated, but found that more interesting than off-putting. As a food scientist, I really got into the details of soup & ration production, so it may be that my personal interest made the work more appealing to me than to the average reader. It’s certainly not my favorite, but it was a fun and relatively fast read, and I’ll be looking for more Blochman mysteries.

    • Mike

      October 27, 2014 at 12:45 AM

      I appreciate your comment, Vinochica. Glad you enjoyed the book. I did, too (perhaps more than my review would suggest). Blochman is one of those mid-century journeyman mystery writers whose work deserves to be better remembered than it is.


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