by Sandra Murphy
To end out the month we have another fun group of mysteries from Penguin & Kensington-Bodice of Evidence by Nancy Parra, Bushel Full of Murder by Paige Shelton, Fat Cat Spreads Out by Janet Cantrell, Scam Chowder by Maya Corrigan, and Death By Coffee by Alex Erickson. Details on how to win copies of all 5 mysteries at the end of this post, along with a link to purchase the books.
Bodice of Evidence by Nancy Parra
Review by Sandra Murphy
Pepper Pomeroy’s new career is planning marriage proposals. Whether the bride and groom like to parachute, scuba dive, or live out their favorite movie, she’s the one to call. It’s still in the beginning stages but word is starting to spread.
The first proposal was for her sister, Felicity. Now it’s time for the wedding, if only they could find The Dress. So far, Mom, Pepper, and Felicity have been to three bridal salons and Felicity’s tried on seventy-five dresses. Before going on to appointment four, Pepper calls a time out for coffee and scones. Felicity is far from Bridezilla but is in the meltdown zone.
Mom is pushing for her to wear Grandma’s wedding gown. Thankfully, Mom’s gown has a huge wine stain on it because it’s too retro to even consider. Felicity knows the dress she wants—something not too poofy, not a slip dress, not anything that makes her look like a marshmallow, something different than all the other brides have but not too different. How hard can that be?
All three are refreshed and in a better frame of mind by the time they get to the last shop, although they are twenty minutes late. No one is in the shop, which is puzzling since they had an appointment. When they find Eva, the shop’s owner, in the alley with a knife in her chest, it’s apparent that murder trumps wedding any day of the week.
Detective Murphy is willing to listen to Pepper, having met her on a previous case. He draws the line at too much involvement though. Pepper’s sure she’s seen something that is a clue and is determined to follow it up. It’s a wonder she has time given the sky diving proposal, the movie theme proposal, and Toby, an eccentric new client—does he even know the woman he wants to marry? Add in picking out The Dress, moving to a new place in order to get away from her ex-boyfriend, and all the smooching she does with the new boyfriend, and Pepper’s schedule is packed full.
There are a number of suspects to choose from—Eva’s son who always needs money for weird business ventures, and Theresa who works at the shop, her boyfriend who always needs money but for what? Eva’s daughter, Vidalia, was out of the shop at the time of the murder—was that according to plan or by coincidence? Since the petty cash box is empty and a couple of pricey gowns are missing, it could have been a case of wrong place/wrong time.
Mom is over the top as mothers of the bride can be. Felicity is calmer than most brides, overwhelmed but not obnoxious about it. Gage, Pepper’s new boyfriend, looks like a keeper. My favorite is Toby, the new client. At the end of the book, he mentions he plans on sticking around. I hope that’s true. He’s as clueless about social skills as Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) but is willing to observe. As Pepper shows him the importance of romance, she learns a bit herself. It’s going to be fun to watch.
This is the second book in the series. Engaged in Murder was the first and reviewed for KRL. Parra also writes the Baker’s Treat mysteries (three) about a gluten-free bakery in the middle of wheat country.
Bushel Full of Murder by Paige Shelton
Review by Sandra Murphy
Bailey’s Farmers Market is hopping this summer. Becca is making jams and preserves as fast as she can and still sells out most days. To draw even more people to the market, five food trucks are set up for a two-week stint—tacos, hot dogs, wings, cupcakes, and noodle bowls. It looks to be an instant hit. Part of the agreement is that the food trucks buy as many of their ingredients as possible from the market to promote fresh, locally sourced food.
There’s another surprise for Becca when she sees a friend from Arizona, Harry Talking Trees. He’s law enforcement and is on the trail of a suspected thief. As good as it is to see Harry again, Becca’s in for a shock when he reveals that the alleged thief is the hot dog food truck vendor, none other than Becca’s cousin, Peyton.
Although Peyton is a favorite cousin, she’s young and, well, flighty, so it’s hard to keep up with her latest efforts, much less her location. No one knew about the food truck or how it was financed. Peyton didn’t let anyone know she was coming—she wanted it to be a surprise. That part worked!
