by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
This week we have another fun group of mysteries-Nothing Bundt Trouble: A Bakeshop Mystery by Ellie Alexander, Red Hot: A Red Herring Mystery by Dana Dratch, Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross, and Still Knife Painting: A Paint and Shine Mystery by Cheryl Hollon. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 4 books (Red Hot will be an ebook) and links to purchase them at the end of each review–you may not be able to see the Amazon links if you have ad blocker on.
Nothing Bundt Trouble: A Bakeshop Mystery by Ellie Alexander
Review by Cynthia Chow
Bakeshop Torte’s pastry chef Juliet Capshaw is reliving the past in a very unexpected way in the eleventh mystery set in the Shakespeare-celebrating town of Ashland, Oregon. Now that the holidays are over and Ashland prepares for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s upcoming season, Juliet is taking the time to move into the family home recently vacated by her mother. Juliet’s widowed mom has finally married Detective Doug Curtis, and she and “The Professor” have gifted the Capshaw home to Juliet to keep it in the family. While going through some of the many boxes stored in the basement, Juliet unearths her late father’s journal from March 1988. It is there that she learns that she was in fact not the first amateur detective in the family. That honor would go to her father Will Capshaw, who managed to find himself an active player in what the bakeshop owner appropriately called “The Pastry Case.” During the spring of 1988 the Cabaret theatre opened in Ashland, and handsome actor Chuck Faraday quickly built himself a reputation as the Burt Reynolds of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The hard-drinking thespian made himself just as known for confrontations with the theater members, the crew, and even the restaurant chef providing dinner service. Although Will had only initially agreed to serve an additional dessert menu to be unboxed for theater attendees, he became his “Bard Brother’s” assistant detective when they witnessed Chuck be run down just outside the Cabaret.
As Juliet and the Professor read excerpts from her father’s journal, they relive the unsolved case that continues to haunt the Professor and led to threats against the Capshaws. Juliet soon realizes that many of the players from that case are still in Ashland today, and to honor her father’s memory she becomes determined to finally close “The Pastry Case.” Getting into the spirit of things, Juliet’s assistant bakers at Torte begin to plan an 80s-themed menu to coincide with their St. Patrick’s Day dinner, recreating classics like Tiramisu, Upside-Down Pineapple Cake, and the ubiquitous chocolate lava cakes. When Juliet realizes that she is being watched and someone seems determined to keep a lid firmly closed on the past, she and her friends track down suspects to hopefully match the handwriting against the villain who threatened their beloved Torte bakeshop.
While Juliet contemplates her future and the choices she must make in her relationship with her traveling estranged husband, she submerges herself fully into the investigation led by her adored father. This novel is as much Will Capshaw’s story as it is Juliet’s, and the author succeeds in bringing to life not just Ashland’s theater world in 1988 but the family man who was the Capshaw patriarch. The lovingly detailed descriptions of Juliet’s baking will please pastry-loving gourmands, as will the recipes included. Further enhancing the setting are recollections of an era of video stores, BMX bikes, and the advisability of not wearing helmets. While Juliet spends much of the novel focusing on the past, it also gives her the insight to make a decision about her future.
Readers will be reassured to know that Juliet’s path will take her in directions that honor both her own goals and the memory of her father. While this mix of the past and present serves as the perfect entry point for new readers interested in starting the series, it also promises a rewarding resolution for longtime fans of Juliet, Torte, and her continuing adventures.
Red Hot: A Red Herring Mystery by Dana Dratch
Review by Cynthia Chow
Despite being the Anastasia Vlodnachek, international supermodel and uber celebrity, “Annie” is still the nicest sister in the world and overly generous with her family. So when Annie uncharacteristically asks her sister Alex for a favor, Alex is unable to turn down this rare request. It’s just like Annie to make her plea one that is actually a gift, as she needs Annie to be her “plus one” for a meeting of her South Beach condo homeowners’ association board. A trip to Miami is just the break Alex needs, as she’s been working nonstop as a freelance journalist in Northern Virginia. The timing just happens to be perfect for Alex as well, since her kitchen is being renovated for her professional baker brother, Nick. That means that his adorable pooch would be underfoot as well, so with doggles and booties for hot Florida sidewalks, canine Lucy is possibly more prepared for the humid South Beach climate than his human auntie.
After arriving by private jet, the Vlodnachek sisters find that Leslie McQueen has enacted an over-the-top campaign for the special election of the condo’s HOA president. At the catered party Leslie throws in her ostentatious condo Alex realizes that not only has the interim president salted the guest list with employees eager to spread gossip about her running mates, those rival candidates are nowhere to be found. When elevators fail, the pool turns green, and the maintenance company declines any repairs due to late payments, Alex realizes that Leslie has very shady reasons for wanting to take a non-paying position that no one ever wants. When a body is found at the bottom of one of those very faulty elevators, Alex quickly concludes that there is a reason the real estate agent suddenly went MIA. Tracking down the HOA treasurer and secretary reveals that the finances have been emptied, and the clock is ticking for them to find the money before the rest of the homeowners revolt.
Wanting to protect both her sister and the condo residents, Alex begins investigating how Leslie manipulated her fellow officers into submission to enforce her unfair policies and made-up rules. With the best of intentions Alex and her under-duress team accidentally manage to destroy evidence, compelling them to complete their investigations in order to clear their names and prevent their arrests. A more pleasant distraction lands on their doorstep in the forms of Alex’s favorite – if unexpected – vacationers. Alex’s BFF Trip Cabot, her brother Nick, and their beloved grandmother Baba are taking advantage of the free condo (well, Trip wants the room service of another hotel), and even Nick’s ex-fiancée is in town for some more investigative assistance. A thief with a Robin Hood morality of stealing from the rich and returning looted artwork, Gabby DuBois has just the right talents to help Alex dig up the dirt and hidden secrets that led to the HOA dictator’s death.
