Robbie Jordan’s restaurant/country store, ‘Pans ‘N Pancakes’ has been open for six weeks in Maddie Day’s “Grilled for Murder.” Robbie specializes in selling vintage and unusual pans which double as decorations on the walls, but it’s her food that really packs in the locals for breakfast and lunch.
Robbie (short for Roberta) has agreed to cater a welcome-home party for Erica, apparently not well-liked by anyone except her own family. Even they’re not crazy about her. The party goes off almost as planned, complete with tasty food and more than a little drama between Erica and nearly everyone else.
Robbie lives in an apartment in back of the store and comes out to set up in the morning, only to find the guest of honor from the night before, dead on the floor. Next to the pickle barrel. When the barrel is emptied in order to look for evidence, I knew that I would never look at a pickle the same way again. Who killed Erica and why? Considering said drama at the welcome-home party, there is certainly no shortage of motivated people.
“Grilled for Murder” flows nicely between the mystery, the country store, the romance in Robbie’s life and the wonderful people that form the core ensemble. Her aunt Adele is the former Mayor, Buck is second in command at the police department and probably eats more than all her other customers, Phil is her dessert maker and close friend, Abe and his son Sean are new in Robbie’s life and will probably stay around a while. With their small-town friendliness and genuine support for each other, these are people with whom you’d like to spend a lot of time.
As the lead character in a cozy series, Robbie Jordan is a great one. Robbie is an athletic young woman, prefers to walk or bike if she can, wears colorful comfortable clothes, and has worked hard to live her dream. It’s her nature to listen and pay attention during conversations and she loves solving puzzles, so she’s a natural for amateur sleuthing. Her skills also include carpentry – she did most of the renovation work herself to get the place exactly the way she wanted it. Robbie’s knowledge and curiosity about vintage tools play an important role in identifying the killer and despite her petite size, she is no timid soul.
Maddie Day transfers her own love of cooking to Robbie’s character and we are treated to her techniques throughout the book, whether Robbie is in the restaurant or cooking for herself. I kept getting up to have a snack while reading “Grilled for Murder.” Cheese bubbling, fresh crust aroma, curried potato puffs with apple chutney, colorful coleslaw, cheesy biscuits made with eggs – yum. When reading Day’s step-by-step biscuit making, including the use of vintage tools, I ‘made’ the biscuits along with Robbie in my mind. All that is missing is the list of exact amounts and it is a recipe unfolding on the page.
In “Grilled for Murder,” book #2 in the Country Store Mysteries, there is more than one secret to be uncovered, more than one mystery to be solved. A jaw dropping discovery about one of the local business owners reveals the lengths some people will go to in order to protect/save those they love. With life behind the scenes in a small restaurant, and a budding relationship thrown in, “Grilled for Murder” has the right combos for an entertaining read.
“When the Grits Hit the Fan,” book #3 in the Country Store Mysteries, was published in March, 2017. Maddie Day is Edith Maxwell. Please visit www.edithmaxwell.com for more information about the Country Store Mysteries as well as Maxwell’s other series.
“Fogged Inn” is the fourth book in Barbara Ross’ excellent Maine Clambake Mysteries series and has been nominated for an Agatha Award in this year’s “Best Contemporary Novel” category. Not surprising, given the opening. And everything after that.
At 5 AM, Gus yells up the stairs, “There’s a dead guy in the walk-in!” and disrupts Julia Snowden’s work-exhausted sleep. The yelling continues until she joins Gus in the restaurant, ready to disprove this absurd idea so she can go back to bed. She enters the walk-in and sees…a dead guy. Julia is now fully awake. I prefer radio alarms, but that’s just me.
The dead guy sat at the restaurant bar the night before, but none of the other diners seemed to notice him. So, who is he? How did he get into the walk-in? The restaurant had been closed and locked at 1 AM after cleanup. Chris (Julia’s boyfriend and partner in the restaurant) would have noticed the leftover customer, so the body dump happened after then. The man has no ID, no bullet holes, and there is no blood on the floor. Aside from the why, how and where did the guy die?
During “Fogged Inn,” Ross presents us with a thoroughly entertaining variation on the locked room puzzle, complete with a cast of Agatha Christie type retirees who reveal their connections to each other over the course of the clever, multi-layered tale. To add to the intrigue, they had received gift certificates for the same night the dead guy appeared, but Julia has no record of who purchased the certificates. And, more baffling, none of those guests acknowledged knowing each other during the long evening.
As the story evolves and decades old secrets are exposed, the past overshadows the present. Dysfunctional relationships are uncovered, with unintended consequences and tragic events as the fallout. The more Julia discovers, the more items linked to the past start disappearing, and the greater the danger that surrounds her.
The wonderful ensemble characters return to enthrall us with changes in Gus’ life and in the naturally developing relationship between Julia and Chris. Julia’s childhood friend, the Police Officer Jamie Dawes, is involved in the investigation, Binder & Flynn return as the irritating State cops, and Chris’ talents are revealed in delicious ways. Family members drop in, lending support, and Julia’s acceptance into small-town living seems almost certain when she’s invited to join Sit’n’Knit.