Harry says she’s suspected of stealing a proprietary recipe from the restaurant where she worked, as well as $50,000. The restaurant manager went on vacation, and swears she told Peyton to deposit the take daily, but Peyton didn’t. When the manager took the huge deposit herself, she was attacked on the way and the money was stolen—she says by Peyton.
Peyton’s version is that the manager specifically told her to put the money in the safe instead of making daily deposits. As far as the recipe goes, there’s no way she could have stolen it—there is only one copy and it is under lock and key.
When Peyton quit her job, bought the food truck, and then decided to hit the road with the tour, it drew a lot of attention because it looked more like flight than a business plan. Becca hopes she can get Peyton to sit still long enough to explain things.
That plan is derailed when two men arrive at the market. One is the local banker, ready and willing to open accounts for the truckers while they’re in town. The other, Robert Ship, is from the license office. He says the trucks need local licensing as well. He’s also after two of the market vendors. One is in arrears (not) and the other believes he doesn’t need a license due to a loophole he found.
When Ship is found dead the next morning, his body is behind the bank. Too bad for Peyton that she had an appointment to be at the bank before it opened. It puts her on the spot and makes her a prime suspect. What’s worse is that the purloined recipe is in Ship’s hand when he’s found—yes, the original, only copy, the one Peyton says was still in Arizona.
Becca is sure Peyton is innocent. Harry isn’t. Becca’s boyfriend, also law enforcement, is trying to be unbiased. Peyton isn’t helping herself when she refuses to answer questions, and won’t explain where she got so much money. Then there’s her attempt to drive the food truck to somewhere she can catch a boat or flight to an undisclosed location—with Becca in the truck. Sometimes, you just want to smack Peyton!
This is number six in the series and each one is better than the last. Becca, her twin, Allison, and her family and parents are people who’d have you over for dinner five minutes after meeting you. Because of who and how they are, you’d go and have a great time. Just ask Harry Talking Trees. The market vendors are a mixed but tightly knit bunch, always ready to do a favor or help out. Hobbit, Becca’s dog, of course steals the show whenever she can. The relationship between Becca and Sam is moving along well too—little angst about repeating past mistakes and more emphasis on enjoying the now.
There are darn good recipes included—the lemoniest ever cupcakes, a chicken and ramen bowl, shrimp tacos, When Pigs Fly Wings (seasoned chicken wings wrapped in bacon) and ten of Peyton’s bestselling hot dogs plus a list of other topping ideas, just in time for summer grilling.
Fat Cat Spreads Out by Janet Cantrell
Review by Sandra Murphy
If there’s one thing Quincy, the Fat Cat, likes, it’s eating. He landed on all fours when he hooked up with Chase, who owns the Bar None with Anna. It’s a bakery, and although Chase can be a hard sell, Anna’s a pushover for sharing bits of broken baked goods. Chase came up with a recipe for Kitty Patties that are healthy alternatives, in her opinion. In Quincy’s opinion, they’re healthy additions to his diet of whatever he wants, whenever he wants it.
The Bunyan County Harvest Festival seems like the perfect spot for Chase and Anna to spread the word about their shop and the deliciousness they bake up every day. Of course, Quincy thinks it’s a perfect spot to make new friends. When he hides in the food tote (and samples a few items while he’s at it), he hitches a ride to the festival. As usual, he’s not far from trouble.
After a trip up and down the aisle to check out the other vendors, he manages to get inside a building—and what a building it is! Everywhere he looks, is his favorite thing: butter! These mountains of goodness are not meant to end up on breakfast toast. They’re destined to turn into beautiful sculptures.
Chase’s love interest, Dr. Mike Ramos (Quincy’s vet, who thinks Quincy should diet), has a tent on site in case any of the contest entrants needs medical attention. There are dog contestants and a lot of cats, since the big prize is being supplied by the Picky Puss cat food company. They’re offering a diamond cat collar to the winner of the costume contest. It’s a disaster when the collar goes missing and Madame Divine, the fortune teller is a suspect. Chase isn’t sure of Madame’s connection to Mike, but there is one.
