Category Archives: Mystery

Cute Cozy Culinary: Pies & Peril by Janel Gradowski #weekendcooking

cover image of Pies and PerilPies & Peril by Janel Gradowski – the first in the Culinary Competition cozy mystery series, set in Michigan – is a fun read for foodie mystery fans. Readers with a sweet tooth will drool over the descriptions of the prize-winning baked goods made by the main character Amy, such as Bumble Apple Crumble Pie, Lemon Cheesecake Muffins, and Hot Fudge and Pound Cake Trifle.

As in all cozy mysteries, the person found dead at the beginning of the story was someone who wasn’t much liked and won’t be missed much by anyone, but friendly, generous Amy, the perennial baking contest winner in town – at first a suspect, herself – quickly finds herself in danger of becoming the murderer’s next victim.

Here’s a short paragraph from the early part of the story, where Amy’s friend Carla is trying Amy’s latest “chocolate therapy” – a fresh-out-of-the-oven batch of Quadruple Chocolate Muffins – the morning after Amy discovered the dead body of her main competitor in the annual baking contest:

“Carla peeled the paper wrapper off a muffin and took a bite. Heavenly was too weak a word to describe the taste. Tender, intensely chocolate cake studded with pockets of gooey, melted chocolate. If there was a more decadent thing to eat for breakfast, she couldn’t think of one at the moment. Poor Amy was exhausted and stressed out, but she still turned out muffins that were ten times better than anything Maxson’s Bakery ever served.”

The recipes in the back of Pies & Peril are not on my diet, so I haven’t tried them, but they sound delicious!

Fruit & Nut Brownies
Savory Parmesan & Salami Muffins
Tomato Pies for Two
Spicy Maple Dipping Sauce

The Culinary Competition Mysteries series titles in order so far are:

  1. Pies & Peril
  2. Chicken Soup & Homicide
  3. Christmas Canapés & Sabotage
  4. Doughnuts & Deadly Schemes
  5. Fudge Brownies & Murder
  6. Banana Muffins & Mayhem (June 14, 2016)

Pies & Peril
Gradowski, Janel
Gemma Halliday, 2014

Disclosure: I won a free SmashWords download from the author in a Novel Meals giveaway in July 2014. I don’t read many cozy mysteries, but I like culinary ones the best, so I’m glad I finally got around to reading Pies & Peril!

Other opinions on Pies & Peril:
Joy’s Book Blog

Happy Weekend Cooking!

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3 Mini New England Mystery Reviews: The Big Dig, Rogue Island, & Steamed

Three of the many older mysteries that I read this year for book clubs and for a genre study. These are all set in New England.

The Big Dig by Linda Barnescover image (Macmillan, 2002)
Carlotta Carlyle used to be police and is now a private investigator. A tall redhead, she has to disguise her striking looks to go undercover, as she does here, when she’s hired by another former cop, Eddie, to investigate possible criminal activity such as fraud, theft, or graft, on one of the many Big Dig construction sites in Boston in the year 2000. Posing as a new secretary and nosing around, she soon notices signs of a much more serious crime, especially after the dead body of a complaining construction worker is found on the site. The Boston setting, the gritty violence discussed matter-of-factly, and the first-person narration make this a good readalike for anyone who likes the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker. (Like Spenser, Carlotta can be something of a smartass and follows her own rules.) The Big Dig is 9th in the series, but can be read on its own.

coverRogue Island by Bruce DeSilva (Forge, 2010)
With a blurb from Dennis Lehane and its Providence, Rhode Island setting, this hard-boiled, noir-ish mystery has a headstart on being popular in the Boston area. Judging from the check-outs in our library system, this series featuring an old-fashioned, investigative journalist, Liam Mulligan, seems to be taking off.
Throughout a frigid New England winter, buildings in the neighborhood Mulligan grew up in are being burned down and the politically appointed arson squad doesn’t seem to be doing much to find out who’s doing it. This story of politicians and crooks (often one and the same, according to Mulligan) is populated with colorful characters and told in Mulligan’s voice. I enjoyed the audiobook edition, narrated by Jeff Woodman, and the book was popular with our library mystery book club.
First in Mulligan series that’s now up to three, Rogue Island won the 2011 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

cover image

Steamed by Jessica Conant-Park & Susan Conant (Berkley, 2006)
Discovering a murder victim on a first date can be very upsetting. Chloe Carter, a 20-something foodie living in Brighton, finds this out as she tries to make her cheating ex jealous with a guy she found on an online dating site who turns out to be a jerk. All isn’t lost as the chef at the restaurant is extremely hot. However, he also happens to be the prime suspect.
Steamed is half chick lit, half culinary cozy. Humor and recipes –along with a murder – make it a cozy, but the first-person voice, a sprinkling of spicy language, and the romantic comedy will appeal to chick lit readers. (First in Gourmet Girl series)

