by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
In honor of Thanksgiving we are focusing on food in this issue, and food mysteries! We have Nuts and Buried by Elizabeth Lee, The Chocolate Clown Corpse by JoAnna Carl (paperback release of last year’s hardback), The Chocolate Falcon Fraud by JoAnna Carl, White Colander Crime by Victoria Hamilton, and Olive or Let Die: A Greek to Me Mystery By Susannah Hardy. Details on how to win a copy of all 5 books at the end of this post.
Nuts and Buried by Elizabeth Lee
Review by Sandra Murphy
Lindy Blanchard had high hopes for the latest strain of pecan trees she’d grafted. Unfortunately, they look T-totally Dead. She’s got a paper due for Propagation magazine in a few months and now this disaster.
Business is booming in the Nut House, her family’s all-things-pecan outlet. Miss Amelia, Lindy’s grandmother, is turning out pecan sandies, pecan bread, and her famous pecan pies, the ones with a special ingredient (liquor).
On a more personal front, Elizabeth, Eugene’s sister, invited Lindy to a costume party to celebrate Eugene’s second marriage. Sally, his first wife, was killed during a hunting trip. Jeannie is a nice girl and it’s obvious she and Eugene are crazy about each other.
Eugene invites everyone to come see his gun collection and he heads to the gunroom to set up the presentation. Elizabeth deems Lindy’s costume inappropriate, and she’s not shy about telling Lindy about it, but just after her outburst, a shot is heard from the gunroom. The door’s locked but is quickly broken down, only for the partygoers to find Eugene dead at his desk. At first it’s thought he was cleaning a gun and it went off, but upon closer inspection, the gun in question was a ceremonial version, never meant to be fired. There were rumors of suicide but it’s hard to shoot yourself in the back—especially with a rifle that’s not found at the scene. No, it’s murder.
Miss Amelia has a way of getting people to talk to her so she’s been a backdoor for information for the sheriff and his deputy, Hunter (aka Lindy’s boyfriend). Lindy isn’t reluctant to help; it’s just her schedule keeps getting hijacked. Take, for instance, her meeting with Dr. Peter Franklin. It seems awkward to meet him at the party after Eugene’s death, but Dr. Franklin is also looking into drought-resistant strains of pecan trees. He thinks they have a lot in common. Hunter takes an instant dislike to the man.
Jeannie’s mother, who no one knew was even in town, rushes to Jeannie’s side moments after the shot was fired. Brother Billy is around too, fresh out of prison on a manslaughter charge. Eugene was in the oil business, so maybe there was a problem there. Miss Amelia thinks Sally’s death might be tied to Eugene’s. It’s a mess for sure.
Add in the Misses Ethelred and Freda who have their own theory—South American gunrunners—and Miss Melony and Miss Miranda, two eighty-ish women who take in Jeannie, and it’s an investigation by the AARP+ set.
Lindy’s able to corral Hunter, find some clues, figure out what’s going on with the trees, and make a couple of new friends, all while acting as Miss Amelia’s sidekick.
This is the third book in the series, and they just get better and better. Lindy’s figured out that she wants to live separately from the family, but her work is all at the ranch—which leads to complications. Miss Amelia is a treat and so much like someone you’ve known all your life. Goodness knows, you’d sure want to visit the Nut House to sample some of her recipes and get a pie or two to go. The push and pull between Lindy and Hunter brings a lot of fun for the reader (if not for the characters, who fuss at each other with feeling). The addition of Flasher, the stray dog who adopted Hunter, is sure to add tales to tell.
Be sure to read all three books, to see where it all started and how they got to where they are now. Besides, Miss Amelia shares her recipes.
The Chocolate Clown Corpse by JoAnna Carl
review by Sandra Murphy
Lee Woodyard is in charge of TenHuis Chocolade while her aunt and uncle-by-marriage (the police chief) are away for an exotic trip. It doesn’t take a lot of supervision, since the hairnet ladies (those who make the chocolates), are so well trained and talented. Lee’s also part of the committee to bring tourists to town, hence Clown Week. Members of the committee have to dress up and make public appearances to promote the event. Luckily, they’ve hired the services of a couple of professional clowns to do the actual coin-behind-the-ear type tricks for the audience.
Moe, the neighbor no one wants, had his shop next to Chocolade. It was called Clowning Around and featured, of course, all things clown. When in clown mode, Moe was a great entertainer. Without the white face, he was a pain in the patoot, whether at a council meeting or a casual meeting on the street. Still, it was kind of a surprise that anyone hated him enough to kill him.