It’s a worse disaster when one of the top contenders for butter sculpture champion is found dead in the refrigerated building. Who’s on the scene? Quincy of course, face covered in butter. His vet, Mike, is found there as well, but his alibi isn’t as strong as Quincy’s. He says he was looking for the cat, but it’s a weak excuse at best.
The dead man’s widow makes friends with Anna, much to Chase’s dismay. The widow and her twin, both of a high maintenance nature, even end up staying with Anna—and expecting her to wait on them hand and foot (and claw, as they bring their African Grey parrot with them).
The suspect list, at least in Chase’s mind, should also include the widow, maybe her twin, and other competitors—just not Mike!
When a second murder victim is found, it really confuses things. Chase is determined to find enough clues to take the heat off Mike. Will the police let the real killer slip through their butter-slick fingers?
Quincy is a show stopper, just ask him. He has his motives (food) and the charm to weasel treats out of anybody with the exception of Chase, and even she’s weak at times. Anna is a sweet woman with a strong stubborn streak. Her upcoming wedding to boyfriend Bill should be a hoot to attend. Julie, Anna’s lawyer granddaughter, might not be too far behind Anna in walking down the aisle. She and Jay are making great strides in their relationship. Julie’s thinking of a career change too—at least from prosecutor.
This is the second in the series, and the books just get better as the characters’ personalities become clearer. The Bar None is surely a place you’d like to visit. Inger, their clerk, would explain the desserts and you wouldn’t be able to choose just one. Fat Cat at Large was the first book, and was reviewed for KRL.
Chase has shared the recipe for Harvest Bars, too—and Quincy said it was ok for her to tell how to make Go-Go Balls. He says be warned, that recipe only makes 30 or so treats, and you know, growing kitties need more than that!
Scam Chowder by Maya Corrigan
Review by Sandra Murphy
So, you’re going to have a few people over for dinner and serve a nice clam chowder. What could go wrong? In the case of the Codger Cook, most anything could happen. He’s the writer of the Five Ingredient Recipes column in the local newspaper. In reality, that means he retypes the recipes his granddaughter, Val, supplies and sends in, under his own name. Of course, the comments he makes to explain them are what makes the column so popular. An example is his rum cake recipe where he says, “Any dummy can make this cake. You just throw five ingredients into a bowl and mix.”
He’s not as good at mixing people at the table, though. His 70-ish girlfriend, Lillian, is there; a mysterious friend of hers who “just happened to be in town;” Scott and his mother, Thomasina; a local reporter, Junie May; and Val’s not-so-secret enemy, Irene.
Val’s job is to cook the meal and then disappear so Granddad can take the credit. That is, until Scott gets ill and falls face first into his chowder. It’s like musical chairs to reconstruct who got what to eat. There was a broth-based chowder and a cream-based version. Most people opted for cream until they thought about the calories and then asked for broth. When they saw the choices, some said a cup of each instead of a bowl of one. The bowls were switched around faster than a game of Three Card Monty. Then was it Lillian’s idea, or Granddad’s, to pour all the leftovers down the disposal before they could find out what made Scott sick?
When Scott dies at the hospital, Irene is only too happy to spread the rumor that he got food poisoning. She was in line for Granddad’s columnist job and will do anything to dethrone him. In addition, she wanted the job at the Cool Down Café inside the local exercise gym. Val got that, adding insult to injury. Business is slower during the summer vacation months and that’s all Val needs, an assault on her reputation.
Ned, Granddad’s BFF, is insulted that he wasn’t invited to the dinner, but Granddad had an ulterior motive. Scott was a financial advisor and it’s rumored that his clients lost more money than they made. Granddad and Lillian want to out Scott, and shame him in front of his mother and the reporter so he’ll return the money Ned invested with him.
Val wants to save Granddad’s hide, whether he thinks he needs saving or not. Val investigates Lillian’s background, and discovers that she’s not a gold-digger. In fact, she probably has a lot more money than Granddad. So why’s she living in a small apartment at the retirement home? Irene has money problems of her own. Her husband thinks he’s a shrewd investor. Irene disagrees. The reporter is looking for a big story. The mysterious stranger, about whom no one knows anything? Thomasina? Does she have any idea what her son is really doing with the money? Retirement homes are easy pickings for scammers. Since Thomasina lives there, it made Scott look more reliable.