In which I break my own rule to know whether it’s a sequel before reading: The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King @atRandom

cover image of The Bones of ParisThe Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King is a sequel to Touchstone. Now you know more than I did until I was about a third of the way into the book…

I understand why publishers don’t mention that a book is a sequel on book covers or in their descriptions, but I usually do my homework better and don’t end up reading books out of sequence too often. I’m a big fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novels, though, and thinking The Bones of Paris was a stand-alone, I requested it for review through LibraryThing while waiting for the next Mary Russell.

To cut to the chase, The Bones of Paris can be read on its own, without having read Touchstone first, but I don’t recommend it. I think I would have really liked this book a lot more if I had read it with the background from Touchstone. As it was, it took me a long time to feel as though I knew the main character, Harris Stuyvesant, a brawling American private investigator in 1929 Paris looking for a young woman from a Boston family who has gone missing while living la vie de Bohème. So even though the plot of Bones didn’t have a direct relation to the plot of Touchstone, and the author’s many references to Harris’ recent past clued me in on enough of the basics of Touchstone‘s plot to get by with, it took me a long time to care much about Harris, who was acting like a Hemingway-esque drinker, fighter, and womanizer. I would have felt more attachment to him and to the other characters from the earlier book when they eventually enter this story, if I had read Touchstone first.

OK, I think you get my point. Once you’ve read Touchstone, The Bones of Paris is a great follow-up that takes readers into Paris in the time of Sylvia Beach and Ernest Hemingway, diving deep into the life of Montparnasse artists and their American followers and the nightclubs and lurid Grand-Guignol playacting in Montmartre. After conferring with Paris police detective Emile Doucet, Harris begins to suspect one or more of the artists don’t find the posing of live models realistic enough for their shocking artwork and are taking matters into their own hands. Though not a connoisseur of modern art, Harris meets surrealist artists like Man Ray, Salvador Dali, and Didi Moreau, along with a Grand-Guignol theatrical producer and patron of the arts, Count Dominic Pierre-Marie Arnaud Christophe de Charmentier–known as Le Comte, in the course of his investigation.

The Bones of Paris is a suspenseful story, especially once Harris’ stalled investigation starts to take off. The setting is very well-described; the author makes you feel a part of the buzz of excitement of Paris at that time without overloading the book with history lessons. There are a lot of French phrases included, but if the translations aren’t obvious, the author translates. The Bones of Paris does tell a complete story and I enjoyed reading it, so it is reasonable, I guess, to call it a stand-alone. But still…

Here’s the description of Touchstone from the author’s Web site:

cover of TouchstoneA touchstone is used to test the purity of precious metals.  A man with such a test can control the value of gold.  How much more could be controlled by a man with a human touchstone?

It’s eight years after the Great War shattered Bennett Grey’s life, leaving him with an excruciating sensitivity to the potential of human violence, and making social contact all but impossible. Once studied by British intelligence for his unique abilities, Grey has withdrawn from a rapidly changing world–until an American Bureau of Investigation agent comes to investigate for himself Grey’s potential as a weapon in a vicious new kind of warfare.  Agent Harris Stuyvesant desperately need Grey’s help entering a world where the rich and the radical exist side-by-side—a heady mix of the powerful and the celebrated, among whom lurks an enemy ready to strike a deadly blow at democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here, among a titled family whose servants dress in whimsical costumes and whose daughter conducts an open affair with a man who wants to bring down the government, Stuyvesant finds himself dangerously seduced by one woman and—even more dangerously—falling in love with another. And as he sifts through secrets divulged and kept, he uncovers the target of a horrifying conspiracy, and wonders if he can trust his touchstone, Grey, to reveal the most dangerous player of all…

The Bones of Paris
King, Laurie R.
Bantam Books
Sept. 10, 2013
432 pp., hard.
$26.00 US/ $30.00 CAN

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Bones of Paris through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Other opinions on The Bones of Paris (all excellent, and more timely than my own):
Giraffe Days
Popcorn Reads
Words and Peace