by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a pair of mysteries with some unique professions that I don’t recall seeing in mysteries before (though I could be wrong)-we have a “Professional Busybody” in Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross, and the owner of a cookbook publishing company in Risky Biscuits: A Sugar & Spice Mystery by Mary Lee Ashford. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of both books, along with links you can use to purchase them. If you have ad blocker on you won’t see the Amazon link at the end of the second book. Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody is a Barnes and Noble Exclusive so is only available for purchase from there.
Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross
Review by Cynthia Chow
In a novel that has “Professional Busybody” in the title, it would be understandable to assume that this would be a tale featuring a possibly annoying amateur detective who obtrusively meddles in everyone’s business. That assumption couldn’t be more wrong; instead this absolutely delightful new series featuring an imminently likable woman who acts as an “intervenist,” stepping in when the situation isn’t serious enough for the authorities but requiring awkward confrontations and difficult conversations.
Pressured to take an early retirement, it wasn’t long before Jane found herself rather bored and willing to help her friends get rid of an inappropriate prospective son-in-law, transfer to a different hairstylist, or keep a neighboring toddler from “watering” the lawn. Word of mouth led to the director of Walden Spring lifecare community to hire Jane to work undercover to ease the discontent simmering among the active seniors. What is immediately apparent to Jane is how the dining room isn’t far removed from a high school cafeteria, with leather jacket-wearing motorcyclists (sidecars for oxygen tanks), jocks (golf players), popular design-label-wearers (Lily Pulitzer), and outsiders (artists and dancers in yoga pants) still hilariously separate themselves while engaging in food fights.
Before Jane can get down to negotiating amnesty between the cliques, “prom king” Bill Finnerty is found bludgeoned to death on the golf course. The popular man on campus was not shy about spreading his attention to the single and not-so-single ladies of Walden Springs, not to mention dominating tee times with a dictator’s grip. Jane’s questions concerning the whereabouts of the residents quickly has her identified as a narc, but her skills are needed by those who find themselves as either potential suspects or future victims.
Considering the success of Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake mystery series, it shouldn’t be such a surprise how skillfully written and unique this debut series proves to be. The humor is witty and sharp, and Jane herself is an outstanding investigator who displays impressive common sense and practicality. Her bridge-playing friends are just as engaging, with their own “News of the Week in Review,” and serving as a decades-long support group. Jane’s friend Phyllis Goldstein is continuing her latest venture to replace her ex-husband The Awful, which has Jane vetting online dating matches in person and under her own account. The initial results are as hilarious as one would expect, but one candidate not only surprises Jane, he has her assessing the ethics of keeping him for herself. The mystery moves along at a galloping pace, swapping out suspects as alibis and motives are eliminated as quickly as they reappear again. This debut series sets a high bar for the next installment, which hints at a challenging and even more promising adventures waiting for the talented investigator who is Jane Darrowfield.
Click here to purchase on the Barnes and Noble website.
Risky Biscuits: A Sugar & Spice Mystery by Mary Lee Ashford
Review by Cynthia Chow
After a lifetime of moving around followed by an unpleasant divorce, Rosetta “Sugar” Sugarbaker Calloway is thrilled to call the small Southern town of St. Ignatius home. The former magazine editor has gone into business with Dixie Spicer, and it only makes sense that the friends create Sugar and Spice Publishing to publish community cookbooks. Their latest project is a cookbook for the Crack of Dawn Breakfast Club, a loosely organized group of seniors who want to use cookbook sales to help raise funds for a shelter house. When member Alma Stoller forgets to pick up her friend Bunny from the post office, they learn that the reason was far worse than mere forgetfulness. When Alma is found run over by her own car, evidence indicates that it was anything but an accident. Searching for the recipes Alma had been collecting for the cookbook gives Sugar an entry point for investigating, and she’s spurred on by Sheriff Terrance Griffin’s request that she infiltrate the seniors to pass on their gossip.
It doesn’t take long for Sugar to learn that a development company ironically named Ross & Cheeters Development Corporation has been buying up property all through town, with Alma being one of the last few holdouts. Another big topic in St. Ignatius has been the return of bad boy Nick Marchant, whose twin brother Nate seems less than thrilled to have a sibling interfering in the family’s banking business. Sugar finds Nick far too smooth to fall under his spell, but apparently she was one of the few who resists his charms. Of course, it helps that Sugar had recently grown close to photographer Max Windsor, but the relaxed banter seems to have frosted over as Max keeps their relationship strictly professional.
This is a distinctly Southern novel that takes full advantage of the setting’s unique community, language, and of course, food. Sugar realizes that she is a “City Southerner,” but the locals are more than happy to introduce her to giant-sized Cat’s Head Biscuits and Better than Sex Cake. Recipes of these – slightly retitled – are included at the end, along with a distinctly unhealthy but sinfully tasty Heart Attack Hot Dish. Some of the best moments stem from Sugar’s humorous interactions with a passive-aggressive neighbor’s lawn care and a real estate with a possibly fictitious “Canadian” boyfriend. An added element of intrigue is added by Sugar’s discovery of her late father’s “memoir,” which could be a fictionalized version of his own life and gives her insight into the man she feels she never knew. Southern Comfort cuisine, lively dialogue, and Sugar’s vulnerability as a heroine make this a winning second entry in in the Southern cookbook publishing series.
To enter to win a copy of both books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “risky busybody,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 17, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.