by Sandra Murphy
Thanksgiving season seems a perfect time for food mysteries, and if you have them for Thanksgiving dinner you will have a lot less calories! From Kensington we have By Cook or By Crook by Maya Corrigan and Chorus Lines, Caviar and Corpses by Mary McHugh, and from Penguin we have The Chocolate Book Bandit by JoAnna Carl.
By Cook or By Crook By Maya Corrigan
Review by Sandra Murphy
Val Deniston used to promote cookbooks and chefs, until a car accident resulted in a chef with broken bones–and a big mouth that proclaimed she was at fault. Due to a concussion, Val can’t remember. Besides, he’s famous, she’s not, end of story.
Since her career is in ruins, it’s time for a change of scenery. Her mom and dad are off to warmer climates so Val heads to Granddad’s house. Her parents want Gramps to sell the old Victorian home. He’s willing to do a little work around the place to let them think he’s on board with the plan. Of course, he would rather barter than pay, but too bad what he’s bartering is Val’s cooking and catering skills.
Val runs the Cool Down Café at the local tennis club. Sweaty opponents stop in for a smoothie or latte after a few sets. She serves tasty dishes like quiche too, all with a lowered calorie count.
Nadia, one of the regulars, can be both generous and seemingly spiteful. Nadia’s car won’t start so she asks Val for a ride home. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t make Val think twice but Nadia dumped Val’s assistant, Bethany, as a tennis partner. Bethany isn’t over the hurt yet. Worse, Nadia had an affair with Maverick. He’s married to Monique, Val’s cousin. Monique’s not taking it well, to say the least. Still, you can’t turn down a customer, especially in a small town.
When they arrive at Nadia’s house, there’s a flaming tennis racket on her front lawn. Is it a warning from Monique or a teenage prank? Nadia wants to keep the whole thing quiet and refuses to call the police.
Nadia wants Val to cater an event for the club so Val’s up most of the night working on the menu, pricing and all the small details that go into a successful showing. It’s a disappointment when Nadia doesn’t answer her door for their meeting. However, her car is in the driveway so she has to be home. The front door is unlocked, so Val goes on in, only to find Nadia’s body in the kitchen, stabbed in the neck with a sharpened wooden tennis racquet.
Monique is of course, a prime suspect but there are others. Maverick gets his share of attention since he says he broke off the affair. His alibi doesn’t hold up to scrutiny but could he have done it? Since Nadia didn’t report the flaming tennis racquet, sharpened the same way as the murder weapon, the suspect list must be limited to those who knew about the fire.
Unfortunately, Nadia’s neighbor saw it, told his mom and she passed the news along to everybody she knows and that puts Monique at the top of the list.
Val is sure her cousin is innocent but isn’t too sure about Monique’s hubby. It’s not like there’s a shortage of people who would have liked to do Nadia in. Under the guise of organizing a memorial for Nadia at the club, Val sets out to find out more about the woman.
On the home front, Granddad is acting weird. He has a sudden interest in Val’s recipes and in fact, has destroyed her carefully sorted chapters-to-be as he’s snooping. Worse yet, are his attempts to recreate the dishes with his own peculiar touches.
Although the big-city-gal-devastated-by (pick a reason) who moves back home has been done, here it’s done well with the mystery of the car accident hanging over Val’s head. As she works on the cookbook, she also refines her ideas for it plus gets to meet a lot of fun characters along the way. This is the first in a new series and you’ll want to keep an eye out for the next one. Although Val’s food is served at the club, it would be nice to just drop in for a snack. You wouldn’t have to work out!
The new columnist for the newspaper in Bayport included recipes at the back of the book. They are: Mystery Salad, Small Potatoes, No Mistakes Crab Cakes, Grand Berried Pork, Easier than Pie Apple Crisp, De-lish Rockfish, Mrs. Z’s E-Z Macaroons and A Lot O’ Strata.
The Chocolate Book Bandit By JoAnna Carl
Review by Sandra Murphy
Lee McKinney Woodyard, office manager for TenHuis Chocolade has a bit of free time so she’s giving thought to joining the library board, but before jumping right in, she thinks a test meeting is in order.
Miss Vanderklomp, former teacher and current decision maker about what is proper reading material and what is not (at least in her mind), is not a board member. Since the family has always been so influential in town and the library is in what used to be the family home, she gets away with a lot more antics than she should. She manages to be at every board meeting and she always gets what she wants.
Carol Turley is the secretary-treasurer for the board as she is for most organizations in town. It’s not a strenuous job since the City has to take care of most of the monies involved. Dr. Cornwall (call me Corny), is a retired history professor. It’s sometimes hard to tell if he’s awake or asleep at the meetings. Rhonda Ringer-Riley is the board chair. Abigail Montgomery is the retiring board member whose place Lee will take, if she can stand the library politics! Of course, the new library director, Henry (Butch) Cassidy may shake things up a bit.
The first meeting seems to be going well. Corny woke up in time, Miss Vanderklomp arrived to oversee everything and Butch introduced himself. The screams of the clerk certainly changed that. Abigail Montgomery wouldn’t be attending this meeting or any other. She was dead!
Her body was found at the bottom of the basement stairs but what in the world was she doing there? There’s a case to be made for an accidental fall, until Lee finds a wooden rod that was used to display print newspapers for patrons. It has blood on it and matches the head wound Abigail couldn’t have gotten from a fall. This puts the entire board in the awkward position of being suspects.
Miss Vonderklomp, for all her posturing about doing the right thing and being proper, can’t understand why crime scene tape means for her to keep out too. She mentions she has “personal items” stored in the library’s basement and must retrieve them, in fact she’s more than insistent. No one can figure out what she could be talking about.
