Maria Doyle Kennedy first made her mark in Irish film classics like "The Commitments" and "The General" and since then she's enjoyed one of the most distinguished careers in Irish show business.

This week she's back with her exciting new Acorn TV thriller series "Recipes for Love and Murder."

Looking for a detective series that serves up chills and thrills but won't make you feel like death in the process? If your answer is yes let me recommend "Recipes for Love and Murder."

The new detective series is that rare thing, a detective series that entertains rather than depresses. First, there's the epic setting in post-Apartheid South Africa, where colonial tensions and traditions have carried over in the complicated ways you might imagine (and many you won't).

All of that gorgeous scenery hides secrets that often threaten to bubble up to the surface and the show pulls no punches about the country's history and its costs.

In the show, Doyle Kennedy, 57, plays the Scottish recipe and advice columnist (combining cooking and sleuthing) Tannie Maria, who solves murder mysteries in between penning her series of successful cookbooks.

“She's landed in South Africa after inheriting a house from her aunt,” Doyle Kennedy tells IrishCentral. “She has real depth. She's come to South Africa in her 50's. It's not a life change based on a whim, it's not some great big midlife adventure.”

“I think it's kind of clear early on that well as moving to somewhere new she is running away from somewhere too. She definitely has some trauma, she carries some scars from her past, and we will slowly get to learn more about that throughout the series.”

So far, so believable. What we learn is that although Tannie Maria is kind and considerate in her interactions with the people of the town, she keeps herself to herself to avoid comments and commitments.

The first episode of "Recipes for Love and Murder" begins dramatically when a woman who wrote to her about the threats made by her abusive husband turns up dead.

This sets Tannie Maria and her journalist colleague Jessie (played by Kylie Fisher) on a collision course with their small South African town, where their unwelcome snooping irritates the local police detective Khaya (Tony Kgoroge) who fears that their unorthodox methods will stir up trouble. But what detective Khya doesn't know is that he's not dealing with some would-be detective, Tannie Maria is the real deal. 

“Like a lot of women Tannie Maria manages her life by repressing a lot of her emotions. She is very happy and friendly in her interactions with others and at her job with her colleagues,” Doyle Kennedy continues. 

“But when she leaves work she very much lives on her own. She doesn't invite anybody into her personal space. And in fact, they only begin to come into that space when she decides she needs to honor the dead letter writer's memory and get involved in solving her murder.”

Maria Doyle Kennedy as a quirky sleuth in Recipes for Love and Murder on Acorn TV

Maria Doyle Kennedy as a quirky sleuth in Recipes for Love and Murder on Acorn TV

You can't keep a brutal killing at arm's length, the show reminds us. At some point, privacy is exchanged for probing questions and her hermit's life is lost. But that's all part of her own healing journey.

For an Irish viewer, any show set in post-Apartheid South Africa is fascinating in itself. Recipes for Love and Murder doesn't pull its punches about the post-colonial storylines. All the classic markers are there: there's alcoholism and a fair bit of hopelessness on one side of the community and prosperity on the other, there's anger at the long shadow that Apartheid cast on the nation's development. In fact, there are some stark parallels that speak to any Irish viewer watching.

“Absolutely,” agrees Doyle Kennedy. “That was just one of the things that made me want to do the show. The writing is the reason I made a leap of faith and moved my family halfway across the world during a pandemic. I just thought the scripts are very funny, that the show is very tender but not trivial. It doesn't avoid the big questions although it's set in a very small, pretty town, full of lovely people.”

The Tannie Maria books writer Sally Andrew writes about the oddballs that live there and the dark things that can happen in small communities. “Community is a fantastic force but it can also be a way of keeping secrets that's not healthy,” says Doyle Kennedy. “And she isn't afraid of it and that just made me just love her so much.”

Recipes for Love and Murder

Recipes for Love and Murder

One in five South African women, that's the stats for domestic violence in South Africa, Doyle Kennedy adds. “Although the Recipes for Love and Murder scriptwriter Karen Jeynes is writing a tender show, it was still really an important issue for her to write about,” she says.

But what really sold Doyle Kennedy on the new show was that although it's a murder mystery it's not enormously violent or verging on pornographic, which so many scripts she was reading beforehand were.

“They were about serial killers and all the incredibly complicated ways they disposed of women. And this show is not about that. I mean, there is a little bit of murder but I think of it as a sort of Miss Marple meets Julia Child's kind of thing. Murder and a lot of really gorgeous food, and what could be better than that? It's also about a community kind of discovering each other and figuring out things together and coming together.”

Doyle is also famous for other monster hit shows like "Outlander" and "The Wheel Of Time," both of which have large and obsessive fan bases. Can she tell me anything about her roles and possible returns in the new seasons?

“If I tell you I'd have to kill you. I mean, in "Wheel of Time" I don't know if my character will be going back to that again. I was asked to come along and be part of that first series, although then of course they mysteriously did say you don't die and we may circle back to the Way of the Leaf and the traveling people...”

Make of that what you will, folks. As for potential returns to Outlander, she's even more tight-lipped. “That was a great experience. I had no idea really about the Outlander fandom or how enormously popular or successful that it was and how devoted the fans are to it.” 

Maria Doyle Kennedy as Tannie Maria in Recipes for Love and Murder

Maria Doyle Kennedy as Tannie Maria in Recipes for Love and Murder

Right now Doyle Kennedy is taking a well-deserved break with her family in Cadiz, Spain right before returning to Dublin to film "Kin 2," the second season of the hit Irish crime drama. But unlike her onscreen character in Recipes for Love and Murder, she doesn't have much time to cook on this vacation

“I'm not great at baking,” she confesses with a laugh. “I am inspired by some of the things that I had to make as Tannie Maria so I might just start getting a bit more serious in real life. My children thought I'd get loads of new cooking tips from filming it all. They really thought they be coming back to a five-star fabulous cooking experience every night. But on set and I barely had time to boil an egg. So they feel a bit cheated. I'll get on the baking soon!”

"Recipes for Love and Murder" is now showing on Acorn TV.