by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have another helping of food mysteries from Penguin-Cookies and Scream: A Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery by Virginia Lowell, Crime Rib: A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery by Leslie Budewitz, Maple Mayhem by Jessie Crockett, and Muffin but Murder by Victoria Hamilton. Details at the end of this post on how to win all 4 books, and a link to purchase them where a portion goes to support KRL.
Cookies and Scream: A Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery By Virginia Lowell
Review by Cynthia Chow
The second Olivia Grayson enters The Gingerbread House cookie specialty store after a much needed vacation, she knows something is wrong. Sugars have been moved and there are signs of an intrusion. When Olivia opens her safe she makes the startling discovery that nothing is missing, but instead, something has been added. Crammed into the safe are unfamiliar but undoubtedly valuable antique cookie cutters. Barely minutes after the gossip network is alerted to Olivia’s return, she is informed the cutters belong to Greta Oskarson, a former resident who left tiny Chatterley Heights, Maryland, to eventually become the six-time widow to a series of very rich, very old, and apparently very unlucky men.
Due to Greta’s past friendship with Clarisse Chamberlain, the friend who inspired Olivia to create The Gingerbread House, Greta asks Olivia to handle the sale of the cutters. Clarisse had been a good friend to Olivia as well, so she agrees. Not everyone is pleased to have Greta back. Before Olivia can complete her research, she receives a desperate phone call from Greta who is gasping out her last breath.
Greta is at first believed to have died of natural causes. Olivia is suspicious that someone may have been driven to murder. Greta held her share of secrets. Unfortunately, Olivia’s boyfriend Sheriff Del Jenkins is out of town, dealing with his ex-wife’s disastrous crisis with husband number one and three (he was a repeater). It’s up to Olivia, her mother, and The Gingerbread House employees to discover who was finally driven to kill.
Chatterley Heights is a town fueled by gossip and where everyone knows everything about everyone else within minutes. That murder still manages to occur is a feat unto itself, especially with the town’s own gossip-mongering ambush reporter and blogger Binnie Sloan on scene to record most of Olivia’s most embarrassing moments. In this fifth book of the series, readers enjoy the appearances of Spunky the rescue Yorkie, impulsive baker Maddie Briggs, and Olivia’s crafting-class addicted and loquacious mother Ellie. The author achieves the delicate balance of highlighting mouth-watering descriptions of cookies and cooking lore without lessening the emotional impact of what is ultimately a sinister reveal. Sentiment, humor, and cookies blend together in this sweet mystery that shines with characters who genuinely support one another and appreciate the eccentricities that make them all so unique.
Crime Rib: A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery By Leslie Budewitz
Review by Cynthia Chow
Having somehow gotten elected to head Montana’s Thirty-fifth Annual Jewel Bay Summer Food and Art Fair Summer Fair, it’s up to Erin Murphy to remedy the awkward situation of two competing Grill-off chefs who submitted the same recipe. It seemed like a good idea at the time to invite celebrity chef Gib “Nasty” Knox as a judge while television show Food Preneurs filmed the event, but the arrogant host is ruffling feathers as he tosses out accusations of recipe thievery.
However, it’s not Knox who is the first to fall. The hit-and-run death of a likable producer has Erin filling in for the production’s assistant and location scout. Knox’s condescending attitude towards the “podunk” town and chefs may make him enemy number one, yet once again it another who is targeted. With the Summer Fair making news not for food but for murder, Erin feels responsible now that she has taken a larger role in running her family’s store, Murphy’s Mercantile. Even in a town that calls itself a Food Lovers’ Village, controversies on how to promote events keep tensions high so Erin continually stressed.
The first chapter throws the reader into the midst of the action. The included cast of characters may prove useful in sorting out many individuals confronting Erin. Once the reader is familiarized and grounded though, the plot never slows down and revels in a world of competitive chefs, creative cooking, and the complexities of marketing a town focused on food.
Cuisine plays a pivotal role in this series as readers are treated to the delicacies featured in the “Merc,” the meals Erin enjoys in the neighboring restaurants, and the specialties created by the chefs. Erin may be completely indecisive about her personal life, dating two attractive but mostly absent suitors, but she’s dedicated to solving who behind the sabotage and murders. How could she not, aided by her Spreadsheet of Suspicion? Mouth-watering descriptions of food are just as enjoyable as the characters. A heroine who advocates supporting local resources and businesses is admirable. The unpredictable ending is the perfect dessert course for a well-planned menu of murder.
