Murder Served Neat By Michelle Hillen Klump: Review/Giveaway/Interview

Mar 11, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Cynthia Chow

This week we have a review of another fun food mystery, Murder Served Neat, along with an interesting interview with the author Michelle Hillen Klump. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.

Murder Served Neat: A Cocktails and Catering Mystery by Michelle Hillen Klump
Review by Cynthia Chow

After breaking an engagement and losing her job as a Houston reporter, Samantha Warren is now fully embracing her new careers as a caterer and mixologist. For the Corpus Crispi town’s first Highlands’ Independence Day festival, Sam is serving up her specialty red, white, and blue Sparkler drinks to many of the German Lodge’s high society members. The social club dedicated to celebrating and preserving the Texans German heritage is in the midst of a battle to build a tennis club that might save the Lodge, but also encroaches on their grounds. The loudest proponent for the Tennis Club Committee is their head Angela Clawson, who gets into a very public confrontation with Patty Davis, Sam’s mother’s best friend. When Angela’s body is found at the bottom of the tennis stadium construction site, it doesn’t take much of a leap for police to identify Patty as the main suspect, especially when incriminating evidence is found pointing towards her as the killer.

Although she has already solved one murder since her return home, it’s not Sam but her mother who encourages a non-official investigation into the case. It turns out that Angela was estranged from her sister, while her daughter, son, and daughter-in-law are battling over money and their inheritance. Sam’s mother being a librarian gives them the skills to research the history of the German Club and the surprisingly strong presence of Germans in Texas from before World War II. On the personal side, Sam is feeling conflicted over the arrival of Patty’s son Martin, who through miscommunication and heartbreak have had them at odds since college. While it seems obvious to everyone but Sam that Martin has very strong feelings about her, she is much more interested in a certain law enforcement officer. When not navigating social club politics or awkwardly catering Angela’s funeral, Sam and her mother are able to taste and explore Texas’s unique fusion cuisines.

This second in the series excels highlighting their Texas town’s diverse cultures, from Asian-Mexican tacos to American-German treats. Sam and her mother have a refreshingly close and supportive relationship, and even with the few bumps along the way their admiration for one another is obvious and so inspiring. Sam’s romantic life plays out in the background of the story, and fortunately Sam’s long-held resentment towards Martin is not drawn out and instead is resolved quickly through actual mature conversations. Cozy mystery fans will revel in the mouth-watering descriptions of Sam’s cooking and restaurant experiences, which break apart stereotypes of what might be considered to be “real” Texas food. Sam and her friends are relatable and very easy to like, especially when they display human flaws and emotions. This is an enjoyable follow-up to the debut of the series, and readers will look forward to reuniting with Sam and her tasty creations.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Interview with Michelle Hillen Klump:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Michelle: I’m a career journalist, so I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years. In terms of fiction writing, I’ve probably been dabbling in it just as long, but I didn’t really start to get serious about it until around 10 years ago when I started writing short stories and progressed to a novel.

KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?

Michelle: My first novel was called A Dash of Death. It’s a cozy mystery that came out in February 2021. The novel is set in Houston, Texas, and features a former newspaper reporter, turned craft cocktail maker who gets mixed up in a murder investigation while serving cocktails at a historic association home tour. She’s forced to get involved or face reputational harm, as the victim appears to have been poisoned with one of her cocktails.

Michelle Hillen Klump

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?

Michelle: I have always written mysteries/suspense, with the exception of a brief foray into picture book writing when my daughter was very young.

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?

Michelle: I love cozy mysteries, but I often find myself more drawn to city-based cozies, which are rarer. I live in Houston, Texas, and love my adopted city, so I knew I wanted to highlight some of my favorite parts of the city in my books. In terms of my main character, Samantha, I borrowed heavily from my own background as a former newspaper reporter, but I also gave her some of the characteristics I wish were true about myself, such as her wizardry at making interesting cocktail bitters, syrups and other ingredients!

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?

Michelle: I write mostly to entertain, but I also strive to create a place where people will want to revisit – a place where readers can forget about everyday life for a while and just get absorbed in solving a mystery.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?

Michelle: I have a full-time job, and I’m the mom to a nine-year-old, so I have to fit in the work whenever I can, which is mostly after my daughter goes to bed.

