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Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Culinary Mystery Series Has Me Salivating

So, you may recall my slight aversion to cozy mysteries. You may also recall my determination to get over said aversion. Well, I think I have. The key? Giving into that willing suspension of disbelief thing. Before cracking open this type of book, I give myself a little pep talk: "This is most likely going to be predictable, contrived fluff. Don't get your panties in a twist, just try to enjoy it." It helps. I know this is never going to be my favorite genre, but I like a taste now and then, especially of the ever-popular culinary mystery. They're just ... fun.

When I first started seeing reviews of Lemon Tart, the initial book in Josi S. Kilpack's new culinary mystery series, popping up in the blogosphere, I added the title to my extensive list of Books To Be Read. After which I promptly forgot about it. Then, I noticed reviews of the second book, English Trifle. It also ended up on my list. It also ended up forgotten. Then, I got an email from the leader of my somewhat-defunct book group announcing that Josi and another LDS writer had agreed to come speak to us while on their book tour. I always love to hear writers talk about their craft, so I stuck the date on my calendar. Wanting to study up a little (being a highly professional book blogger and all), I headed to my local Deseret Book, where I shelled out $17.99 (gulp) for Lemon Tart. Grumbling something along the lines of, "This better dang well be worth my money," I took it home (along with a couple unplanned book purchases - honestly, I should not be allowed into bookstores). Long story short: I just finished reading the book and while I would say that it's a very typical culinary mystery, I'd also say that it's about on par with genre favorites penned by the likes of Joanne Fluke and Diane Mott Davidson.

Our heroine is 56-year-old Sadie Hoffmiller, a widowed substitute teacher who doubles as the neighborhood busybody. Since not a whole lot happens on Peregrine Circle, Sadie spends most of her time baking, volunteering in her small Colorado community and getting to know her boyfriend, Ron. One morning as she's busy making applesauce, she spies a police cruiser pulling up to her neighbor's house. The home has been recently rented by a young, single mother whom Sadie has taken under her wing. Alarmed, Sadie rushes over, looking for answers. What she learns chills her to the bone: Anne Lemmon has been murdered. Her 2-year-old son is nowhere to be found.

As one of Anne's only friends, Sadie appears to know more about the woman than anyone else in town. What she knows isn't much - the dead woman never wanted to talk about the past she was trying to escape - but she's desperate to help the police find Anne's killer. Handsome Detective Cunningham's interested in her opinions - his angry partner wants Sadie arrested for interfering with the investigation. How can she make them understand that she's not trying to interfere, she's trying to help? Can she help it if her probing keeps leading her into trouble? It's also leading her to suspect the man she's supposed to trust above all others - her future husband. Could Ron really have something to do with Anne's death? If not him, then who? And where is 2-year-old Trevor? Sadie won't rest until she finds the answers - the killer won't stop until he silences her. Forever.

Like many culinary mysteries, Lemon Tart isn't terribly original or sophisticated. The plot's been done a million times and the characters aren't developed enough to really stand out. Sadie Hoffmiller could pass for Goldy Bear Schulz' fuddy-duddy aunt or Hannah Swenson's much older, much duller sister. I mean, she's nice - principled, generous and devoted - but she's also in desperate need of a personality. Because Sadie and her fellow players all tended toward flatness, I never felt any real emotional connection between the story's players. The fact that the plot is unrealistic and contrived goes without saying - this is a cozy, after all. So, with my disbelief willingly suspended, I'm just going to ignore the little voice in my head that kept saying, "This would never happen in real life." Because, like I said, culinary mysteries are just ... fun.

Before I use the other word I normally associate with cozies - predictable - I have to give Kilpack kudos for surprising me. The killer was not the character I had pegged for the dirty deed. Speaking of, did anyone see last week's episode of The Office? Let's just say, Anne's murderer was someone I only "medium suspected." I wasn't wowed by the overall plot, but the book had enough twists and turns to keep me interested. While I think Sadie needs more development, I also think she's more genuine than characters like Goldy Bear and Hannah Swenson - at least she has the decency to feel faint when she finds her neighbor dead. The aforementioned ladies tend to regard their constant body-findings with a disturbing nonchalance. Mostly, though, I like that Lemon Tart is a nice, clean, entertaining read, the kind I can safely recommend to my 94-year-old grandma. And did I mention the recipes? They look simple and scrumptious. So, while I'm not exactly drooling over this series, I am salivating just a little - I think it's got great potential and I'm anxious to see where Kilpack takes it. Darn it, I guess that means another trip to Deseret Book. Anyone want to loan me $17.99?

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some violence

To the FTC, with love: I bought Lemon Tart with my own, hard-earned cash (and I didn't make it reviewing books, either).

(Book image from Josi Kilpack's blog)


  1. Hey - neat blog, and cool review. Though it's not exactly my cup of tea, your review made it sound interesting. Nicely done!


  2. Great review. That covers looks positively edible!

  3. Okay, you sold me on this one. I love Davidson and Fluke (predictable, contrived...and fun!), and I usually skip the knockoffs, but this one sounds fun.

    Also, your FTC disclosure is hilarious :)


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