by Cynthia Chow
It’s time for some more fun food mysteries from Penguin-Macaroni and Freeze: A Comfort Food Mystery by Christine Wenger, Peaches and Scream: A Georgia Peach Mystery by Susan Furlong, Butter Off Dead: A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery by Leslie Budewitz, & Fatal Reservations: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette. Details on how to win copies of all of these books at the end of this post, along with a link to purchase them.
Macaroni and Freeze: A Comfort Food Mystery by Christine Wenger
Review by Cynthia Chow
Trixie Matkowski loves winter, even the harsh January ones near Lake Ontario in Sandy Harbor, New York. The local weather girl, Heather “Flip a Coin” Flipelli, may be hit-or-miss with her blizzard predictions, but it’s a real heavy snow that collapses the roof of the local library and destroys its entire book collection. Once again unable to say no, Trixie finds herself heading a macaroni-and-cheese contest to raise funds to rebuild. The appearance by Priscilla Finch-Smythe (television cooking host and the Countess of Comforting Comfort Food) as a guest judge will guarantee contestants’ willingness to pony up the one-thousand-dollar entrance fee.
Forty years ago the countess was merely Mabel Cronk, and it wasn’t until she left Sandy Harbor that she assumed her pseudo-British personality, along with a condescending attitude and entourage. Trixie’s a little put out and isn’t shy about vocalizing her opinion, so when she discovers Priscilla’s strangled body, the Silver Bullet Diner owner once again finds herself in the hot seat and the target of gossip.
Of course, Trixie is unable to sit idly by under house arrest while handsome deputy sheriff Ty Brisco investigates. With some help from her friend Antoinette, Trixie soon learns that Priscilla’s stepson is eager for an inheritance, her assistant is more than ready to assume control over the next cookbook, and a church group is accusing the countess of stealing recipes.
Once again Christine Wenger delivers a light-hearted and fun mystery that celebrates eccentric people and diner cuisine as comfort food. The banter between characters is always very funny without being over the top, and the relationship between Ty and Trixie is as intriguing as it is flirtatious.
Antoinette Chloe has become a standout character: the muumuu’d wearer of flip-flops and fascinators could easily become overbearing and too outrageous, but is far savvier than she appears and not shy about using preconceptions to slyly outsmart suspects and the police alike.
Although the culprit may be spotted early, the author continues to throw in curveballs with enough suspects to keep readers on their toes. Recipes at the end are the perfect dessert for this delightful novel that will satisfy readers’ cravings for a comical and very reliable cozy mystery series.
Peaches and Scream: A Georgia Peach Mystery by Susan Furlong
Review by Cynthia Chow
Nola Mae Harper has reluctantly returned home to help with her family’s peach harvest. She’s Cays Mill’s black sheep, and this is her first visit in three years. But her mother Della has just won a Caribbean cruise with her peach chutney recipe, and Nola’s parents want to take off for a real honeymoon. The timing is bad, as it’s the Peach Harvest Festival, but Nola was just downsized to a desk job at Helping Hands International so she can assist.
Small towns have long memories, and no one is shy about reminding Nola about her absence. Old resentments still remain, but more alarming is the new antagonism surrounding Ben Wakefield, owner of the Wakefield Lumber Mill. When his body is discovered on the Harper farm, Nola’s brother-in-law is immediately arrested.
With her sister Ida Jean pregnant, and feeling guilty for having fled Cays Mill soon after high school, Nola begins doing everything she can to clear her brother-in-law… in addition to saving Harper Farm. Helping Somalian refugees was easy compared to the emotional heartbreak that complicates her plans to innovate the family’s peach business and market her family’s recipes.
The author, who also writes mysteries as Lucy Arlington, charmingly depicts the quirks and beauty of a small Georgian town. Comfort casseroles, the power of gossip, and chapter-heading Georgia Belle Facts are all delightful attributes of this distinctly Southern novel.
Even more fascinating is the development of Nola’s character, a courageous heroine fearless when performing rescue and charity work in Indonesia, Darfur, and the Sudan, but skittish when in the presence of anyone who reminds her of her secretive past. The shame that caused Nola to flee her home is skillfully and slowly revealed, and it is just as compelling a mystery as that of the murder. This character development allows for the promise of romance, a new path for a career, and more than enough peach lore and recipes to entertain readers in this witty and often very emotional début cozy series.
