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Knife Skills for Beginners: Orlando Murrin's debut novel

Orlando has long held a fascination for murder, mystery and crime. <i>(Image: Matt Austin)</i>
Orlando has long held a fascination for murder, mystery and crime. (Image: Matt Austin)

Orlando Murrin has had an eventful career. The former Blundell’s school pupil, who was born in the United States, grew up in Jersey and now lives in Exeter, has edited magazines, written cookbooks, been a semi finalist on MasterChef, worked as a restaurant pianist, was a chef hotelier in France and president of the Guild of Food Writers.

He will undoubtedly have had many memorable experiences, but it seems none can match the pinnacle of excitement he’s currently enjoying in his latest role - as a crime writer.

Knife Skills for Beginners is Orlando’s first novel and it’s being launched by Transworld this spring, the traditional time for new authors although, as he points out, Orlando is at least two or three times as old as his fellow newbies.

Orlando may be late to the game, but his publishing and culinary career has given him a wonderful resource to draw on and find inspiration.

The book is set in London, where a murder takes place in a cookery school in affluent Belgravia. Hero, Paul Delamare has been roped in by his friend to teach some classes, but he turns detective after deducing that one of the students, or a member of staff, could well be the killer.

This is a ‘cosy crime’ novel, a genre which came to prominence with the highly successful Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman. It generally means there’s a sleuth who’s an amateur, plenty of doses of humour and no big focus on violence. Cosy crime is an enjoyable, keep-you-guessing read with a cast of memorable characters.

‘It’s consoling and reassuring,’ says Orlando. ‘At the end of the book the world is returned to good order, it’s not permanently damaged.’

This is just as well, because Orlando really doesn’t like violence; however, he’s always been intrigued by murder, mystery and crime. A fascination that probably has its roots in his childhood, through his grandfather, who was a Met detective and in MI5 in counter espionage.

William Skardon was a famous spy catcher, and although he wasn’t allowed to talk about that side of his work, he did regale tales of murderers to the ‘enraptured’ young Orlando. Grandad, who ended up living in Torquay, ‘was a gorgeous, gentle and charming man,’ he says.

A shocking murder lies at the heart of Knife Skills but it’s a joy to read due to its rather lovely setting and cast of characters, who are an oddball bunch, providing plenty of humour and witty comments.

Cookery schools do produce strange characters, says Orlando. ‘They may not be crazy before they arrive, but as soon as they get there...’

Great British Life: Knife Skills for Beginners is the new cosy crime novel from Orlando MurrinKnife Skills for Beginners is the new cosy crime novel from Orlando Murrin (Image: Transworld Publishers Ltd)

Orlando’s characters are fictional, he insists, but a couple are inspired by real people, a former ‘terrifying’ editor and another is a tribute to chef Robert Carrier.

As for choosing Belgravia, ‘The architecture is so fantastic,’ says Orlando. ‘And you have the contrast, the super-rich in £100 million houses and actual residents who’ve lived there all their lives.’

‘Paul is a poor person living in Belgravia ad can’t afford it really, but this tension is quite interesting.’

Just like Paul, Orlando has given cookery demonstrations and taught classes and the novel is peppered with little culinary tips and insights relayed by various characters. It even includes a few full recipes, from Paul’s friend’s notebook.

‘But this is not a cookbook,’ says Orlando. ‘Any chat about cookery is a device that helps Paul get his thoughts in order and work out who the murderer might be.

‘When Paul is cooking he is most himself, he can think clearly and do problem solving in his head. And when other people are cooking, he is watching them for traits as to who could be a killer – it's a way of investigating on the quiet.’

Is there any of Paul in Orlando?

‘It’s not a portrait of me, but we do have a lot in common,’ is the reply.

Orlando loves all his characters but they will do unexpected things, he says, not least his hero. ‘He drives me nuts, he will not concentrate on the job in hand, he really can’t just drift and dream...’

Book number two is well underway, and Paul Delamare will return next year. In the mean time, Orlando is loving his new novelist life, going to book festivals, meeting other crime writers and visiting Devon’s bookshops on his launch tour.

‘It’s extraordinary, I’d never have believed it. It does take the biscuit,’ he says. ’I’m the luckiest man in the world!’



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