by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
Here are some more fun food mysteries from 4 different Penguin authors-Drizzled With Death by Jessie Crockett, Chili Con Carnage: A Chili Cook-Off Mystery By Kylie Logan, Murder and Marinara: An Italian Kitchen Mystery By Rosie Genova, and The Chocolate Moose Motive By JoAnna Carl. Details on how to enter to win copies of all 4 at the end of this post.
Drizzled with Death By Jessie Crockett
Review by Sandra Murphy
Just when you think there’s been a mystery written about every business, hobby, craft or quirk, along comes something new, in this case, “drizzled” is maple syrup.
Dani Greene operates Greener Pastures and is striving for organic certification for her tasty maple syrups. That gets a little tricky though when a contestant in the annual pancake eating contest falls face first into a short stack and dies.
No one is mourning Alanza. She inherited a prime piece of land, has denied right of way to townspeople, cancelled all sap-tapping by syrup makers on her land and is going to clear cut the most beautiful trees (you know, the ones that bring the leaf peepers and their tourist money to town). It’s clear Alanza is set on building a power base for her own interests.
There’s no one in town that couldn’t be considered a suspect. In a place where doors are left unlocked and everyone has a key to the grange hall, finding out who poisoned the maple syrup is going to be a real challenge. Dani is challenged as well–was it only Alanza’s syrup that was poisoned, or will Greener Pastures face a nationwide recall?
Graham is the Fish and Game warden. He’s in town because a truck driver smuggling exotic animals got fed up with squawking parrots and turned all the animals loose. Dani and Graham met when she reported a mountain lion; he thought she’d had a glass or two of wine too many. After she helps him capture a three-toed sloth (that’s three toes on each foot), he has more respect for her “exotic whisperer” talents.
A huge family, determined to cover every available surface with Christmas decorations, invite all the neighborhood strays (people, they mean) to Thanksgiving dinner and a surprise romance, and have Dani running in ten different directions as she tries to save her business, come to terms with her father’s death, deal with an overbearing sister, rescue her car from a giant bird (think mutant ostrich) and figure out if Graham is more annoying or appealing.
This is a first book in what I hope is a series. I found Dani and her family to be delightful, annoying in some ways but not overly so. I need to know more about her BFF and of course, have to find out what happens with Graham. There’s a lot of information about the maple trees and their care, syrup in general. It’s amazing the uses for syrup that were mentioned in the course of the story–and without distracting from the murder.
My one disappointment was there are only two recipes at the back of the book! The blondie maple bar is described as barely baked through, “caramelly” in texture, and buttery rich–but no recipe? Luckily there’s a recipe for a Maple Martini. I can drown my sorrows in those until the next book comes out!
Chili Con Carnage: A Chili Cook-Off Mystery By Kylie Logan
Review by Cynthia Chow
Maxie Pierce has been burned enough in relationships to know a loser when she sees one, but that doesn’t stop her from agreeing to a disastrous date with Roberto Lasko, the studly roadie for celebrity chef, Carter Donnelly, the judge for the Taos Chili Showdown cook-off. After hearing the news that her father has been missing for six weeks, with instructions that in his absence the Texas Jack Pierce Hot-Cha Chili Chili Seasoning Palace be left in the hands of his two daughters, Maxie returns to an extremely uncooperative partnership with her half-sister, Sylvia.
Beautiful, self-centered, determined to write her own cookbook and with a mother whose marriage was ended when she was replaced by Maxie’s mother (although the rovin’ and charming Texas Jack moved on soon after), Sylvia’s partnership with Maxie is a continual battle of old resentments and insults. Maxie herself doesn’t shy away from confrontation and while donning the Chili Chick costume is not the most dignified of duties, it does show off her excellent legs and allows her to promote their spices to the celebrity chef. If only she hadn’t accidentally dumped an entire plate of chili on top of Carter Donnelly while battling with her sister for his attention…
After an additional confrontation with Roberto that has Maxie pummeling him with her Hot Chick Chili costume, her discovery of his body places Maxie in the hot seat as a suspect for his murder. To Maxie’s surprise though, it’s Sylvia who actually gets arrested since it’s her chef knife that was the murder weapon and who had a long hidden history with Roberto. As much as she squabbles with her half-sister Maxie can’t believe that Sylvia committed a murder and further inquiries reveal that Robert was not who he seemed to be. In fact, more than one person at the Showdown had reason for wanting him dead, including the family member he leeched off and the woman whose jealousy seems to know no boundaries.
The handsome security guard Nick Falcone who may or may not have once been an LAPD officer warns Maxie away from investigating and as much to spite him as to clear her (half) sister Maxie recklessly and ruthlessly interrogates her fellow Showdown attendees.
What I enjoyed so much about this mystery is that Maxie is such a flawed character. Bruised by her former relationships and definitely affected by her father’s abandonment, Maxie is bristly, prickly and tends to lash out defensively to prevent herself from being hurt.
After her last boyfriend stole fifty thousand dollars from her, Maxie seems to expect anyone who is interested in her to be only to want to take advantage of her. At times Maxie is her own worst enemy, but readers will easily see through the protective shell that hides a very vulnerable and fragile woman. Humor still takes a front seat in this mystery though and the characters never seem too over-the-top or out of place.
