Tour | Add Cyanide to Taste

Add Cyanide to Taste

A sinister cook, a cursed cake, and a casual dinner between neighbours that goes murderouslywrong.

This debut collection of dark tales and recipes by Karmen Špiljak ascends the jagged culinary heights you’ve hungered to explore but could never find on a map. As the characters swoon over every unforgettable mouthful, and sometimes bite off more than they can chew, you’ll find yourself asking: What would I be willing to pay for the meal of a lifetime?

If feasting on culinary noir leaves you hungry, extend your pleasure by preparing the dishes featured in the stories. All recipes provided are cyanide-free.

Karmen Špiljak writes across different genres. Her short fiction has been awarded and anthologised.

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Author Bio –

Karmen Špiljak is a Slovenian-Belgian writer with a taste for dark and twisty tales.

Her short fiction has been awarded and anthologised. Her as yet unpublished thriller was shortlisted and received an honourable mention on ‘The Black Spring Crime Fiction Prize 2020’. She writes across different genres, from suspense to horror and science fiction.

She currently lives in Brazil with her husband and two cats.

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The excerpt is the beginning of a short story, ‘My Friend Betty’, a part of the collection of culinary noir, ‘Add Cyanide to Taste’.

My Friend Betty

From afar, the house drooped like a willow tree but the surrounding landscape made up for it. The light green grass glowed like an emerald and the daisy blossoms bobbed in the wind. Fiona squinted to take it all in.

‘Look, Mummy. Trees!’

Before Fiona could react, her daughter ran towards the orchard, clutching onto her plush bunny.

‘Not so fast, Mandy!’

It was a half-hearted warning: Mandy must have felt it, for she didn’t stop. There was only a meadow, trees and the house next door. It’d be a change from the city and their small flat in the centre. It wouldn’t be the only change.

After Fiona had caught up with her daughter, they lay down in the grass and inhaled the moist, sweet air. The deep green leaves on the trees glistened with dew and the sky was blue and open.

When they returned to the house, Fiona glanced at the overgrown yard, lost in shrubbery and thorns. She’d have to tear it all out, plant a few things and shape the hedges. By summer, the house would become an enchanted villa. She’d sell it for double what she’d paid.

It was the inside she worried about. Once she removed all the clutter, the house would look decent enough but a fresh lick of paint wouldn’t fix the sombre atmosphere. There were spaces in the house that the light couldn’t reach. The living room was gloomy and didn’t warm up, no matter how often Fiona opened the windows.

Then, there was the kitchen. Despite all the cleaning, the space looked tarnished, like an old piece of jewellery, unloved and forgotten. It must have been why the price had been so low.

‘Look, Mummy! This tree is bigger than I am!’

Mandy wrapped her hands around an old oak, dancing around it.

‘Careful, Mandy. You’ll get a splinter.’

Mandy went on for a while, then sat down.

‘Why isn’t Daddy here?’ she asked.

Fiona swallowed the air.

‘You know why, pumpkin.’

‘Because he’s somewhere else?’

Suddenly, Mandy’s wide eyes seemed too much. Too blue, too inquisitive, too much like Rob’s.

‘We talked about this, remember?’ Fiona said.

‘Because he’s in heaven now?’

‘That’s right, pumpkin.’

Fiona dropped her gaze and took Mandy’s hand. Despite her effort to push back the salt in her throat, a teardrop slid down her cheek. She wiped it with her sleeve.

‘Don’t be sad, Mummy. He might come back.’

Fiona put on her stern face. She wouldn’t cry. Not again, not here. She thought about saying something about the bunny when a shadow cut through the light. When Fiona turned, she saw two figures coming closer: a tall one and a small one. Fiona shielded her eyes. They were holding hands. A woman and a child. The woman was smiling.

‘I’m sorry,’ the woman said.

She looked younger than Fiona and carried a plastic bag that smelled of peppers.

‘I wanted to come a bit later, but Ben couldn’t wait to meet the new neighbours. Excuse him. It’s been a long time since anyone else lived here.’

‘That’s alright,’ Fiona said. ‘We’re still unpacking, so I hope you don’t mind the mess.’

It was a lie, but she couldn’t tell the truth either. Unpacking would mean she’d have to open the boxes and face the leftovers of her life. She’d have to unpack Rob’s stuff, drag out things she’d tried so hard to shut away. She’d finally come to the stage where she didn’t cry every day.

The woman stretched out her hand. ‘I’m Meg. We live over there.’

The house at the other end of the orchard was small and cute and looked like a house Fiona would buy, if it wasn’t that far out.

She shook Meg’s hand. ‘Fiona. And this is my…’

Mandy didn’t wait to be introduced. She’d dragged the boy and her bunny to the oak and sat down. Fiona forgot what she wanted to say. There were fewer dangers here than in the city. Besides, the boy probably knew the yard better than they did.

She caught Meg’s expectant gaze.

‘I’m sorry, it’s just still all…’

Scary? Lonely?

‘New,’ Fiona said. ‘We’re used to the city.’

Fiona gestured at the grey metal chairs that had once been white and they say down.

‘I shouldn’t forget these.’ Meg put the plastic bag on the table. ‘They’re for you. Fresh peppers and tomatoes from our garden.’

‘Thank you,’ Fiona said. ‘That’s very kind.’

‘Ben and I can only eat so much. Especially now he’s in this phase of eating only specific colours. Red and green are alright, but not yellow.’

Fiona laughed.

‘How old is he?’


‘Mandy’s four.’

They turned to the kids, who were deep into a role-play.

‘Life’s easy for them, hey?’ Meg said.

‘I almost forgot that it can be.’

Fiona hadn’t meant to blurt this out, not in front of a complete stranger. Talking to strangers was nice, though. There was no pity in their eyes. Fiona’s friends dispensed it like medicine. It made everything taste bitter.

Meg must have sensed something in Fiona’s voice, for she leaned forwards and smiled at her. ‘We’re planning a barbecue this weekend. Nothing fancy, some grilled vegetables, chicken, cookies, if Ben doesn’t eat them all before then. We’d love it if you and Mandy could join.’

Fiona was about to reply when Mandy shouted from the distance.

‘Mummy! Ben’s got a pirate ship. Can I play at his house?’

They laughed.

‘I suppose that’s a yes,’ Fiona said.

‘I need to check on my bread, anyway.’ Meg waved to Ben but he pretended not to notice.

‘I could bring him over, if you like. Not sure Mandy will let him go. She’s quite stubborn.’

Fiona stopped herself from saying, ‘Like her dad’.

‘Oh, would you mind?’

‘Not at all.’

‘I’m happy to return the favour,’ Meg said. ‘If there’s anything I can do to help…’

As Meg turned towards the house, a shadow fell on her face. It occurred to Fiona that if Meg had finished the thought, she wouldn’t have made an offer. She’d have given a warning.


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