Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Woman With A Gun" by Phillip Margolin, Served with a Healthier Blackened Salmon Caesar Salad

Phillip Margolin's Gone But Not Forgotten was one of the first legal thrillers that I picked up many moons ago, and his early slew of novels helped shape my love for the genre. I lost track of his books for several years so when I saw his latest novel, Woman With A Gun, on a list of upcoming TLC Book Tours, I quickly jumped to be a spot on the winter tour. Today I bring you my review of the novel along with a healthier Blackened Salmon Caesar Salad inspired by the book, and a recipe for Alton Brown's 'No Guilt Caesar Dressing.'

Publisher's Blurb:

This compelling thriller, from New York Times bestseller Phillip Margolin, centers on an intriguing photograph that may contain long-hidden answers to the mystery of a millionaire’s murder.

At a retrospective on the work of acclaimed photographer Kathy Moran, aspiring novelist Stacey Kim is fascinated by the exhibition’s centerpiece: the famous Woman with a Gun, which launched the artist’s career. Shot from behind, the enigmatic black-and-white image depicts a woman in a wedding dress standing on the shore at night, facing the sea. But this is no serene, romantic portrait. In her right hand, which is hidden behind her back, she holds a six-shooter.

The picture captures Stacey’s imagination and raises a host of compelling questions: Who is this woman? Is this a photograph of her on her wedding day? Does she plan to kill herself or someone else? Obsessed with finding answers, she soon discovers the identity of the woman: a suspect in a ten-year-old murder investigation. Convinced that proof of the woman’s guilt, or innocence, is somehow connected to the photograph, Stacey embarks on a relentless investigation.

Drawn deeper into the case, Stacey finds that everyone involved has a different opinion of the woman’s culpability. But the one person who may know the whole story—Kathy Moran—isn’t talking. Stacey must find a way to get to the reclusive photographer, and get her to talk, or the truth about what happened that day will stay forever hidden in the shadows.

Hardcover: 304 pages Publisher: Harper (December 2, 2014)

One of the things I like best about Phillip Margolin's books are their settings in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest--my old stomping grounds. Woman With a Gun is primarily set in the fictional town of Palisades Heights on the Oregon coast. Although the town doesn't exist, Margolin captures the feel of the beach towns there. The book consists of three different stories spanning fifteen years that intersect around the happening involving the intriguing photograph depicted on the novel's cover. The book starts in 2015, when aspiring novelist Stacy Kim sees it in a gallery. We then go back to a murder that happened the night the picture was taken in 2005. The photographer (Kathy Moran) turns out to have a past that involved Jack Booth, the District Attorney assisting the small town with the murder investigation and so we travel back to 2000 to hear their story and then back again towards the present. The story is primarily seen from the points of view of Stacy and Jack. Both are likable characters although I got a tad frustrated with Jack and wanted him to stop thinking with his little head so much when it came to the case. :-)  
Woman With a Gun isn't Margolin's darkest or most action-packed book, it builds a quieter suspense--not to say that it was slow or boring but Margolin spends his time setting up the story and building the characters.  I guessed correctly on the 'whodunnit' of the novel but wasn't sure of the reasons behind the murder that unfolded with the story. I also found it interesting that the novel was inspired by an actual photograph that Margolin came across while at a writer's conference in Georgia--in the bathroom of the restaurant where he was eating breakfast. Margolin, intrigued by the picture and the potential story it inspired, purchased the photograph and wrote the book. Woman With a Gun is not my favorite of Margolin's books (that's a tie between Gone But Not Forgotten and Heartstone) but it is well worth the read, especially if you are a fan, and/or you like character-driven mystery and suspense novels.

Author Notes: Phillip Margolin has written eighteen novels, many of them New York Times bestsellers, including the recent Worthy Brown’s Daughter, Sleight of Hand, and the Washington Trilogy. Each displays a unique, compelling insider’s view of criminal behavior, which comes from his long background as a criminal defense attorney who has handled thirty murder cases. Winner of the Distinguished Northwest Writer Award, he lives in Portland, Oregon.
Find out more about Phillip at his website, and connect with him on Facebook.

There is not a strong food presence in the book--beyond the locally 'famous' chowder of the Seafarer bar and restaurant or their also delicious oyster stew and fish and chips. Most of the meals were eaten out and what was eaten wasn't mentioned. There were a few salads--including the take-out chicken Caesar that Stacey Kim picks up and eats in her New York apartment. I love a good Caesar but don't like the excess sodium, fat and calories in most Caesar dressings and the lack of nutrients in the salad. 

I decided to make a more nutritious Caesar salad using a recipe from Alton Brown for a "No Guilt Caesar Dressing" and making some other swaps--adding healthy fat with avocado, extra nutrients with beets, and swapping out the usual romaine for baby kale and the croutons for toasted, chopped hazelnuts. The hazelnuts are a nod to the Pacific Northwest and the Oregon setting of the book, as is the salmon I used as my protein instead of chicken. Blacked salmon Caesar salads are pretty ubiquitous on casual restaurant menus in the Pacific Northwest and I happened to have some sale Coho salmon filets in my freezer. For my blackened salmon, I adapted this recipe from Alex Guarnaschelli--reducing the cayenne slightly and adding in some Old Bay seasoning with the smoky paprika. The result, a colorful dinner that is healthier than your average Caesar and even more tasty.

No Guilt Caesar Dressing Recipe 
From Alton Brown via Food Network
(Makes About 1 Cup)

2 oz cubed Parmesan
2 cloves garlic (I added an extra clove)
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 cup silken soft tofu
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (I reduced to 1 Tbsp)

Starting on the lowest speed, chop the cheese cubes in the blender jar until it settles into the bottom of the jar, gradually increasing the speed. Add the garlic down the chute and chop until minced.

Next, add the mustard, white wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and tofu to the blender and blend until smooth. While the blender is running, drizzle olive oil down the middle of the vortex that has formed. Add more or less of the olive oil and blend until it reaches salad dressing consistency.

Nutritional Info for Recipe as Written: Per Serving: (2 Tbsp per serving); Calories 85; Total Fat 6 grams; Saturated Fat 2 grams; Protein 4 grams; Total Carbohydrate 2 grams; Sugar: 1 gram; Fiber 0 grams; Cholesterol 6 milligrams; Sodium 198 milligrams

Notes/Results: A good mix of flavors and textures in a healthy and satisfying salad. The dressing from Alton Brown is an easy-to-make winner--thick and creamy with good Caesar flavor. Since I like my Caesar garlicky, I added an extra clove.  I also found that I only needed about 1 tablespoon olive oil to get the consistency I wanted and that helps reduce the fat even more. I will definitely make it again. The salmon turned out moist and had a nice smoky heat and the roasted hazelnuts gave texture that I prefer to croutons. Besides adding color, the chunks of beet and avocado add extra nutrients and taste great. Easy and quick to get to the table, I will make this combination again. 

Note: A review copy of "Woman With A Gun" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of the Book Tour and what other reviewer thought about the book here.

1 comment:

  1. The photo was in the BATHROOM?! That's ... an interesting location. LOL

    I'm glad you enjoyed this book. Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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