by Cynthia Chow
This week we are reviewing the first in a brand new series, The Rocky Road to Ruin by Meri Allen. We also have a fun interview with Meri. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to order it from Amazon.
The Rocky Road to Ruin: An Ice Cream Shop Mystery by Meri Allen
Review by Cynthia Chow
After the death of her best friend’s mother, Riley Rhodes returned to her hometown of Penniman, Connecticut, to help Caroline recover and assist in running the late Elizabeth “Buzzy” Spooner’s Udderly Delightful Ice Cream Shop. Scooping out delicious layered confections in waffle cones is a delight on its own, but it also gives Riley an escape from a career mistake. Her job as a librarian and travel blogger had actually been going well, but it was a snafu working undercover for the CIA that revealed a lack of judgment and misplaced trust. Before Riley can help her friend decide on the future of the shop and the adjoining Fairweather Farm, Caroline’s brother Mike rolls into town with an agenda and a pro-tennis playing girlfriend. It quickly becomes apparent that Mike plans to develop the farm into a high-end residential community, so when he is found murdered in the Fairweather Farm barn and Caroline’s scarf nearby, Riley’s bestie lands high on the police suspect list.
Distracting the investigation is the disappearance of Mike’s famous girlfriend Angelica Miguel, and it’s up for grabs as to whether she is the killer or another victim. Using skills more librarian-related than based in espionage, Riley follows a path that leads to secret identities, past tragedies, and plans of vengeance. Investigating Detective Jack Voelker is amenable to Riley’s input despite not knowing of her past with the CIA, but perhaps that is due to his barely concealed affection for Caroline. When not dodging acts of arson, additional murders, and shocking betrayals, Riley finds herself assisting in Penniman Sunflower Festival, hand blending in brownies and gluten-free cookies into their special confections, and adopting the adorable and appropriately named kitten Rocky Rhodes.
This first of a new series quickly introduces readers to an abundance of characters, both human and feline. There is an abundance of former high school classmates and teachers, but challenging Riley most as an adult may be adjusting to her bookstore-owning father’s new wife. A country singer and mysteriously talented cook cast their shadow of fame on the town, but the real celebrity has to be retired showcat Princess Hortense Ophelia Tater Tot, aka Sprinkles. The descriptions of Udderly’s bachelorette party alcohol-laden frozen confections are as tempting as the recipes for sunflower layered honey-caramel-sunflower ice creams, ensuring that foodie mystery fans will be hungering for more. Future installments will hopefully exploit more of Riley’s covert operative skills, but only as long as she continues to dish out treats from the charming Udderly Delightful Ice Cream Shop.
Interview With Meri Allen:
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Meri: I fell in love with the peaceful northeastern corner of Connecticut, what some people call the Quiet Corner. It’s full of back roads lined with gray stone walls, organic farms, and scenic lakes. The area is little more than an hour from Boston but it feels a world away. When I visit, it’s a bit like stepping into Brigadoon – a perfect setting for a cozy murder mystery.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Meri:I write best first thing in the morning, right after breakfast. Sometimes my husband will come home from work and find me at my laptop, still in my bathrobe. That’s a good writing day.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Meri: When I got “the call” from my agent telling me my publisher wanted my series, I was at the casino with my mom, who’d just hit on a penny machine. Coincidence? You decide.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Meri: I dream of writing a book that will be made into a Hallmark movie.
KRL: What kind of research did you do?
Meri: How I suffered for my art! My hubby and I drove along scenic back roads, stopping at ice cream shops as I soaked up atmosphere and cherry vanilla waffle cones. (My favorite treat while I was writing The Rocky Road to Ruin.) I was auditioning settings, looking for just the right kind of ice cream shop, the right kind of town, and I found lots of inspiration in the Quiet Corner.
Then the pandemic hit, so like many people who were spending more time at home, we splurged on our own ice cream maker. Hubby has turned into a fantastic ice cream chef and we’ve had a blast creating different flavors.
As far as Riley’s CIA, military, and librarian background, I did what any good librarian would do – lots of homework. Several family members serve in the military, so I was able to ask them questions. My own background as a librarian gave me good insight into how Riley’s mind works. I lived in the Washington, DC, area and know several people who worked for “three letter agencies” so I interviewed several – don’t worry, no government secrets were disclosed!
KRL: What do you like to read?
Meri: Mystery is my favorite genre. I especially love Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss novels and in Rocky Road to Ruin, Riley’s CIA background is a nod to another favorite series, the Mrs. Pollifax books.
When I’m writing, I try to stay away from reading my own genre because I don’t want to subconsciously pick up another author’s voice. Since I don’t have a lot of time to read, I stick with whatever my book clubs pick. I’m in three, way too many!
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Meri: I love the Golden Age of Hollywood – musicals, witty comedies like The Thin Man, and over the top dramas with Bette Davis and Greta Garbo. For TV, I devour British mysteries and always enjoy reruns of Murder, She Wrote. I also am a big fan of American Ninja Warrior.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Meri: I encourage all aspiring writers to join Sisters in Crime. SINC is open to everyone (men, too – we call them “siblings” or “misters in crime”). Sisters in Crime has so many resources for writers at every stage, superb networking opportunities, and even has a completely on-line chapter called the Guppies. SINC offers great craft workshops and publishing advice – plus it’s fun. Here’s their website: sistersincrime.org
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Meri: Rocky Road is not my favorite ice cream flavor. I’m a cherry vanilla or chocolate chip girl. Also, I write the Lobster Shack Mysteries as Shari Randall. The first in that series, Curses, Boiled Again, won an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.
KRL: Something you’d like to add?
Meri: Thank you so much for inviting me to chat with you. I enjoy all your mystery book reviews and author interviews. I’m thrilled to be here. Thank you!
KRL: You are very welcome! Thanks for the kind words. Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of The Rocky Road to Ruin, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “rocky road,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 28, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email and you want a print copy please include your mailing address. BE AWARE THAT IT STILL MAY TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL FOR THE BOOK TO ARRIVE. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode went up this week.
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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.