A homeless man was arrested for the murder and confessed to being at the scene. That’s enough for the sheriff. Joe, Lee’s lawyer husband, doesn’t think the man got proper representation, so when the court has to appoint a new lawyer, Joe agrees to take the case. The wandering story the homeless man tells doesn’t match the one Moe’s son Chuck gave. And that doesn’t match what the neighbor saw. It’s pretty much a mess, trying to figure out what really happened.
If that isn’t enough stress, the homeless man’s daughter comes to town. She’s never met her father, she says, but her story seems a bit off to Lee. The clown shop is up for sale and Lee would love to buy it to expand Chocolade. She needs her aunt’s go-ahead, and since exotic trips mean little phone/email service, that’s hard to get. Making matters worse, there’s another buyer for the shop, one who supposedly offered more than the asking price, although what kind of business he’d open is hush-hush.
When attempts are made on Moe’s wife Emma’s life and another confession is thrown into the works, things really get complicated.
Lee’s habit of saying the wrong word when she’s nervous is still apparent but not overdone. She’s careful about where she goes and who she talks to, mindful of Joe’s position as attorney for the accused. Joe and Lee are a good couple—respectful of each other and loving, always with something to talk about after any time apart. A trip to Warner Pier is a peek into small-town life, where neighbors help each other, tourism is welcome, and secrets can come back to bite you when least expected.
Throughout the book, find pages of chocolate trivia. Like a favorite truffle, I save them for last.
There are fifteen books in the series. Check out my review of number sixteen, The Chocolate Falcon Fraud next. It is available now in hardcover.
The Chocolate Falcon Fraud by JoAnna Carl
Review by Sandra Murphy
It’s time for the Tough Guys and Private Eyes Film Festival in Warner Pier, Michigan. Lee Woodyard is part of the committee to attract tourists to town, so she’s involved—and that means TenHuis Chocolade is too. She’s the office manager for her aunt.
Lee’s surprised to see her stepson (the only good thing that came from her former marriage) arrive for the festival. He’s a film noir fan and on the lookout for collectibles. Tourists are getting into the act by dressing up as noir characters, so it’s possible to see several Peter Lorres wandering around.
Lee and Jeff agree to meet for dinner later that evening, along with Joe, her current husband (he’s a keeper, unlike Jeff’s dad) and her aunt and uncle. No one can figure out why Jeff doesn’t show up. After all, it was his idea.
Things get more puzzling when Jeff’s friend (or is it girlfriend?) shows up. She admits to bugging Jeff’s car with a tracker and following him from Texas. It’s not jealousy; it’s the collectibles. She’s sure Jeff is on the trail of something really good and she wants to beat him to it.
They manage to find Jeff’s car, crashed near the state forest, but have no clue why he’d be in that area. After all, it’s 99% per cent trees. They do discover one farm, but the young woman there says she never saw Jeff. It seems like a dead end.
When Jeff is found, it’s in a very unlikely place. He’s got a concussion, can’t remember what happened after he left the chocolate shop and is keeping secrets besides. Getting him to spill his secrets is a challenge.
Lee and her aunt are determined to uncover the truth while keeping out of harm’s way. After all, her aunt is married to the police chief. In the midst of selling chocolate falcons to tourists, they manage to investigate which only leads to more puzzlement.
There’s a lot of information about films like The Maltese Falcon, but it’s doled out in small bits as Jeff explains what he’s after, so no information dump. Between chapters there’s trivia about fudge, an item TenHuis does not make. Be sure to read the recipe for Velveeta Cheese Fudge, odd-sounding—but Carl swears the resulting fudge (if you live through the hand beating of ingredients) is perfectly smooth and absolutely delicious.
Once again, it’s a fun visit to Warner Pier and Lee’s family. Drop by TenHuis Chocolade and Lee or Dolly Jolly, one of the chocolate makers, will give you a free truffle. You won’t be able to leave without taking a good selection with you. Joe will either be at the law office or the boatyard where he restores antique boats. It’s definitely a place you’d like to visit. Just watch out for the wandering Peter Lorres!
White Colander Crime by Victoria Hamilton
Review by Sandra Murphy
A Victorian Christmas is the perfect time to hold Dickens Days and announce the grand re-opening of the newly restored Queensville Historic Manor. The townspeople are anxious to see the old house and tourists are willing to spend their money in the small shops as well. Jaymie Leighton is as busy as an elf during the holiday season. She works part-time for various businesses in town, has a themed picnic basket business of her own, and writes a food column for the newspaper. (Recipe for no-bake fruitcake included, yummy but not a low-calorie dessert!)