KRL: What is your ideal time to write?

Michelle: My ideal time to write is at night, when all is quiet, and I can relax on my couch with my laptop.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Michelle: For my first book, I did not outline at all. I really just flew by the seat of my pants. Of course, that resulted in me writing myself into a corner more times than I care to admit. For my second book, I had to turn in a synopsis to my editor before I even began writing, so that did offer at least a bare bones outline, which was helpful.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Michelle: I toiled for years trying to get some of my short stories published. That felt like an incredibly difficult process, mostly because of the time it usually takes for editors to get back to you with an acceptance. I lucked out when I turned to novel writing. The agent I signed with was one of the first five that I queried. I worked with her for a bit to get the book in decent shape to submit to publishers, and I lucked out again finding a receptive editor at Crooked Lane.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Michelle: This is more of a sad story than anything else. I won’t name names, because it was just an unfortunate mistake, but I had arranged a signing at a bookstore several hours away from my home, and when I arrived, they had forgotten to order my books, so there were no books to sign. It was awful. I even had some family from out of town come in to see me, along with a few strangers who had heard about the event and had specifically come to see me. I ended up sitting and talking with them for a bit, but the whole experience was pretty demoralizing.

KRL: Oh wow that’s hard. What are your future writing goals?

Michelle: I plan to keep writing. I’d like to try my hand at other genres in the mystery/suspense realm, apart from cozy mysteries, so I may try that next.

KRL: Who are your writing heroes?

Michelle: The writer who most influenced me was Laura Lippman. I first discovered her in an employee newsletter at a small, Central Texas newspaper where I first worked when I graduated from college. The article described her as a former reporter who used to work at the newspaper and talked about her latest book. As someone who had always wanted to write a book, I made a point to read her books. I love her Tess Monaghan stories. I went back through the newspaper archives and found that she had actually covered the same beat as me. Once I learned that, I decided that if someone else who had my exact same job could write mystery novels, maybe I could too.

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Michelle: Most of my research tends to be things like looking into how to make cocktail bitters or other ingredients or looking up the feasibility of some whacky plot idea I have, such as whether or not it is possible to find out who sent an anonymous email or is it possible to erase video captured by someone else’s Ring camera? The answers are, not really, and yes, if you have access to the app on their phone. I’ve always been slightly interested in writing a historical mystery, but the amount of research needed for that is really daunting.

KRL: What do you like to read?

Michelle: I read widely across all genres. I love anything in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre, but if it sounds interesting, I’ll read pretty much anything. I also really enjoy general fiction and literary fiction, and occasionally non-fiction books on interesting topics.

KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?

Michelle: My favorite recent TV show is Only Murders in the Building – it is so well done, and funny! Other than that, my husband and I like to watch Top Chef, while my daughter and I like to watch Nailed It. In terms of movies, I love all of the old film noir movies, but my favorite movie of all time is When Harry Met Sally.

KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Michelle: Allow yourself the freedom to write a really terrible first draft. It’s so much easier to fix a manuscript when there is something on the page!

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Michelle: I was a giant band geek and played percussion in the University of Texas’ Longhorn Basketball Band.

KRL: Do you have any pets?

Michelle: I have an adorable calico cat named Sadie, who likes to sit next to me while I write.

KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Michelle: Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself to readers. Thank you also to all of the readers out there who have given my books a chance!

KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook? Instagram?

Michelle: Website:

To enter to win a copy of Murder Served Neat, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “neat,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 18, 2023. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up last week.

You can use this link to purchase the book. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the Amazon link. You can also click here to purchase the book.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Loved your first book in series and how it introduced all the players that will continue to intertwine in each others lives and mysteries

  2. A Highlander Festival at a German Lodge? That’s very American! Count me in!

  3. Sounds interesting! Count me in!

    • This series is on my WTR list. Thanks for the chance.

  4. Love the librarian showing others how to
    do research. Sounds like a good read.
    thanks. txmlhl(at)yahoo(dot)com

  5. This sounds like a perfect cozy mystery! A Dash of Death seems interesting too. Also, thank you for the TV show recommendation! I was looking for a new show to binge-watch. 🙂

  6. This is on my TBR list. I really liked the first book in the series and I’m looking forward to reading “Murder Served Neat”.

  7. We have a winner!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.