This is a fun mystery in a unique setting and Maxie’s dedication to finding her father promises that there will an enjoyable future for readers in this new series.
Murder and Marinara: An Italian Kitchen Mystery By Rosie Genova
Review by Cynthia Chow
With the sales of her bestselling mystery series on the decline, author Victoria Rienzi is feeling the pressure from her agent and editor to deliver a hasty death to her beloved but pretentious, infallible, sexless detective Bernardo Vitali. Initially shocked, Victoria realizes that although she has achieved fame as “Vick Reed” her heart lies with the unwritten historical novel inspired by her family’s immigration from Italy. Shocking pretty much everyone Victoria decides that a break from her New York life is needed and she returns back home to the Jersey coastline and Casa Lido, her family’s Italian restaurant and where she hopes to work for one year while researching her roots and learning the secrets of Italian cooking.
Ingratiating her way back into the good graces of the very opinionated and intimidating grandmother Nonna will not be easy, but a more difficult challenge comes with the news that the reality television show The Jersey Side plans to begin filming nearby. Led by Nonna and Victoria’s mother, the residents set up a demonstration in the restaurant parking lot protesting the show and the poor image the shallow twenty-something’s bring to the coastline. During the middle of a promotional appearance on the Boardwalk, the rude producer Gio Parisi decides to grace his presence at Casa Lido and unfortunately, Victoria has the privilege of serving what will ultimately be his last meal.
With marching orders from Nonna to solve the murder and clear the restaurant of any wrongdoing, Victoria finds herself teamed with her sister-in-law, Sofia, a dance teacher whose aspirations to enter the police academy have her on the outs with her husband, Victoria’s brother and police detective Danny. If that wasn’t enough on Victoria’s plate, working at Casa Lido has her back in close quarters with Tim Truvare, her ex-boyfriend and the sous chef who still has all of the allure a first love brings. With the restaurant teetering on failure should it be implicated in Parisi’s death, and a cutthroat reporter whose carrot and stick offer to Victoria has her on a one-week deadline to solve the murder, Victoria has more than enough reasons to use the skills of her fictional detective to tally up the expanding list of suspects with motives for putting the unlikable producer out of everyone’s misery.
Full of tasty descriptions of Italian food and featuring a very likable protagonist, this debut series has all of the elements for a recipe of a successful cozy mystery. The plot is engaging and the writing fast-paced and fun. An attractive Cajun consultant restoring and repairing the restaurant’s bar provides a romantic distraction for Victoria, especially when she uncovers the devastating news that Parisi’s widow was the same woman who shattered her relationship with Tim. All of this adds up to a delectable mystery with an original heroine who shines a light on the complexities of the business of mystery writing and the restaurant world of Italian cooking.
The Chocolate Moose Motive By JoAnna Carl
Review by Sandra Murphy
Sissy Smith is her own worst enemy. When she could be polite and play nice, she’s sarcastic. She’s unconventional all the time and although she has a perfect alibi, she’s the prime suspect in the murder of her husband.
Lee McKinney Woodyard is the business manager for TenHuis Chocolates, located in Warner Pier, Michigan; her aunt is the chocolatier in the family. When Lee meets Sissy in the grocery by way of hearing Sissy’s former father-in-law verbally abuse her, Lee wants to help. She ends up hiring Sissy as a bookkeeper at the shop, much to the dismay of the chocolate ladies (the ones who make the delicious chocolates), the townspeople and, well, anybody else who hears about it.
Lee’s desire to help draws her further into Sissy’s life. Who wanted Buzz dead? Sissy’s alibi is her grandmother and that makes people wonder just how rock solid is that alibi anyway? Ace, Buzz’s dad, is sure Sissy killed his son and wants custody of their young child. Buzz’s cousin, Chip, is still willing to be friends with Sissy but she’s against it–gossips will think she’s dating and too soon after Buzz’s death. The chocolate ladies calm down but are still worried and Lee wants to make sure it won’t affect their work.
Suspects? Well there are some, but motive is harder to find. There are Nosy and Rosy, the neighbors from next door who have a bit of a conspiracy mindset going on. The housekeeper swears she saw Sissy’s car in the area just about the time of the murder–although the mechanic says it was in his shop. Buzz was rumored to be hard at work on a tell-all book, but no sign of it is found after his death. Was it about family or the overseas contract work he did?
It’s a winding path to find out the truth, but Lee prevails with the help of her husband Joe, her family and Sissy’s. This is the fourteenth book in the series, previously released in hard cover. Be sure to look for the recipe for Gran’s fudge at the end, plus an excerpt from The Chocolate Book Bandit.
Warning: Explicit descriptions of the chocolates made by the TenHuis ladies will make you want to run out and find your own Amaretto truffle (milk chocolate filling flavored with almond liqueur, enrobed in milk chocolate and dusted with chopped almonds) or a molded chocolate moose head–just to get into the spirit of the book, of course!
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 “Fall Food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 2, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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