Butter Off Dead: A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery by Leslie Budewitz
Review by Cynthia Chow
It’s been ten months since Erin Murphy left Seattle to help run her family’s Glacier Mercantile store in Jewel Bay, Montana. During this time, Erin has devoted herself to transforming the “Merc” into a market specializing in whole, natural, and locally produced goods. She’s also helping the town become more of a year-round tourist attraction through a continual roster of special events and festivals. The First Annual Food Lovers’ Film Festival showcases movies and their featured meals, and Erin is assisting artist Christine Vandeberg in organizing the event.
When Christine is murdered, Erin not only takes over her job but also assumes the responsibility of discovering who killed the woman who nearly twice became her sister-in-law. Erin’s brother Nick is accused of murder, and his refusal to tell the truth about his whereabouts is as frustrating as it is heart-breaking.
Using her Spreadsheet of Suspicion, Erin maps out those with a motivation to kill a woman who recently inherited valuable artwork. In the meantime, she must also balance out how to ensure the festival’s success. Erin may have issues with giving up control, but that’s nothing compared to her mother Fresca, who continues to challenge Erin’s ideas about how to run the Merc.
This third in the Food Lovers’ Village Mystery series advances plots established in the début and follows characters finding preconceptions about their lives suddenly challenged. In additional to the descriptions of food and recipes, Budewitz also crams the novel full of movie lore, art appreciation, and the complexities surrounding the study and protection of wolves.
Jewel Bay feels populated by entirely real personalities as complicated as they are entertaining, with Erin being the most empathetic and engaging of them all. She may be an adult with a new and rewarding romantic relationship, but working with her mother can still reduce Erin to feeling—and acting—like a child. As long-established plots are resolved and misunderstandings cleared, it will be fascinating to follow the characters’ progressions in this very elaborate mystery of family, community, and the struggle to be responsible for both.
Fatal Reservations: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette
Review by Cynthia Chow
Taking up less than ten square miles, Key West survives on charging high real-estate prices and milking every last dollar out of tourists. Trends in food and restaurants are always evolving, from ethic cooking to pop-up restaurants to food trucks… and, now, floating restaurants. For Goodness’ Sake is the latest entry into this unique field of restaurants located on docked boats, but it will have to fight Key West city administration as well as competing restaurants to be permitted to conduct business.
As the food writer for Key Zest and its new “Paradise Lunched,” Hayley Snow is covering the hearing as well as reviewing the promising new restaurant. Also on the heated agenda is whether to renew the street artists’ Artistic Performances Preservation Society’s lease to perform for the lucrative Sunset Celebration.
The hearing itself may be interrupted by an angry street performer, but it is juggler Bart Frontgate who causes the most dissension along the prized walkways. With a tendency toward bullying the crowd for tips, Bart gives more gracious performers a bad reputation. When he is literally shish-kabobed—skewered by one of the very forks he used to juggle flaming meat—suspicion is focused on tarot card-reading Lorenzo. Circumstantial evidence certainly points his way, and his fleeing the island doesn’t help.
One of Hayley’s strongest characteristics is her loyalty: nothing incites her to action more than a threat to her friends, and Lorenzo has been a source of comfort with his readings and friendship. Her dedication to pursuing a relationship with her boss Wally will be tested, as his mother’s ailing health and his professional ambition continually make Hayley his lowest priority. Let’s just say that it’s never a good sign when a man forgets Valentine’s Day when you just started dating! So it’s fortunate that Hayley continues to be surrounded by her own good friends and family, who have grown in considerable number on this close-knit, unique island.
While Burdette continues to explore the Key West food scene that makes the restaurant business so compelling, here she introduces readers to an entire new world. Who knew that street performers have their own hierarchy, or that their political relationships are as intricate as those of any business or country? They may be less nuanced, but they are far more ruthless to those threatening their established order.
Wonderful quotes enhance each chapter, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful descriptions of food. Hayley’s knowledge of the psychology behind diners’ choices is just the final seasoning on this fun, smartly plotted mystery.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 food Penguins, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “july food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 18, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section. And if you are also a lover of food, check out KRL’s monthly food column How I Met My Dinner and get some great recipes!
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