She’s decorated the kitchen area at the Manor with a colander full of holly and berries. She’ll bake and distribute cookies during the open house as people wander through. Jaymie has a small run-in with Lori, who she finds cleaning the antique stove with harsh chemicals that could ruin the finish. Lori is one to take offense easily and, later, Jaymie finds that runs in the family when Lori’s daughter Shelby chimes in.
The family, including Shelby’s brother, seem to get into trouble easily and resent that the newspaper prints the stories. In spite of that, Shelby’s dating Cody, son of the newspaper’s editor. She’s been telling people that he hits her and —at least once—he did it in public. In the drugstore, they have an argument and when Jaymie goes to the rescue, she finds Shelby on the floor with a surprised Cody standing over her.
Before the open house though, it’s time to drum up business by handing out flyers and talking it up to those enjoying Dickens Days. At the end of the first night of Dickens Days, Jaymie returns the leftover flyers to the storage room, only to find Shelby there, badly beaten and near death. The logical suspect is Cody, who swears he didn’t do it. He’d be more believable if he hadn’t lied so often to the police.
Shelby was the kind of person who liked secrets, so maybe that had something to do with it. She also liked attention but was suspicious of everyone as well.
Jaymie agrees to look into the matter, not really getting involved but just, you know, asking a few questions here and there. She feels there’s something hinky about the place Shelby worked, supposedly a headhunter firm… but there’s also a dating service and a modeling agency on the side. Cody is definitely hiding something; his mother is no help, in fact a hindrance; and then there are the other guys Shelby was seen with—a fifty-ish biker dude and a pharmacy rep who has no class and no boundaries.
With Dickens Days, work, her parents coming for a visit, Grandma and all going to her sister Becca’s for Christmas, taking care of Hoppy (her three-legged Yorkie-Poo) and cat Denver, there’s hardly a moment to spare for Jaymie’s love life with Jakob. He owns the local Christmas tree farm, so he’s plenty busy too.
Pay close attention to the characters, since there are plenty of suspects to choose from. The case comes to a satisfying close but not before Jaymie puts herself into a dangerous situation. My only complaint is the trend of amateurs who decide it’s okay to go break into a suspect’s house or office since they know where he is at the moment—and get caught or nearly so, especially if they end up being rescued by a man, instead of getting out of the predicament themselves.
Other than that, this is a book I enjoyed as I did Jamie’s previous escapades. I look forward to more, especially with the romance added.
Hamilton also writes the Merry Muffin series. Add them all to your holiday wish list.
Olive or Let Die: A Greek to Me Mystery By Susannah Hardy
Review by Cynthia Chow
Now that her husband is openly out of the closet and they are divorcing after twenty years together, Georgie Nikolopatos finally feels as though she is revealing the truths in her life. All she has left to do is inform her mother-in-law Sophie that Georgie has begun a romantic relationship with Captain Jack Conway. It’s a touchy subject, considering that Georgie and Sophie are the co-owners of upstate New York’s historic Bonaparte House Greek restaurant.
Georgie is definitely not prepared for the sudden appearance of Melanie Ashley, formerly known as Shirley, the mother Georgie has not seen for the past eighteen years. Now a soap opera star renown for her numerous onscreen (and off) love affairs, “Melanie” was last seen whizzing off on the back of a Harley Davidson when Georgie was only eighteen. Georgie is more than a little suspicious of Melanie’s motives for reappearing, especially considering Georgie and Sophie’s recent discovery of priceless artifacts and antiques. It’s a suspicion that bears out when Georgie discovers the body of Doreen, the current owner of Melanie’s family home and the cousin Georgie never knew existed. When evidence seems to implicate Georgie’s ex-husband’s new tattoo artist boyfriend, she is forced to once again insert herself into an investigation that jeopardizes those close to her.
Throughout the novel, author Hardy successfully conveys Georgie’s simmering resentment and anger toward her mother. The murder investigation forces Georgie to confront her feelings even as Melanie dodges and hides behind her personal assistant. Georgie may be an adult, but you’re never too old to feel the hurt caused by a parent.
Nevertheless, the seriousness of Georgie’s dilemma never overshadows the delicious descriptions of the meals she enjoys, or the dinners prepared by her restaurant. Sophie takes a sideline while Georgie’s friend Liza, whose spa caters to celebrity guests with luxurious treatments as well as a very hot pool boy, steps in to help Georgie with emotional support. This second in the series continues plotlines established in the debut and builds upon characters, with the result that readers quickly become invested in future novels.
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,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 28, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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