by Kathleen Costa
& Daisy Bateman
This week we have a review of A Dismal Harvest, the latest Marketplace Mystery by Daisy Bateman, along with a fun guest post by Daisy about Secret Compartments in Mystery Fiction. 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.
A Dismal Harvest: A Marketplace Mystery by Daisy Bateman
Review by Kathleen Costa
When one door closes, another opens… — Alexander Graham Bell
One door closed on thirty-something Claudia Simcoe, a computer programmer in San Francisco, who found herself unemployed with a disgruntled boyfriend. She could control her employment problem with another job, eventually, but solving the boyfriend issue would require some sacrifice. Another door opened when she found a buyer for the house she owned, but shared with the boyfriend, then packed up and headed north, telling the ex that he’d have to negotiate his continued residence with the new owners. Did I hear a mic drop?
San Elmo Bay is a small community on the Sonoma coast, a place Claudia had visited frequently as a child, and a great spot to rest and devise a plan for the future. [Cue the creak of a door] She sees a “For Sale” sign on an empty property once destined to be a place where independent businesses could rent space to sell their locally-sourced and artisanal products. That project failed due to money issues, but Claudia sees an marvelous opportunity to continue the original vision “under new management.” The enterprise has been well received by visitors and residents alike with a nice variety of vendors from farm-direct produce, cured meats, and artisanal cheeses to uniquely-flavored pierogis and empanadas, not just pickled pickles, and after a tragic loss of one vendor, Claudia added a local beekeeper’s shop, In the Honey, to the marketplace offerings. Open for business!
A Dismal Harvest Earns 5/5 Secret Cupboards…Engaging & Clever!
The marketplace is the destination for many of San Elmo’s big wigs who are attending a fundraiser to support the town’s library. The vendors have set up sample stations and are prepared for Q&As. Brewmeister Nathan Rodgers, Claudia’s new “friend,” has created a few unique flavors sourced from local fruits for a brew station. Budding caterer, Betty Tyler, will be serving a gourmet “harvest” meal highlighting many of the vendors’ popular products. The evening was hectic, crowded, a bit noisy, but a big success! While cleaning up, a young employee approaches Claudia, “I think you need to come and see this.” Everyone gawked at a damaged wood-paneled wall that revealed a secret prohibition-era cupboard. Claudia had made some serious upgrades to her security measures, due to an issue in August, and when she reviewed the video feed, she discovers the who is local lawyer Clark Gowan and the what is a legal sized envelope, but the why means a trip to the man’s office. The next morning Claudia finds the office door of Gowan and Finley unlocked and Gowan is dead in his office shot by one of his own vintage guns. When the law partner arrives, finding Claudia in the office, a tussle ensures and sends one into the bushes. It’s a relief to Claudia that there’s a new police chief, Elena Weaver, diligent and accommodating, and that she’s not considered a person of interest, but again a mystery and a murder is somehow connected to her marketplace, her friend is suspected of murder, and the FBI show up. It’s again necessary for a bit of nosying about.
Brilliant! Daisy Bateman’s second book in her Marketplace Mystery series is a must read! I read book one, Murder Goes to Market, first, and although there’s enough background references to keep newbies engaged starting here, I recommend starting at the beginning…it makes for a complete experience with an introduction to characters and providing an understanding of motivations. Daisy reveals the crime early (the way I like it) putting the official and unofficial investigation as the central element, and the victim has a connection to our heroine; he is the lawyer who helped Claudia finalize the sale of the marketplace property, but the secret cupboard was never disclosed in a contract that seemed to be missing a page. The clues are gathered through realistic means—conversations, visiting possible insiders, searching the internet—discovering many with serious complaints about the victim’s dubious business ethics. Add Claudia’s fears the sale of the marketplace might be effected, engaging twist with issues of possible identity theft, intriguing questions about the item stolen from Claudia’s place, frogs, geese, a unique restaurant, and a cool cliffhanger discovery for a “couldn’t put it down” experience. Claudia is still a favorite character as she continues to fine tune her new relationship with Teddy, the German shepherd that made herself at home, and navigating an “Are we dating?” relationship with Nathan is somewhat awkward, but in both cases, there is hope. A well-developed story with great characters, and an “I didn’t see that coming!” ending…loved it!
Although Daisy Bateman’s first book in the series, Murder Goes to Market, was reviewed HERE in the 11/21/20 KRL issue by contributor Cynthia Chow, I was provided a bonus copy of the book and wanted to add my insights. It is a must read!
Murder Goes to Market Earns 5/5 Jars of Pickles…Clever & Engaging!
