Basil Lawrence delivers an entertaining, darkly satirical novel with Henry First.
Chef Henry First and his wife Dolores are preparing for a restaurant competition that could vault their independent restaurant into the public eye. Henry is allowed only one course and chooses an eel-shaped fish called lampreys, but a kitchen accident causes a mix-up, and the judges are served soup instead.
Thanks to the accident (involving severed fingers) and unknown to Henry, the soup has acquired a “secret” ingredient that makes it addictive. Soon the judges, restaurant patrons and even Henry’s dying brother-in-law are lapping it up. However, because the contest is staged by the FK&F Corporation to promote its own restaurants, Henry cannot be allowed to win. FK&F corporate boss Patrice Czarny employs restaurant critic Grant Whant to find out the chef’s secrets. Whant, surreptitiously attracted to Harry, finds himself caught in the middle as Czarny sharpens her own knives to upend the competition.
Although the book seems a lighthearted romp, it’s actually a more serious look at society’s ambitions and pretensions. “For Henry First success, almost certainly, meant he would be remembered when he was dead. It was a human disease: this desire for something – anything – to remain behind. ”
There’s no end of sly humor as the author pokes fun at the faux celebrity TV “newswoman” who interviews Henry or as he describes a dish Henry is preparing: “…The fruit (was) small and round and as yet unnamed, harvested from the canopy of a Madagascan rainforest by a pair of chatty French botanists who had been suspended from a dirigible.”
The book may not appeal to everyone with its Sweeney Todd-esque conceits and over-the-top quirkiness. But many readers will enjoy peeling the layers to get to the core of the author’s witticisms. Take that dish that Henry First was initially going to serve to the judges: Turns out the original King Henry the First allegedly died of food poisoning from — that’s right — eating lampreys.
Also available as an ebook.