Dr. Cornwall is very touchy on the subject of his title. He prefers to be called Corny and is adamant about it. Why should it matter?
Abigail’s brother Tim says she had been worried lately but didn’t tell him why. Could it have anything to do with her death?
Butch, even though he’s new to town, has a secret and Lee gets involved in helping him keep it. This gets very tricky since her aunt is married to the police chief. Lee loves her husband Joe and would never do anything to jeopardize their marriage but there’s something about Butch that is so very attractive and compelling.
Joe seems to have a secret of his own. His old girlfriend is back. Too bad Lee arrives at Joe’s office to surprise him for lunch just as he’s meeting Meg on the sidewalk. The big kiss Meg gives him (and he seems to return), has Lee more than worried. Joe’s distracted, coming home late and just not himself. He wouldn’t do anything stupid any more than Lee would but on the other hand, did he ever really get over Meg? And if he didn’t, what does that say for his marriage to Lee?
When a second death occurs, also seemingly an accident at first look and also in the library, Lee’s sure the murderer is someone they know well. With everyone acting so suspiciously, it’s hard to tell the innocent from the guilty.
This book goes further into the personal lives of the characters. Lee and Joe both have temptations that if acted upon, could ruin their relationship. Lee has lied to Hogan, not just an uncle by marriage, but the police chief. Readers are able to find out more about the townspeople as well. The focus is not just on finding the killer but on the characters as whole beings–personal lives and feelings as well as professional and the effects of being suspects. I liked the temptation Lee feels about Butch as it keeps her from being a too-perfect character, as does Joe’s dilemma about Meg.
This is the fifteenth book in the series, released last year in hardcover and now in paperback. Number sixteen, The Chocolate Clown Corpse is now available. Read an excerpt from it at the back of this book. Although there are no recipes included, Lee always gives a description of the chocolates she eats or sells. Chocolate trivia is on its own page at the beginnings of chapters, to be read and enjoyed or skipped until after the murderer is found.
Chorus Lines, Caviar and Corpses By Mary McHugh
Review by Sandra Murphy
You’d think that five “fiftiesh” friends who take up tap dancing for exercise, would be a pretty tame group. How much trouble could they get into? Obviously, you haven’t met Mary Louise, Tina, Pat, Gini and Janice who are known as the Happy Hoofers–that’s with an F, not a K!
They were good enough at tap dancing that word got around and they were asked to dance at a senior center, then a community luncheon. Before they knew it, there was a You Tube video and that led to their current predicament. They were hired to be the entertainment on the Russian cruise ship, the Smirnov.
Of course, they weren’t expecting luxury suites or anything but a cabin for two, so small that only one person can change clothes at a time? Well, at least there will be plenty of food–or not. What Russian cruise line hires an English chef to cook watered-down Russian recipes? The chef is beyond temperamental–there are pots and pans flung, curses screamed and knives flourished.
The crew is most unhappy and that leads to unhappy passengers of course. At least the Hoofers are popular. They get to meet Caroline, an 80 year old woman who is traveling with her granddaughters. The girls become the Hoofers official groupies. Gini, a documentary film maker and fiercely independent, meets Alex, who seems to be a kindred spirit, at least after a bit of a rocky start.
Mary Louise, she’s most interested in the recipes for the food they do get to eat. George, her cranky husband, got used to gourmet meals when they first got married and expects that trend to last forever. They’re all a little worried about Pat, who seems to enjoy the vodka a bit too much and a bit too early in the day.
Tina makes a friend too–Barry, who was at law school with Tina’s husband. Tina hasn’t been a widow for long and will date again, just not now. However, Barry is ready to step in and take care of the “little lady” so she doesn’t have to work and take jobs like dancing on cruise ships. His attitude makes Tina value her friendship with Peter, back home. He’d never act like that!
Janice befriends Brad Shelton, a young gay man. He was supposed to be on the cruise with his boyfriend. When they broke up, it seemed like a good idea to go anyway. Brad’s an actor so he and Janice have a lot in common. She’s concerned when Brad is seen spending time with the chef–she warns him but they’re last seen together, headed to the chef’s cabin for a drink.
When both are missing and an unrecognizable body is found in the water, it’s assumed by most that Brad killed the chef and dumped his body overboard. If so, where’s Brad? Even though this is an inland cruise, there are limited ways to exit the ship safely and how will he get out of Russia?
McHugh is no stranger to writing. She has over twenty books to her credit, including titles like How Not to Become a Little Old Lady, If I Get Hit by a Bus Tomorrow, Here’s How to Change the Toilet Paper Roll, and Go for it: 100 Ways to Feel Young, Vibrant, Interested and Interesting After 50.
McHugh’s love for travel and tap dancing comes through in a cast of strong female characters. They’re willing to take a chance, make a change, try new things, make the best of a bad situation and laugh their way through it. There are squabbles but friendship overrides problems. No one takes silly risks. For these women, life doesn’t end at fifty, divorce or widowhood. Fifty is just the beginning.
The Hoofers are a fun group you’d want to get to know better. If you weren’t on stage, high-kicking with them, you’d at least be in the first row so you wouldn’t miss a thing. Luckily, the second book in the series, Flamenco, Flan and Fatalities will be available in March 2015.
Thanks to Mary Louise, there are recipes throughout the book and you’ll learn how to ask for more sour cream for your borscht in Russian.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Food,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 29, 2014. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
And if you love food, be sure to check out our food column, How I Met My Dinner!
Click on this link to purchase any of these books & a portion goes to help support KRL!