Rich Leder’s COOKING FOR CANNIBALS is a darkly mischievous farce with a plot that leaps off into the deep end fairly quickly and keeps swimming, but in a thoroughly enjoyable manner. Its two protagonists are well-meaning, basically likeable people who just want to get their lives back on track – and yet they manage to bring disaster on their own heads and other people’s over and over, escaping multiple times only by the skin of their teeth, while falling hopelessly and intensely in love in the process. Watching them go through it all is grand fun, especially if you don’t take them or the plot too seriously.
Carrie Kromer, a gerontologist who’s just made the biggest scientific breakthrough of her life and Johnny Fairfax, an ex-con and expert butcher who wants to make his name as a top chef and avoid going back to jail, are well-drawn, three-dimensional characters who stand out deliberately against a background of entertainingly cartoonish villains and secondary characters who are mostly colorful but not deep, allowing the reader to empathize and connect with the protagonists while not worrying too much about anyone else’s fate. The squeamish reader should be warned that the title is not metaphorical – the book contains enthusiastic cannibalism as well as graphically-described violence, torture, and murder, and a couple of scenes that are frankly best avoided by the rodent-phobic. It’s all presented, however, with a farcical dark humor that keeps it, somehow, from being as disturbing as by all rights it ought to be.
The plot is vigorously manic, with multiple antagonists alternately menacing our heroes from every direction and getting in each other’s way like a more dangerous and psychopathic version of the Three Stooges. There’s very little break in the action until the very end, just enough to let readers catch their breath between scenes before looking to the next page to see what new turn the plot is taking. The love story, though a bit predictable, is surprisingly touching and tender, as well as vigorously sexy, and it adds a needed bit of warmth and sweetness to the plot, balancing the more violent themes. It’s an odd mix, but it works surprisingly well.
For readers with strong stomachs, a dark sense of humor, and a need for some off-the-rails, comically violent catharsis in these dull Covid-infested days, Rich Leder’s delightfully bizarre COOKING FOR CANNIBALS may be just the ticket.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader