by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have another fun selection of food related mysteries from Penguin, and one mystery that also has an animal rescue aspect. We have If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion By Paige Shelton, Do or Diner: A Comfort Food Mystery By Christine Wenger, One Dead Cookie: A Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery By Virginia Lowell and Rubbed Out: A Memphis BBQ Mystery By Riley Adams. Details on how to win copies of all 4 at the end of this post, and a link to purchase them where a portion will go to help keep KRL going and bringing you great mystery content!
Also in this same issue is a review & giveaway of the first in a new food mystery series by Leslie Budewitz.
If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion By Paige Shelton
Review by Sandra Murphy
Gram and Betts are ready for the next session of cooking school to start. They’ve got a good bunch of students–at least it seems so from their references, resumes and all. Of course, you just never know until everybody shows up. What do you do when an extra student pops in the door, shows his letter of acceptance (on real letterhead) and expects to be welcomed? Betts and Gram say come on in and then call the references.
Brenda is a puzzle. She takes a lot of notes, but hides the notebook in a pocket or purse before anybody can see them. Freddy, the unexpected student, is charming and likable although the jury’s still out as there are just too many questions to be answered. In the beginning, there are always students who stand out, but will they still be stellar at the end of the course? There’s no way to tell this early in the session.
Now, add to the mix that Broken Rope, Missouri, located down in the Ozarks, is an unusual place. It’s a tourist attraction and the townspeople all dress in character during the season. It has a history and was the home of the Puff Pocket, a cakelike pastry with a cream filling. It was an instant hit and the public gobbled them up, until fire destroyed the bakery. It was blamed on a faulty oven, but how thorough was the investigation? Broken Rope does have a reputation for recreating history, so to speak.
The cooking school is located right next to an old cemetery. Is it no wonder that ghosts drop by from time to time? Jerome Cowbender is an old time cowboy and although Betts has a great live boyfriend, she has a crush on Jerome, who appears from time to time. This time, Gent pops up. He’s a childhood friend of Gram’s. He and his family disappeared, thought to have been one step ahead of bill collectors. Gent, like all other ghosts, has a hard time with memory but from what he can piece together, he and his family were murdered. They can’t rest until their bodies are found.
In current times, one of the students is found dead at the cemetery. It’s up to Betts, with help from her BFF Jake the historian, Cliff the boyfriend and Evan the Fire Marshall, to solve both crimes. Since Jake is the only one who knows about the ghosts, it’s a trickier proposition than not.
Although the ghostly aspect might put some readers off before even picking the book up, it shouldn’t. The ghosts blend in, add a lot to the story and don’t get in the way of the current day. The characters are friendly, nice people you’d like to know and you’d sure want to sign up for Gram’s classes on how to cook comfort food, whether it’s the adult education evening class or the whole nine month course. For those who can’t attend, recipes include: Instant Miracle Rolls, Bread Pudding, Blueberry Orange Muffins and Pear Bread. There’s also a good discussion on sourdough starter, how to start one yourself and why you’ll get varying and surprising results.
Previous books in this series are: If Fried Chicken Could Fly, If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance.
Paige Shelton also writes the Farmer’s Market series.
Do or Diner: A Comfort Food Mystery By Christine Wenger
Review by Cynthia Chow
The death of her Uncle Porky and his wife Stella’s decision to take a cruise and move to Florida gives their niece Trixie Matkowski the opportunity to move to Sandy Harbor in upstate New York and purchase their Sandy Harbor Guest Cottages and most importantly, the Silver Bullet Diner. Just after being laid off from her position as tourism information specialist in Philadelphia, Trixie was also informed by her husband of ten years, Deputy Doug, that he had impregnated his twenty-one year-old girlfriend.
Trixie was more than ready for a change in her life and up for the risk of owning and running the 1950s style diner so beloved in her memories. Unfortunately, before she can even get her feet wet she learns that the Health Department Inspector, Marvin P. Cogswell III, who failed the diner after not receiving his accustomed free meal after his last inspection, has dropped dead face first into his scalloped potatoes laced with Destroying Angel amanita mushrooms he was served in the Silver Bullet.
Gossip flies at the speed of sound in the small town, so soon the residents are avoiding the diner and giving dark looks to the newest outsider in their midst. Thankfully, Trixie has the surprising support of one of her cottage renters, former Texas detective and current Sandy Harbor deputy sheriff, Ty Brisco. While the charming cowboy warns her away from detecting, he does believe in her innocence, something Trixie is desperate to prove to the rest of the town if she hopes to save the diner from the mayor who is willing to buy it out from under her for millions, in order to fulfill his dream of building a huge tourist-attracting resort.
With the diner being helmed by veteran waitress, Juanita Holgado and new hire Cindy Sherlock, Trixie sublimates her stress by retreating into baking and cooking around the clock in the twenty-four hour diner to provide food that she donates to good causes and the volunteers around Sandy Harbor. Trixie is also on a deadline to prove her innocence though, and as she says, “When God passed out patience, I jumped out of the line because I couldn’t stand waiting.” So Trixie, continually followed, scolded and guarded by Ty, investigates those who wanted to either put the diner out of business or wanted Marvin the Third dead. This leads her to the owner of the competing Brown’s Four Corners Restaurant run by Antoinette Chloe Brown, a muumuu wearing force of personality with a personal history with the Health Inspector. Also in the running is Marvin’s girlfriend, Roberta Cummings, who has been loudly accusing Trixie of murder and whose brother delivers food supplies to the diner and had ample access to the fatal meal.
While the premise is familiar, the byplay between Trixie and Ty is absolutely charming. Her distracting debate with Ty over girls vs. women and who referred to who first is hilarious, as is her attempt to pin down his opinion on Cogswell’s looks from a “non- Brokeback Mountain standpoint.” Their relationship is one of the strongest aspects of this mystery. While he is forced to keep Trixie on his list of suspects, he nevertheless stands up for her and encourages business for the diner to the townspeople. Her gradual acceptance by Sandy Harbor as the niece who left is realistic and heartwarming, and her investigative attempts are surprisingly effective and completely believable.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery with a plot that keeps the reader engaged and very surprised by the reveal, always a joy for mystery reading veterans. In this debut Comfort Food Mystery, recipes are of course included as are delectable descriptions of decidedly low-fat, but down-home cooking. Trixie is a very relatable and likable character deserving of her starring role in this promising and very well-written series.
One Dead Cookie: A Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery By Virginia Lowell
Review by Cynthia Chow
For an owner of a specialty cookie decorating store Olivia Greyson has encountered an alarming number of dead bodies. So it’s not surprising that any time there’s a disturbance, the first question Chatterley Heights residents ask Olivia is, “Was there another murder?” This time though, the most pressing concerns for Olivia are what cookies to create for her best friend, Maddie Briggs’ engagement party and cookie wedding cake.
In Chatterley Heights there is of course a Lady Chatterley’s Clothing Boutique for Elegant Ladies and a break-in there by thieves skillful enough to disarm the burglary system, but inept enough to hammer at the safe has Sheriff Del Jenkins concerned enough to drop in and check on the investigation-prone Olivia. What doesn’t worry the pair is The Weekly Chatter’s gossipy newspaper that has Binnie Sloan implying that the couple is on the rocks, with Del’s attention straying towards The Gingerbread Store’s new employee, Jennifer Elsworth. Although there’s no question of any illicitness between Jennifer and Del, Olivia must admit that Jennifer was hired after an impressive display of cookie knowledge, but without any reference checks or information about her background.
While Olivia is thrilled to be a part of her best friend’s wedding, she is having a brain freeze trying to figure out the perfect recipe for Maddie’s requested cookie cake or the hundreds of edible works of art that will be provided for the extravaganza of an engagement party which the entire town may attend. Olivia definitely does not have time to be distracted by ridiculous rumors or a mysteriously disappearing assistant.
Leonora “Dove” Tucker Bouchenbein, a former actress and somewhat delusional self-declared former starlet, now freeloads off her nephew’s family and Olivia’s free cookies. Leonora has succeeded in luring soap star, Trevor Lane, to Chatterley Heights for a visit despite his having been a resident of neighboring town, Twiterton, and their high school sports team rival. Trevor’s ego is barely contained by the town although he is somewhat kept in check by his public relations assistant/bodyguard/voice of reason, Dougie Adair. However even he cannot shield the town from Trevor’s abrasive attacks on some of the locals and it’s not a complete shock when someone finally decides to take action. The big surprise comes when his body is dumped on the The Gingerbread House’s porch, hammered to death with the imprint of a cookie cutter on his face.