Because the story takes place in the winter, there is no clambake in “Fogged Inn.” Happily, there is still a lot of cooking going on and wonderful recipes to be found at the end of the book. We get a look at what winter in a tourist town is like when all the tourists are gone, where the locals scramble to earn a living and gather at the local watering hole (Gus’s place) to trade stories. Julia and Chris share restaurant space with Gus, the lovable grump that owns and runs Gus’s at breakfast and lunch. Julia and Chris take over only for the dinner crowd, just for the off-season, as Gus’s Too.
As with the rest of the series, Ross blends hardy New England life and the mystery together beautifully, so that readers enjoy learning about coastal Maine, wonderful food, and our favorite people while the bodies pop up.
Congratulations to Barbara Ross for this well-deserved Agatha nomination for “Fogged Inn.” Malice Domestic attendees will vote at our convention at the end of April, 2017.
Read about Barbara Ross’ writing process (and more) here.
Please visit www.maineclambakemysteries.com for more information about the series and Barb Ross’ upcoming appearances.
“Whispers Beyond the Veil” is the first book in the Change of Fortune series. Jessica Estevao has penned a self-reliant female character who thinks on her feet in risky situations and when cornered, often chooses the path most likely to keep her out of jail.
Jail? This is no ordinary gal growing up in a quaint family business. Ruby Proulx is a con artist, who makes a living by taking money from the gullibles passing through the circus tents. But, even with all the flimflam miracle cures and tarot card readings, she and her father are just getting by, in part because he drinks and schemes the earnings away. This is 1890s Canada, and when a dangerous scam results in a death, and her father disappears, she flees south to Maine to an aunt she’s never met.
Ruby’s arrival at her aunt Honoria’s hotel is a surprise to everyone except Honoria. Happy to repay Honoria for her kindness, Ruby continues to use her skills with séances and Tarot cards to help her aunt’s hotel survive. A hotel that features ‘spiritualists’ as the main attraction.
But, Ruby is caught between skeptics who feel that Honoria is scamming the visitors and stealing their hard-earned money and a wish to have a home she’s never had before. She’d like to fess up that she’s a fraud, but telling the truth may only put her on the street or put her aunt in jail. What’s a con artist to do?
The characters are either sweetly oblivious to the cons, in on them, or working hard to expose them. A handsome policeman, a psychic investigator, bodies popping up, and peeks behind the scenes of a con artist’s life, enrich the story, but when Ruby becomes a suspect in several crimes, she must guard both her heart and her skills to escape the snares.
With an inventive main character and Old Orchard Beach as the setting, this new series is off to a great start and “Whispers Beyond the Veil” has been nominated for an Agatha Award. Please visit www.jessicaestevao.com for more information about the Change of Fortune books as well as her other series, written as Jessica Crockett, also great fun.
Kristan (Stan) Connor is back in “Custom Baked Murder,” this time with more furry friends in residence and a love life that is heating up. Kristan is busy getting ready to open her long-anticipated pet café, with specially designed display cases, and new ideas to make both human and furry customers happy. She has two new backers for the business – one she’s happy about; the other she puts up with in order to realize her dream.
Her mother, ever detail oriented and still driving Stan crazy, is getting engaged to the Mayor and the big announcement will be made at a blowout party at the groom-to-be’s house. But the Mayor doesn’t show, and Stan’s irritating former colleagues do – along with her former fiancée. Talk about cringe worthy events. Oh, and there’s the murder at the party. Certainly, a memorable evening. And not in a good way.
The murder victim isn’t well-liked, so the question the police must answer is not who killed her, but instead, which one on the long list of enemies got to her first? Rumors fly and suspicions drive wedges into the small community, with several misunderstandings and family surprises thrown into the mix. Kristan must shield her mother from the press, while trying to prove her own former fiancée innocent. The overlapping story-lines are intriguing and keep the pages turning in this well-plotted mystery.
Including old friends and enemies in “Custom Baked Murder” adds a delicious twist. Sometimes we hope that the oldies (but baddies) will fade away from our lives forever, or that they might have changed, but wham! There they are, creating havoc yet again when least convenient. Mugavero captures this dynamic perfectly as she delivers the multiple red herrings.
Mugavero has expanded the relationships among the ensemble characters throughout the Pawsitively Organic series, evolving them in a natural way as time has passed. One gem of a character is Cyril, the reporter. Anyone who has ever met a small-town journalist will recognize the dogged chase after any detail that will make headlines. His shifts between investigation and bargaining for information are spot-on. And, then we have Stan’s hunky love interest, Jake, who keeps proving why he’s one of the good guys. The sisters have a larger role this time and fans will love that the series has become an engaging family affair.
Never fear, dogs and cats play important roles, including when Kristan throws a fund-raiser for a K-9. Mugavero continues to show us ways we can help the real-life animals in our lives. Happily, “Custom Baked Murder” includes more healthy pet recipes. The blueberry biscuits look tasty enough to be people food.
Don’t miss “Custom Baked Murder,” the fifth in the highly entertaining series.
Read my review of the Agatha nominated, “Kneading to Die,” here.
Read my review of “A Biscuit, A Casket” here.
Please visit www.lizmugavero.com for more information about Liz and her future projects, as well as her continuing work in Animal Advocacy.