The Accidental Alchemist mystery series, written by Gigi Pandian, is about an ancient book of alchemy, a Parisian gargoyle who was accidentally brought to life and became a gourmet chef, and a female alchemist who never set out to discover the Elixir of Life.
The Masquerading Magician
by Gigi Pandian
Deciphering an ancient alchemy book is more difficult than Zoe Faust bargained for. She’d much rather be gardening and exploring her new home of Portland, Oregon — but time is running out for living gargoyle Dorian Robert-Houdin. If Zoe isn’t able to unlock the alchemy book’s secrets soon, the French gargoyle will remain awake but trapped in stone forever.
When Zoe gives herself a rare night out to attend a classic magic show that reminds her of her youth, she realizes the stage magicians are much more than they seem. A murder at the theater leads back to a string of unsolved robberies and murders in Portland’s past, and a mystery far more personal than Zoe and Dorian ever imagined.
Recipes are included!
Saint-Gervais, France, 1871
As the end of his life grew near, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin feared for what would become of his not-quite-human son. Inspiration struck one day, out of a tragedy.
A famous personage in France, Robert-Houdin knew others in high society as well as men at the tops of their professions. One such man was a well-regarded chef who cooked choucroute garnie with such exquisite results that people traveled for miles to partake of his delicacies. The chef developed an ego, as most men do when told repeatedly how great they are. One day, a grease fire began in the kitchen. It quickly engulfed his establishment. The chef made sure all of his workers made it to safety. He was the last one out. It never once occurred to him that the building would dare injure him. Yet a wooden beam struck him, trapping him inside the burning building. Before he was rescued, the fire scorched his head and hands. He escaped with his life, but without his sight and former dexterity.
As he’d never married, the former chef sat alone in his large house. There was no life in the house, save for the domestic servant who came twice a day to clean the house and bring him barely tolerable food. The chef might have withered and died from desolation had it not been for the occasional interesting visitor, such as his old friend Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin and an odd fellow Robert-Houdin brought with him.
Dorian was introduced as a distant relative of Robert-Houdin’s who had been disfigured in an accident and was therefore wary of being seen by people, who could be cuttingly cruel. Oh, how the chef understood the cruelty of men! The people who once adored him would no longer look upon his burned face and hands. The saving grace of his blindness was that he himself did not have to see what his once-handsome face had become.
The chef was the first person aside from Robert-Houdin with whom Dorian had conversed. On one visit, the topic turned to food, as it often did. Robert-Houdin went to the window to look upon the barren trees that swayed in the wind. Winter would be upon them soon. He sensed it would be his last winter in this world.
Robert-Houdin’s human son had recently died in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and the Hessians were threatening Paris. What more did an old man have to live for?
When he pulled himself out of his own thoughts and returned to the sofa, he realized that he had not been missed. Looking between the two outcasts, a flash of inspiration overwhelmed him.
“Martin,” Robert-Houdin said. He rose out of habit, even though the chef could not see him. “I have had the most inspired idea. You and my relation Dorian are both men shunned by society through no fault of your own, and you both appreciate eating gourmet food.”
“Why must you bring up my failings?” Martin asked, holding up his burned hands. “I can neither see nor hold a knife. I must rely on the vile porridge and stews that wretched woman brings me.”
“Yet Dorian,” Robert-Houdin said, “has the best eyesight of any man I have met, and is nearly as accomplished at sleight-of-hand as I. Would it not be possible for you to teach him to cook? He is looking for somewhere to live where he will not need to hide from people who look upon him unfavorably because of his disfigurement. In exchange for food and lodgings, he could cook and clean for you. I cannot imagine a more perfect plan.”
And so it was that one of the greatest cooks in France would teach Dorian Robert-Houdin the skills that enabled him to become a gourmet chef.
A vegan version of the Scottish treat, in which cashew cream replaces heavy cream.
- 1 cup oats
- 2 tbs honey or maple syrup
- 1 cup homemade sweet cashew cream – see recipe below
- 1 tbs whiskey (bourbon works well)
- 1 cup fresh raspberries (or other berry substitution)
Make your cashew cream the day before, so it thickens in the fridge. Mix in 1 Tbsp of whisky (or more, to taste). Toast the oats in a skillet with the honey or maple syrup until it smells toasty, approximately 5 minutes. Once it cools, layer the raspberries, cream and toasted oats into 4 dessert cups.
A vegan alternative to heavy cream.
- 2 cups raw cashews
- 1 cup filtered water (plus more for soaking)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbs lemon juice
Soak cashews overnight in filtered water. Rinse and drain. Using a high-speed blender, blend cashews and water (add more water for a thinner cream). Add salt and lemon juice.
USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian (via Indiebound or Amazon) is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s the author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand, via Indiebound or Amazon) as well as the Accidental Alchemist mysteries [The Accidental Alchemist (via Indiebound or Amazon) and The Masquerading Magician (via Indiebound or Amazon)]. Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, the follow-up won the Left Coast Crime Rose Award, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards.
Saturday, January 16, 2 p.m.
San Leandro Main Library
300 Estudillo Avenue, San Leandro
Murder Most Foul mystery panel with Gigi Pandian, Juliet Blackwell, Carole Price, and Susan C. Shea
During the last two weeks of January she will be on a book tour through the Pacific Northwest and Southern California.
Complete schedule is here.