by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
This week we have a group of food mysteries for your mystery Thanksgiving feast-The Key Lime Crime: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette, Murder with Honey Ham Biscuits by A. L. Herbert, Three Treats Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein, Dough or Die: A Bread Shop Mystery by Winnie Archer, and Murder Goes to Market by Daisy Bateman. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 5 books 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.
The Key Lime Crime: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette
Review by Cynthia Chow
Food critic Hayley Snow barely has time to wallow in the bliss of her newlywed state as Key West enters its busiest holiday season. Just as tourists flood the town during the week between Christmas and the New Year, Hayley and her husband Detective Nathan Bransford also must deal with the renovations on their new houseboat. It’s not the best conditions for Hayley to meet her mother-in-law for the first time, but it doesn’t look like there’s much option when Helen Bransford unexpectedly arrives, bringing along a judgmental attitude and memories of Nathan’s ex-wife. Hayley’s worries that she will be a disappointment are quickly overshadowed by the death of pastry shop owner Claudette Parker, a talented chef and contestant in David Sloan’s Key Lime Pie extravaganza. It was at an event at the Key West Library that Claudette and her bakery had their Key Lime Napoleon eliminated from the upcoming contest due to a technicality, and Hayley can’t help but wonder if that had something to do with her murder.
While Nathan strongly encourages Hayley ignore her instincts to once again delve into an investigation, a rather surprising force propels her headfirst into the case. This time it is Nathan’s own mother who leads the charge into solving the murder, and the reason why is understandable and heartbreaking. Overwhelmingly insecure and desperate to get her mother-in-law’s approval, Hayley finds herself with an unexpected partner as they question rival bakers and dive deep into the confection linked so closely with the Key West. Cream versus meringue, graham crust or pastry, the balance of topping to the custard, all are as debatable and complicated as the motives that drove someone to murder.
This series always tops the list of my favorite reads of the year, being the perfect blend of foodie lore, enviable setting, and uniquely developed characters. At first seeming to be opposites, Nathan eats to live while Hayley expresses love through food and appreciates its pleasures. That Nathan seems to have inherited this attitude from his mother has Hayley more than a little concerned that she will be seen unworthy as daughter-in-law, especially in comparison to Nathan’s ex. As the investigation progresses and Hayley learns more about Helen and the trauma the Bransford family has endured, the women bond as they share more than just love for Nathan. Humor and clever writing keep the pace moving along swiftly and are as captivating as the Key West lifestyle. Recipes from both the author and the fictional chefs are included to delight not just with their alcohol content but also with their nostalgic ties to the creators. Emotionally satisfying and entertaining from start to finish, this tenth in the series is a standout read for the holidays or any time readers need to escape to the tropics.
Murder with Honey Ham Biscuits by A. L. Herbert
Review by Sandra Murphy
Elite Chef is the newest cooking show, this one to highlight African American contestants. The final three includes Vera, a fiftyish food truck owner, Trey, a classically trained chef who never hesitates to remind everyone he studied in Paris and who is into fusion cooking, and Sherry who just might win on looks alone although the dishes she serves are good. One drawback is, she’s as dumb as they come, but it does make her a fan favorite of those who will tune in to see what she’ll say next.
Each week the guest judges change. Halia Watkins, owner and cook at Mahalia’s Sweet Tea, has been tapped to replace a judge who had to cancel. Where Halia goes, her cousin Wavonne won’t be far behind, especially if wealthy, good-looking men, and television cameras are involved.
Since soul food is this week’s topic, the group takes a field trip through the African American Museum. The show’s host is Russell Mellinger who is opening his fifth upscale restaurant where the show’s filming takes place. As an extra challenge, the contestants are given just thirty dollars to shop for ingredients to make an updated version of an old standard.
