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Dave Wood's Book Report, Nov. 28, 2007

It's not just because I live near Maiden Rock, Wis., and have escaped from the Twin Cities, that I like the police stories of Mary Logue, the Twin Cities' poet and memoirist. It's because Mary Logue knows how to tell a story with great style and sympathy for her characters.

Logue and her partner Pete Hauptman spend their summers in Maiden Rock and from their proximity to the setting and the Mississippi, Logue has crafted several stories about a Pepin County deputy sheriff Claire Watkins, an escapee from the Twin Cities, and her adventures in the little town and its distinctive brand of river people.

Among them are "Blood Country," "Dark Coulee," "Glare Ice," "Bone Harvest" and "Poison Heart."

Now she's out with a new one, simply titled "Maiden Rock" (Bleak House Books, $24.95) and it's a page turner with a contemporary message.

It's Halloween and on the following day the dead body of a high school girl is found at the foot of Maiden Rock. But it wasn't the same fate the Indian maiden of legend suffered at the same locale. Traces of methadone are found in her blood. Was it murder or a meth-induced accident?

It's Claire Watkins' job to find out and the job is made more difficult by the presence of Watkins' teenage daughter, an acquaintance of the dead girl.

Methadone manufacture and use is a big problem in rural Wisconsin and Logue does a marvelous job in fleshing out the characters affected by it.

The holiday season is approaching and what better gift for a loved one than a cookbook or a book about cooking. One of each is staring at me from my desk. Cookbook publishing has provided one of the big booms over the past 50 years in an otherwise moribund business. Before that there were very few cookbooks.

There was Fanny Farmer's famous tome. There was the loose-leafed Pillsbury, but not much else.

My mother loved to cook and she had neither of the above. What she had was a homemade cookbook with handwritten recipes entered into a spiral notebook, with an occasional recipe from a newspaper clipped and glued in.

That all changed after World War II. One of the movers and shakers in that area of the publishing world was Judith Jones, a Random House editor who played midwife to Julia Child and the revolutionary bestseller "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

Jones's new book, "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food" (Knopf, $24.95), is her memoir about life among the chefs, her own place in the kitchen and the publishing industry itself.

And she even includes recipes to serve just one, including James Beard's Swordfish-Olive Pasta, Lidia Bastianich's Gratinate of Cutlet with Eggplant and Zucchini Slices and Jacques Pepin's Skillet Duck Legs with Parsnips.

If you're looking for more recipes and less memoir, try another Knopf offering by Susan Spicer of New Orleans. A few years back a bunch of friends from River Falls, Wis., attended a convention in New Orleans. I was not a big fan of the city (smelly) or its cuisine (overrated, in my book). But one of our number who knew the city booked us into a restaurant that was not as famous as Antoine's, Commander's Palace, etc.

At least not then it wasn't. Our friend had booked a dozen of us into a place called Bayona, owned by chef Susan Spicer. We had a marvelous meal, full of imaginative dishes that weren't all cajuned-up.

My favorite hors d'oeuvre was a plump oyster perched on a bed of cheesy grits. Delish! I was so impressed that I introduced myself to Susan Spicer and wondered if my wife and I could come back on the following day.

She replied that they were booked up for weeks in advance. I told her I was a restaurant critic in River Falls (I didn't tell her its population) and she squeezed us in the following night. Delish again.

Now she's out with her first cookbook, a big one, entitled "Crescent City Cooking," ($35), a compendium of her own recipes, recipes by her assistants. They look really interesting and do-able.

There's only one disappointment: No plump oyster on a bed of cheesy grits. Maybe her next book will have it, for most certainly there will be a next book.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.