Scott, Sally. Fromage. Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 2021. RRP $32.99, 224pp, ISBN: 9781925816778.
It’s official: Sally Scott is the new ‘Queen of Cosy Crime’. Her debut novel, Fromage, is full of wit, verve and vibrancy as we follow the antics of food reviewer and journalist Alex Grant, as she follows her nose (and her stomach) on a story.
On holiday in Croatia, Alex bumps into her old school friend, Marie Puharich. Marie is travelling with her brother, Brian, who has always had the not-so-subtle hots for Alex. The brother and sister duo invite Alex to the funeral of two of their cheese mogul grandfather’s loyal staff members who have died in suspicious circumstances. Alex reluctantly agrees, sensing that something is a little off with the whole situation, and so begins the mystery of Fromage.
When Brian invites Alex to visit the family creamery back at home in WA’s South-West, she jumps at the chance to eat her bodyweight in cheese and get closer to Marie’s hunky cousin Marco. But once she gets there a spate of mysterious deaths have her on a path to uncovering the family’s dark secret—and to ruining several pairs of her beloved shoes in the process.
Alex is fun, sassy, self-deprecating and inconveniently fashionable for someone whose job involves snooping around looking for a story in the dead of night. Scott’s level of detail is what makes Alex jump from the page so vividly:
After smacking some moisturiser on my face, I opened my wardrobe to find some shoes. With five pairs of LA Gear sneakers, assessing the appropriate match to my sportswear was likely to take more time than my entire bathroom ritual. (65)
The dialogue is as snappy as Alex’s internal monologue and helps the book clip along. One exchange between Marco, who is trying to woo Alex, and Brian is the perfect example of how Scott manages to say so much in so few words:
‘Can I pour you some wine?’
‘Don’t bother,’ said Brian sharply. ‘I’ve had a shiraz breathing on the sideboard.’
‘Am I allowed to share?’ Marco’s voice was silky.
I thought Brian was going to refuse. But his sense of propriety, at least in front of me, was ascendant. (102)
Even in that simple exchange between the cousins, Scott manages to make Brian’s contempt for Marco glaringly apparent in a way befitting of the character. Even though he hates the thought of Marco moving in on Alex, Brian can’t help but be polite and well-mannered.
Brian’s persistence in pursuing Alex is one of the funniest aspects of this novel. In some ways he’s a means to an end for Alex, allowing her access to the creamery and family that will help her get her story. In others he provides the basis for Alex’s sassy character to come through.
Brian’s mood switched again, and he slid his hand down the sofa toward my thigh. His fingers stopped millimetres from my jeans. I wanted to scream—nothing fancy, just loud and shrill. Instead, I squeezed myself into the corner of the leather seat. (152)
Aside from the main mystery narrative, this non-relationship between Alex and Brian is one of the major driving forces of the novel and really does make for some hilarious moments between the pair.
Fromage is the kind of book that can simply be enjoyed. The characters—Alex especially—and narrative fizz with energy, even after the murders have been nicely wrapped up. The depictions of Perth and the South-West, and the people that inhabit these places, clearly come from someone with a knack for finding joy in the little things. The book is an intelligent, accomplished and impressive debut from Sally Scott, and hopefully the first of many.
Jen is a writer and journalist based in Perth. She lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland for ten years and has written for a number of UK newspapers and magazines including The List, The Guardian and The Scotsman. She previously worked for Scoop Events and in the marketing team at Fremantle Press, and is now a freelance writer and editor.