When Sherry is short of cash, Vera offers to share a couple of ingredients. Halia is having challenges of her own as a frenemy, Twyla, is the other guest judge. Twyla is overly fond of Trey’s good looks and willing to show it with pats on the arm and more. Halia likes seeing how the shows are done but is over the people making them.
When a contestant turns up dead, the suspect list is longer than expected as secrets unfold. Halia’s been in the middle of murder cases before and doesn’t hesitate to use her inside information to help on this one too. As more secrets are revealed, she learns solving this case will be harder than week old biscuits.
This is book four in the series. Halia is someone you’d love to meet, especially if she’s cooking. She takes a lot of grief from her mother and Wavonne but that’s family. Just let an outsider try to say something! Wavonne is over the top—flashy clothes, a big mouth who speaks her mind, and totally loyal. This is a series I always enjoy. Sadly, Halia doesn’t share recipes but does drop enough hints when talking about the dishes that a good cook will be able to figure it out. Prepare to be hungry!
Three Treats Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein
Review by Sandra Murphy
Sarah Blair lives in Wheaton, Alabama. She’s secretary to Harlan, an attorney, and part owner of an upscale restaurant which is pretty funny since she can’t cook worth a darn. Her twin, Emily, is the chef. Sarah’s live-in companions are Rah-Rah, a cat she inherited, and Fluffy, a stray dog that gets along with Rah-Rah as long as Fluffy remembers her place.
Emily and Marcus have a pub-style restaurant, but the fancier spot will take their skills to a new level—if the city inspector ever does the final inspection. Botts claims he’s overworked, but some jobs get done faster, including Emily’s worst rival, Jane’s Place, giving them the advantage of a couple of weeks to grab up customers. Jane’s other advantage is her culinary school find, Riley, who makes vegan dishes so tasty even die-hard meat lovers come back for more. Jane’s soft openings are a sign of future success.
On Jane’s official opening night, there’s a commotion when Botts is rude to Riley. Apparently, there’s more to their relationship than anyone knew. Botts is a biker and part of the local club. Riley loves to ride but can’t afford her own bike, so she hitches rides with other club members, switching her allegiance often. Jacob was her recent favorite, and it’s clear he was smitten. Botts stomps out, Riley follows, Jacob after her.
Sarah is friends with Jacob, so when he doesn’t come back into the restaurant, she goes to check on him, only to find him standing over Riley’s dead body. Jacob’s sister, Anne, depends on Sarah to help find the truth. Sarah’s willing to ask a few questions, but Anne expects more. Sarah’s convinced of Jacob’s innocence but unsure of who had more than motive. One thing’s for sure, asking too many questions can be hazardous to your health.
Sarah was in Emily’s shadow at the beginning of the series but is coming into her own. Her relationship with Cliff shows promise. She’s even getting better with her office work—except for filing!
This is book three in the series, all reviewed here. Look for book four, Four Cuts Too Many, in May 2021, available for pre-order now. Recipes included in this book are: crock pot butternut squash soup, chilled zucchini soup, lasagna casserole, and pumpkin quinoa muffins.
Dough or Die: A Bread Shop Mystery by Winnie Archer
Review by Cynthia Chow
Ivy Culpepper unexpectedly found her joy and purpose in life as an apprentice baker in California’s Yeast of Eden bakery, so it’s no surprise that that the Queen Baker Olaya Solis also inspires other women in the community. The Bread for Life program is designed to help Santa Sofia’s low income and immigrant women learn skills that will make them employable as well as build up their self-confidence. Its inspirational agenda has caught the attention of a food travel television show, one which plans to film inside of the bakery while the women share their stories. Celebrity host and former local TV star Sandra Mays doesn’t seem that amenable to sharing the spotlight, though, as she and her Top Chef co-host battle for control along with screen time. When Ivy witnesses one of their camera operators intentionally targeted in a hit-and-run car incident followed by a much more successful attack on another crew member, she knows that the visiting television crew has stirred up resentment along with delicious bread starters.
