Saturday, October 10, 2009

Recipe for Murder

Recipe for Murder: A Patrick and Grace Mystery, Book 2
By Janet Elaine Smith

(Star Publish / 1-932-99348-7 / 978-1-932-99348-6 / August 2006 / 160 pages / $16.95 / Amazon $13.22)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

Patrick O'Malley is a retired New York City cop. Grace Johnson, a recent widow, does volunteer work as a cook at a homeless shelter. Though they have a bit of difficulty admitting it to anyone, the two are an item. In this second of three (so far) Patrick and Grace Mysteries, the duo, no longer young but as inquisitive and determined as ever, are perplexed by a letter from their gentle friend Walter, who has unaccountably disappeared from the homeless shelter's kitchen days earlier. Walter writes them he has returned to his childhood home in Albany, Nebraska, because of the death of his father. He adds that he needs a favor. He has found a “recipe for success”, but someone doesn't want him to have it, and in case anything happens to him, he is enclosing the key to his safety deposit box, the contents of which could make them millionaires.

Worried about their friend, they call his mother only to learn that Walter has died and his death was ruled a suicide. His mother, however, believes that cannot have been the case. Patrick and Grace decide to travel to Albany and investigate the matter.

What you have there, obviously, is a recipe for a murder mystery, one with detectives who call to mind the television show Murder She Wrote, which is in fact referred to in the story, since the characters themselves realize the parallel. Once in Albany, they encounter a number of citizens of the tiny town, leery of outsiders, and many of whom are worthy of suspicion. A gratifying number of complexities and reversals ensue before the guilty party is nabbed.

Recipe for Murder comfortably fits the classic definition of a cozy, light detective story with well-educated protagonists and little explicit violence. The title stayed in my mind as I coasted through the story, meeting the various odd characters of the town and pondering the mystery. Books are indeed food for the mind. Some amount to roast beef and mashed potatoes. Others might recall a hamburger and fries. An exotic, international volume might bring to mind General Tso's chicken, or even spigola arrosto alla ligure. Not a cozy, however. A cozy, to me, would be a dessert: a strawberry tart, pistachio gelato... or, in this case, applesauce and oatmeal cookies. Yes, that's it! How can I be so certain? It's easy: not only do applesauce and oatmeal cookies figure in the plot, the recipe is included at the back of the book. It's a fitting finish to a sweet mystery.

See Also: Interview with Janet Elaine Smith
Review of A Lumberjack Christmas
Review of A Christmas Dream

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