Maple Mayhem By Jessie Crockett
Review by Cynthia Chow
Sugar Grove, New Hampshire is suffering from the effects of the mortgage crisis and an unseasonably hot and tree-damaging year. It makes sense for the local syrup makers to form a cooperative to take advantage of bulk discounts. Frank Lemieux is the lone holdout, an anti-government conspiracy theorist with a junkyard front lawn, surly attitude, and very large guard dog.
Dani Green is proud of her family heritage as fourth generation owners of Greener Pastures. She’s also the lone voice advocating for change as she strives to find her place in the family. Perhaps that is why after her beloved and newly restored MG is vandalized and keyed with an anti-co-op message, she wonders just how much support she has.
When Dani’s fears are realized and hostilities lead to murder, the co-op members are the most likely suspects. Dani worries that all of her efforts to organize the cooperative will fail.
Her police chief godfather is off on a cruise with her mother. Dani’s less competent and still resentful ex-boyfriend is in charge. It’s up to Dani to prove who was behind the vandalism and the murder. She has the assistance of handsome Fish and Game Department Officer Graham Paterson, although continual and inappropriate relationship advice from the entire town does make their meetings a tad bit awkward.
Dani has a hummingbird metabolism and a petite still-shops-in-the-kids-section body to match, resulting in being underestimated and overlooked. That she is the youngest and youngest-looking member of the family certainly doesn’t help. Dani tries to avoid conflict, which could be why she has two borderline stalker suitors (one who’s intent on ticketing her, the other possibly thinking of her as a part of his taxidermy display), a sister obsessed with Dani’s marital status or lack thereof, and an inability to decide what to do about Graham. Humor prevails in this mystery, and with no instances of rampaging kangaroos from the debut of this series reoccurring, the absurdities are toned down and the wit more refined. Dani’s strong advocacy for local resources is balanced by a refreshingly practicality, providing a unique viewpoint that is only enhanced by funny dialogue and an ever put-upon heroine. The murder doesn’t occur until nearly halfway through the novel and this allows the reader to become invested in all of the characters, not to mention revel in the luscious descriptions of maple-infused and enhanced meals. Sugar Grove is a charming, sometimes exasperating, town to live in, and as much as everyone meddles in Dani’s life, family always prevails as the core that centers her life.
Muffin but Murder By Victoria Hamilton
Review by Sandra Murphy
The first in the series, Bran New Death, (reviewed for KRL), introduced Merry Wynter and the castle she inherited. While Merry is an excellent baker and delivers muffins all over town, the income isn’t enough to support the castle and its need for repairs. Pish and Shilo, friends from Merry’s former life, are staying at the castle and helping when they can. Pish is researching a second book, this one about banking scandals. Shilo is sweet on McGill, the local real estate man who is equally taken with her.
Merry decides she has to sell the castle and plans a Halloween bash to show it off to prospective buyers. Unfortunately, there are a number of party crashers in spite of the invitation only policy. The now 30 year olds who used to be the football team are there with several trashy looking girls (one can only hope they are in costume). There’s a short and round vampire, a cowboy no one knows and more. When the cowboy turns up dead in the coffin formerly occupied by a mannequin, it puts a damper on the party and the castle’s sales potential. It turns out he’s related to another dead body, recently found. Suspects? There are quite a few to choose from, including Pish!
To make things more complicated, a long lost (so he says) relative has shown up to claim part of the estate. Cranston Higgins manages to drop by often, come in unannounced, and make a general nuisance of himself. He swears his grandmother told him about the family connection on her deathbed. Merry has her doubts and hopes it’s not true—it would surely complicate the sale.
Merry finds a young woman wandering in the woods with no explanation and an extreme lack of boundaries. It turns out she’s a rich kid gone bad and her father, Percy Channer (he’s not much better) is hunting for her. There’s a little vandalism going on, some mystery about a disagreement between Merry’s mom and uncle, and a code to break to find a hidden treasure that could bail out the repairs and let Merry stay in Autumn Vale.
Binny from the bakery, Gogi from the nursing home, and Virgil (Gogi’s son) and cop in charge of the investigation, are back. McGill is headed to permanent fixture status. Beckett, the cat, of course steals every scene he’s in. The characters are developing well and we can only hope that they all get to stay in Autumn Vale and in the castle so we can all visit frequently.
My only complaint is that a lot of what happened in book one, is explained in book two—because of that, read them in order or be prepared for numerous spoilers.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 mysteries, 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 19, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Click on this link to purchase any of these books & a portion goes to help support KRL!