While Ivy’s best friend Sherriff Emmaline Davis would prefer that Ivy leave the investigation to the professionals, a break-in at Ivy’s home and her own stalking by SUV make that impossible. After learning that the camera operator Ben Nader was a volunteer at a local women’s shelter, Ivy can’t help but wonder if one of the abusers is taking his revenge. While the women of Bread for Life showcase Mexican tachigual, Canadian bannock, and East African Eritrean hembesha recipes, Ivy investigates the lives of the victims and their abusers. Even though she may have reignited her relationship with her high school boyfriend Miguel Baptista, Ivy has her own regrettable relationship that may have led to current problems.
This fifth in the series continues to highlight not just the enviable setting of Northern California, but also the healing power of food. Olaya teaches how to use baking and eating as therapy, both for the providers and the consumers. Especially timely is how sharing family recipes allows the women of Bread for Life to embrace their memories and celebrate their cultures. Traditions surrounding these foods can be traced back to their deep history and origins, and to forget them is to forget ancestral connections. The use of a very modern reality television cooking show to present this is an effective method of drawing in readers and making it a fun and engaging novel. While Ivy’s pursuit for information within the protected women’s shelter may seem relentless and a little intrusive, her heart is always in the right place and full of empathy for others. Baking, recipes, and the multi-cultural setting of Santa Sofia make this a fun and rewarding read for those looking to mix up murder with the tantalizing world of baking.
Murder Goes to Market by Daisy Bateman
Review by Cynthia Chow
Once a software engineer living in San Francisco, Claudia Simcoe has moved up to San Elmo Bay’s Northern Californian Coast to open her own warehouse market specializing in local goods. Claudia never expected that she would have to monitor her vendors for false advertising, but Lori Roth‘s Handmade Creations are undeniably catalog-sourced and it forces Claudia to end Lori’s lease. That their public disagreement occurs just before Claudia discovers Lori bludgeoned by a pickle jar and garroted by a cheese string means that the lazy police chief sees Claudia as a quick and easy arrest. Not about to allow herself to be shuffled off into jail, Claudia uses her analytical programming skills to help her to organize a list of suspects, nail down alibis, and narrow in on a suspect.
Claudia’s biggest headache had previously been an irritating, never-seen neighbor on a mission to file civil complaints and write to the newspaper warning that her market would bring crime to the city. Now she not only has to prove that the murder isn’t related to her market, Claudia has a possible jail sentence looming in her future. The success of the local vendors who invested in her market also weighs on Claudia’s conscience, as they have trusted her with their finances and family businesses. Using her computer programming experience and some crafty thinking, Claudia very realistically cracks Lori’s passwords and discovers an entirely new path of investigation. An ex-husband, list of codes, and the puzzle of why Lori came to San Elmo Bay in the first place all become a compelling puzzle for Claudia to decipher before a Fitbit and text messages frame her as a murderer.
One wouldn’t expect a “cozy” mystery written by an author by the name of Daisy Bateman to be so sharply written with wry observations and often darkly humorous asides. Only one example is Claudia’s description of a former boyband member whose hairstyle once resembled a sea urchin with frosted tips, but now is cult leader with a facial expression that combines divine inspiration and two concussions. Claudia is a delightful find as a character, one who complacently admits that her genuine enjoyment in finding a purpose by investigating may be a touch sociopathic. Her ex-boyfriend’s intention to squat in their apartment led to her impulsive decision to sell her apartment, move to San Elmo, and buy her own Market warehouse. While this wasn’t the future she ever envisioned, it has led to more happiness than she ever expected. The journey of the novel as Claudia grows more comfortable in San Elmo is as compelling and fun as the final conclusion to the mystery, which takes readers to a completely unexpected but satisfying reveal. This debut series is a much-needed treat for the year and promises even more exciting and fun adventures for Claudia’s future. This first installment sets a high bar for this extremely well-written and unique mystery series.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “thanksgiving feast” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 28, 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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