Clues unfortunately lead back to Olivia’s good friend’s violent ex-husband, but Stacy Harald believes that not even the pressure of devastating financial hardships could have pushed Wade so far over the edge. With Leonora bringing in the tabloids and rumors started by Binnie and a malicious big-mouthed postal worker, Olivia will at least have lots of opportunity to see Del, as the two attempt to figure out who has never forgotten the past and continues to manipulate evidence in the present.
By playing with readers’ expectations for an immediate murder due to Olivia’s track record, waiting ninety pages to introduce the victim and not having the murder occur until halfway through the novel, the tension is kept high with the threat of death, but the pace is always very relaxed and there’s not much time for actual investigating. Olivia’s eccentric family provides ample amounts of distraction and humor, as her overbooked and over-scheduled mother tap dances through with advice, her step-father provides unexpected financial information and her brother Jason stops by with relentless teasing and an endless appetite. Maddie fortunately never strays into bridezilla territory and her maniacal need to bake actually assists Olivia, as she falls behind in her duties when faced with the distraction of murder.
Scrumptious descriptions of baking, extensive details about the history and technique of baking cookies, and a considerable cast of surprisingly well-developed characters, all make this a fun, enjoyable and tasty pleasure for readers. The added treat of Olivia’s rescue Yorkie, Spunky, who provides very believable timing clues through his hyper-awareness and barking skills while snagging as many treats as The Gingerbread Store’s customer, is a delightful bonus.
Rubbed Out: A Memphis BBQ Mystery By Riley Adams
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the owner of Aunt Pat’s Barbeque restaurant, one would think that Lulu Taylor would already have her plate full of all the barbeque she could ever hope to handle. However, a plea for support from her good friend, Cherry, has Lulu attending Memphis’s Rock and Ribs festival where Cherry and her fellow Graces–named for their being the first docents at their beloved Graceland –have set up a Patio Porkers booth celebrating all that is Elvis and barbeque. That the festival’s theme is oddly enough “Slovakia” may not make a whole lot of sense, but the Graces still manage to ensure that Elvis will play a predominant role in their setup. Cherry has requested that Lulu have her back, as their station is located right next to one being run by Reuben Shaw, a man who has taken smack-talking to a new level. After a confrontation with his own teammates ends with Cherry bashing Reuben over the head with a plaster Elvis, the motorcycle-helmet wearing Elvis fanatic finds herself in the hot seat, when the ladies discover Reuben fatally stabbed in the chest with a butcher knife.
While Memphis police officer, Pink Rogers, doesn’t really think that Cherry truly cracked and murdered the combative and abrasive Reuben, he can’t overlook the fact that she was the last person seen attacking him and that the Grace’s tarp was found covering his body. Lulu has never shied away from poking her nose into places if it means protecting her friends, so with the enlisted aid of her curious and eavesdropping precocious twin granddaughters, Lulu and her friends are on the case to discover why a once very genial and well-liked man transformed into a confrontational-hungry menace who ended his marriage, became estranged from his friends and even his teenaged son.
Although Lulu and her friends spend most of their investigations at Rock and Ribs handing out samples and waiting for the judges’ decisions, their home base is still Aunt Pat’s, renowned for its stellar barbeque and run by Lulu’s son as the chef and his wife as the hostess and manager. The very senior members of the Back Porch Blues Band, who literally play on the back porch of Aunt Pat’s, continue to provide investigative support and even mentor Reuben’s somewhat lost but full-of-potential son.
The prolific author of two other cozy mystery series under the names Elizabeth Craig and Elizabeth Spann Craig, Adams continues to create light-hearted novels with eccentric but lovable characters. There is a sense of warmth around the family and friends of Aunt Pat’s, and not even murder can darken the tone of this mystery which is full of good humor and good food. Barbeque recipes are of course included at the end, ensuring that readers can feel free to wallow in good down-home Southern cuisine.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 Penguin mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “More Food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 31, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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