“Mardi Gras Murder” by Ellen Byron

 

“Mardi Gras Murder,” the fourth entry in the Cajun Country Mystery Series, stars independent Magnolia Marie (Maggie) Crozat, an artist/B&B owner whose family has lived in Pelican, Louisiana for generations. In the weeks before Mardi Gras, a torrential rain hits St. Pierre Parish, flooding all the towns and bayous in it, submerging houses and pushing everyone’s junk along as the water rises to find release at the Gulf of Mexico. The rainwater finally settles and wreckage is left behind, but so is the body of a stranger, found at the back of the Crozat property.

 

“Mardi Gras Murder” is enriched by its inclusion of how natural disasters bring neighbors together, whether to haul away debris or provide temporary housing to the newly displaced. This is no ordinary town, but a tight-knit community steeped in tradition that shouts to the world: “Mardi Gras will go on. Peli-CAN!” despite the flooding, the damage, and the dead body.

 

Maggie’s Gran comes down with pneumonia, so to carry on family tradition, Maggie is pushed to judge the beauty pageant in her stead. For a sick senior citizen, Gran wields an awful lot of power from that sickbed, a delightful plot nod that embraces older kinfolks as respected contributors to society. Maggie conforms to some of the Pageant rules to keep the peace, but shows us a different approach to showcasing young women, not with their lineage, but by demonstrating talent, brains, and showing them encouragement when needed.

 

Many interesting characters inhabit the pages of “Mardi Gras Murder,” and Bo Durand, a Pelican police detective and Maggie’s hunky boyfriend, fits nicely into Maggie’s circle. In a real-world subplot, the tension and misunderstandings between them deliver a nuanced look at how couples and blended families cope with difficult issues.

 

In this entertaining Cajun mystery, gumbo pots are sacred and locked in safes along with secret recipes. Maggie suspects she was second place to her dad’s black pot during each year’s preamble to Mardi Gras. Even the winner of the Pelican Mardi Gras Gumbo Queen Pageant wears a crown that includes a rhinestone gumbo pot in its design.

 

Happily, because of the internal Crozat family competition for the top gumbo prize, there are several cooking scenes. I could taste the fabulous seafood gumbo while it simmered on the stove, although I was pleased to see that Bo planned to enter his chicken and sausage version into the competition. There are as many kinds of gumbo as there are cooks to debate their choices, and Byron cleverly included that banter in the book.

 

Complete with yummy sounding recipes, there is lots happening in “Mardi Gras Murder.” It engages and informs us with local history and dialect while supplying us with more than one mystery to solve, more than one body, and more than one plausible suspect to investigate. Great fun!
 

“Mardi Gras Murder” has recently been nominated for this year’s Left Coast Crime Award (the Lefty) and the Agatha Award.  🙂 This just in: "Mardi Gras Murder" won the Agatha last night for Best Contemporary Novel. Bravo!  🙂

 

Please visit www.ellenbyron.com for information about her other books in the award-winning series.

 

 

 

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