Rules are rules, especially when it’s a vendor contract scrutinized by a lawyer and signed by parties of the first and second part. Claudia received an unmarked, hand-delivered Manila envelope and was shocked by the contents insinuating that vendor Lori Roth’s advertising her wares as “Handmade Creations” is fake. It seems she’s purchased them from a wholesale distributor. When confronted by the information, she gets defensive, but then pleads to be able to stay for awhile longer, agreeing to drop the “handmade” claim and slash her prices, but no deal. Lori must vacate the premises. The next morning, however, Claudia spies Lori’s car in the lot, and finds her dead body in the gourmet cheese stall. By itself, this is devastating, but for Claudia the hostility by the police chief and his assertions Claudia had motive for murder causes the most concern necessitating her own investigation. She may feel she’s good at puzzles, having solved a few when she was young, and a murder investigation is the ultimate puzzle, but is she out of her depth?
Daisy Bateman released this first book in her Marketplace Mystery series in June, 2020, and in preparing to read book two, I read this book first. I immediately became a big fan, and for cozy and mystery fans alike, this is well-worth a read! The crime occurs early, my preference, making the investigation the main feature. The mystery challenged Claudia’s efforts to clear her name and reopen her business, incorporated her skills with technology, and escalated hostility with the police chief. She struggles with many questions without easy answers and a victim no one really knew, and has difficulty explaining more evidence that points to her involvement. The victim’s background slowly revealed issues with her last job, a religious cult and its leader recently released from jail, an ex-husband, a nosy neighbor, and a photo and curious notation in a date book leads to a shocking, “couldn’t put it down” conclusion. Claudia is a strong female lead with realistic challenges in her personal life, finds herself adopted by an abandoned dog, and shunned by a pair of territorial geese, yet she has many endearing friends, with their own backstory, on whom she can rely. Throughout the story, we are introduced to a diverse set of characters and relationships that will evolve in the series, and along with a descriptive writing style, some comic relief, and a closer look at some of the vendor’s wares (pickled kelp?) this is a must read book!
Be a Big Daisy Bateman Fan!
Daisy Bateman penned the Lefty-nominated Marketplace Mysteries series set in the picturesque Northern California coast. She, herself, is a lover of mystery, cheese enthusiast, world-renowned expert in Why You Should Buy That, and works in biotech field. “She mostly tweets, and occasionally writes a newsletter, offering plot ideas and cheese recommendations.”
Secret Compartments in Mystery Fiction: A Selected List
By Daisy Bateman
This article contains mild spoilers for books published 50-130 years ago.
Secret compartments, like quicksand, are one of the things that popular culture teaches us to expect we will encounter far more often than we do. But they draw us in (the compartments, not the quicksand, unless you’re very unlucky), promising mysteries hidden in the most prosaic of places. It’s one of my personal favorite tropes—when I set out to write the second book in my Marketplace Mysteries series, one of the only things I knew about the plot was that there was going to be a compartment hidden in the walls of the old barn that has been converted into an artisan foods market. But, of course, in making that choice I was building on the work of countless other authors who came before me. Here, then, are a few of my favorite secret compartments from crime fiction books of the past.
A Scandal in Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle
This is the story that’s most remembered for introducing The Woman, Irene Adler, the only member of the opposite sex to ever draw the admiration of the great detective, as much for her role as a capable antagonist as her beauty and charm. And, like any good femme fatale, she had plenty of secrets of her own, and a place to store them.
Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
There are not one but two secret compartments in this, the seventh of Christie’s books starring Hercule Poirot. One, in the walls of the titular building, is less important to the plot than it is to the theme, emphasizing as it does that the house itself is playing an active role in the central mystery. The other, or rather others, are in a much more unusual place, and to name them would give far too much away.
Look to the Lady by Margery Allingham
Not just a secret compartment, but an entire secret room is hidden in the Gyrth family estate, allegedly containing both a chalice of great value and a secret horror that protects it. The book centers around the one day in a generation when the room is made accessible, and needless to say, the event draws a great deal of attention, including from some unsavory quarters. Fortunately, the upper-class sleuth, known by his nom-de-snoop of Albert Campion, has been called to the scene and secrets, and the criminals who chase them, are his specialty.
The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman
How do you smuggle eight forged passports into communist Bulgaria? If you’re Emily Pollifax, widow and retiree turned CIA agent, you hide them in your outrageously oversized, flower-bedecked hat. Because, while Poe may have taught us that the best place to hide something is in plain sight, there is an argument to be made that on the head of a pleasant, elderly woman is even better.
To enter to win a copy of A Dismal Harvest, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “dismal,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 26, 2022. U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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Daisy Bateman is the author of the Marketplace Mysteries series, in which the owner of an artisan foods marketplace on the Sonoma Coast solves murders and stops for the occasional snack. Daisy is a mystery lover, cheese enthusiast, and world-renowned expert in Why You Should Buy That. In what passes for normal life, she works in biotech and lives in Alameda, California, with her husband and a labradoodle on a mission to chew the world into tiny pieces.
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