As if that’s not enough to worry about, Gunnar, Val’s love interest, is back in town—but will he stay? To make things even worse, his ex-fiancé shows up, too, and it looks like she wants to get back together with him. Since she’s blonde, tall and willowy, in other words, everything Val is not, it seems like a lost cause to Val. After meeting the woman, Val wonders what Gunnar ever saw in her—she’s nasty, mean, and vindictive—and that’s just to start.
Granddad can be a little, well, he’s a pain in the patoot a lot of the time, but he has a good heart. Val’s mom, thank goodness is far, far away, since she worries about her dad and Val. Bethany is a kind-hearted woman, always ready to fill in for Val at the club when needed—and she’s getting gutsy. It seems she likes these investigations, maybe a little too much. The characters are evolving at a nice pace. Val has way more patience than most people.
This is the second book in the series. By Cook or By Crook was reviewed for KRL. Granddad shared recipes for Waterman’s Clam Chowder, One Ugly Spread, Crunchy Lime Chicken, No Crust No Fuss Spinach Pie, Dummy Rum Cake, and Crumbly Nut Rounds cookies. He advises flattening those cookies a bit before trying to put the cookie sheet in the oven or the balls of dough will get away from you. Don’t ask how he knows.
Death By Coffee by Alex Erickson
Review by Sandra Murphy
Moving from a large city to a small town like Pine Hills can be a bit of a culture shock. After all, they pretty much roll up the sidewalks at 7 p.m., there are no fast food joints, and fine dining is the local sandwich shop. Still, a chance to bail on a boring retail job, an unfaithful fiancé, and to work with her BFF, sounds like a dream come true to Krissy Hancock.
Krissy’s dad is a mystery writer, now retired. One of his most popular books was titled Death by Coffee, so BFF Vicki convinces Krissy it would be the perfect name for their combined coffee shop and book store. Dad has donated signed copies of his books, as well as some financial backing, so the name sticks.
Vicki’s escaping an acting career. Her parents both act, if you call being part of crowd scenes acting. She’d rather talk books with people who love them.
No sooner does Krissy move her stuff into her new place, then it’s time to open the store. Business is pretty slow to start—a few curious folks come in for a quick cup of plain black coffee, not even the flavored stuff. One guy is particularly rude. He orders a cup to go, sits down to drink it, gets a phone call and bolts out the door.
Just when Krissy is sure nothing ever happens in the town, much less the shop, excitement pops up across the street. A small crowd has gathered around an ambulance to see who is ill. Krissy is stunned to see the gurney covered by a sheet when the EMTs are ready to leave. What’s worse, the dead guy is none other than her rude customer.
Considering the man used and abused everyone he came in contact with, it’s no surprise that he’s dead. The surprise is that the police consider it an accidental death. He was allergic to peanuts but was without his Epi-pen, which doesn’t make sense to Krissy, who’s sure he was murdered. She can name a number of suspects, too: the wife, the mistress, the girlfriend (he was a busy guy), brother, father, clients….the list goes on and on.
The characters are people you’d like to know, and the shops are places where you’d love to hang out. Krissy and Vicki each have cats—Vicki’s has a bookstore-cat personality, and Krissy’s has a Ninja attitude. Side characters add color and fun to the tale. It looks like there might be a romance in Krissy’s future too—and maybe a visit from her ex-fiancé?
There were a couple of things that bothered me. In spite of the fact that this is the first week of the stores being open, Krissy has no qualms about leaving Vicki to run both shops so she can investigate, something she does a lot. The other thing is, Krissy has no filter or boundaries; it seems as she’s willing to ask anyone anything. Since they are all strangers to her, and she’s hoping for their business, a little bit of subtlety would be helpful instead of, for example, a willingness to go visit the widow and ask who she was having an affair with…more than once.
If Krissy can ditch her “I just had to know” attitude, this will be a good series. Look for Death by Tea this December.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 mysteries from Penguin and Kensington, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “five,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 4, 2015. U.S. residents only.
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