This series continues to be an absolute delight, filled with bantering dialogue, witty plots, and engaging characters. Alex’s family and friends are enviable for their talents and intelligence, but prove to be so funny and good-natured that they are impossible to resist. Author Dana Dratch continues to introduce readers to fascinating worlds; Alex’s start at a PR firm, the neighboring Bed and Breakfast, and here South Beach high-end condos. The equally compelling thread of international espionage adds another layer of intrigue, drawing readers in and leading them into the following thrilling installment. The next adventure featuring Alex and her extraordinary friends just can’t come soon enough.
Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross
Review by Sandra Murphy
Jane is getting quite the reputation as a fixer of problems. That’s also known as being a busybody. Her first problem, a theft, didn’t work out so well but helping a friend change hairdressers while staying at the same beauty shop was a success and the nuisance of a five-year old boy peeing in a neighbor’s yard was kind of fun to solve although the kid might have nightmares for a while.
Her friend and fellow bridge player, Phyllis, is on the hunt for a boyfriend. After Phyllis’ last relationship, she says she doesn’t want to find herself in another disastrous match. She convinces Jane to meet with prospective dates from an online service and weed out the duds. The fifth one, Harry, is what Jane considers a keeper. The problem is, he asks Jane out before she can confess to the fact he’s destined for Phyllis. Well, that’s one problem. The other is, Jane wants to keep him for herself.
Irma, another of the bridge players has recommended Jane for a job. It turns out the retirement complex is having some problems with pranks, food fights, and water balloons, causing unpleasantness for the residents and slow sales of apartments for the building owners.
The main two instigators are Mike with his oldster motorcycle riders and Bill, who controls who gets a tee time and when on the golf course. The riders make a lot of noise and control access to the game room. Bill is willing to allow a tee time for the right bribe. The home’s manager, Paul, is a meek man who is reluctant to confront either man.
It doesn’t take long for Jane to zero in on the problems and explain to Paul that confrontation is the only answer. In the meantime, Jane is staying in one of the apartments, pretending to be a buyer. Frankly, the whole thing reminds her of high school with lunch tables for the popular girls, the nerds, and the bad boys—but with wrinkles.
When one of the men is found dead, Jane is on the case. With little physical evidence, the police are baffled. One of the officers is a detective Jane met while trying to solve her first problem. Since he’s on the fringes of the investigation, they agree to share information. It seemed simple enough at the time…
This is the first in a new series and I find it delightful. Jane is able to find out information without offending too many people, likes the change of pace of staying at the retirement home although the food could be better, and enjoys solving a puzzle. She is certainly someone you’d want for a friend, whether there’s a problem to solve, as a bridge partner, or just to meet for coffee.
Ross also writes the Maine Clambake mysteries (8, reviewed here). Book nine, Shucked Apart, is expected in February 2021, available for pre-order now. I hope to see more of Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody, by then too.
This book is a Barnes and Noble exclusive and can be purchased here.
Still Knife Painting: A Paint and Shine Mystery by Cheryl Hollon
Review by Sandra Murphy
Miranda Tobin has taken a risk with her new business, Paint and Shine. Her art classes take place en plein air, or outdoors. After a hike to Lovers Leap, wannabe artists set up their easels and with her help, paint the spectacular scenery. Austin, a park ranger, stops by to share the history of the area and answer questions. Once back at the studio, students are served Southern style food and tastings of moonshine. Shine is legal in Kentucky.
The first class is a roaring success, at least through the appetizer course. When Miranda goes to see what’s delaying the venison stew, she finds the cook, Mrs. Childers, on the floor in a puddle of her own blood, knife still in her chest. Mrs. Hobb, her assistant, is in the doorway, just returned after running an errand.
The police at first think the cook’s death was an accident although the coroner disagrees. Since nothing on the table or counter required the use of a knife and it’s hard to accidentally stab yourself in the chest with a knife, Miranda believes Mrs. Childers was murdered. To add more confusion, there’s no cell service at the studio and the landline hasn’t been installed yet, leaving Miranda vulnerable.
Raising the stakes, she inherited the property from her uncle. One of the stipulations of his will states she has to open a moonshine distillery within her first year. If potential clients stay away because of the murder, she won’t be able to do that and will lose her inheritance. Mrs. Childers was against the idea of a distillery and even serving shine, often arguing with Miranda about it.
With Austin’s help, will Miranda be able to discover the killer’s identity and protect herself? Everyone has secrets. Which secret led to murder?
This is the first in a new series. Miranda and her pup, Sandy, are good characters. Her relationship with Austin is a promising friendship if not more. Readers will be anxious to see what’s next for Miranda and her distillery.
Included are recipes for moonshine cocktails and food pairings, with suggested substitutes for the shine and a local soda. Recipes are included for fried green tomatoes, venison stew, cornbread sticks, Dutch apple cobbler made in a cast iron skillet, no-bake peanut butter potato pinwheels, and cheesy bits.
Hollon also writes the popular Webb’s Glass Shop mysteries, many reviewed here. Find an excerpt of Down in Flames, at the back of the book.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 mysteries (Red Hot will be an ebook), simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “july,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 1, 2020. 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 MAY TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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