Anything might be hidden in the mists of a thick, pea-soup fog – and Barbara Ross makes the most of this element in the fourth of her Maine Clambake Mystery series, Fogged Inn, released last month by Kensington Books.
The mystery opens when Gus, the owner of a breakfast-and-lunch diner, finds a stiff in his walk-in refrigerator and rouses Julia Snowden, who’s now renting an apartment upstairs while serving dinners downstairs with her boyfriend, home-trained chef Chris, as a way to make money during the off-season in Busman’s Harbor, Maine. Before his demise, the victim-to-be ate a bowl of the hearty pea soup that turned out to be his last dinner at the bar, while a quartet of couples spread themselves as far apart as possible in the dining room, as though none wanted to be caught dead in the vicinity of any other.
A collision on Main Street in the thick, freezing fog leaves them trapped in the diner, however, as local police work to clear the scene of the accident, search for the missing driver of borrowed-without-permission car and reopen the road, which will allow the couples stranded in the diner to make their way to their own homes, spread around Busman’s Harbor.
But the stiff growing cold in the diner’s refrigerator is just one of the mysteries obscured in the fog that Barbara Ross creates in her well-written and carefully plotted mystery. Others include a door to the diner that apparently unlocks itself, items that disappear from the small apartment upstairs while an exhausted Julia and Chris sleep like the dead, the theft of a photograph that has hung in plain view for decades and a series of gift certificates – all with a forged expiration date – that bring the four couples to Gus’s Too just in time to encounter the murder victim, as well as one another.
Ross takes a big risk – but not nearly as big as the one my aunt-by-marriage took by replacing seven chocolate bars and a quantity of chocolate syrup with unsweetened cocoa powder in my decadent Chocolate Bar Pound Cake. My aunt was left with a disaster – a bitter batter that wouldn’t rise – but Fogged Inn is everything a culinary cozy mystery should be.
The author plays absolutely fair – the clues are all there. But, just as some eluded Julia while others eluded the cops, readers may find that they, too, failed to take note of a few. I did, and, just like anyone who goes astray in a fog, I retraced my steps through the last few chapters and found the right path at last. I also cheated, and checked with the author to be sure I had found the right path.
“I realize the structure and resolution of this mystery is a little unusual,” Barbara Ross wrote in reply to an email from me. “I went with it for three reasons. One, I don’t like cozies where the amateur must jump in because the police are buffoons. I always try to have my detectives have a solid theory of the case, even when Julia beats them to the solution. But in this case the solution depends on knowledge she doesn’t have, so I thought I would give them one.”
She also wrote that she realized the structure was going to require long conversations with all of the suspects after the revelation of a tragedy that connects them so that she could resolve their own, individual stories of the intervening years. So, while searching for the clue that the police have, Julia keeps hunting for the last piece of the puzzle.
Her final reason was sentiment . . . and she’ll share it with you at the end of the book. It’s a fine sentiment, and well worth the price of the mystery.
Finally, it isn’t absolutely necessary to read the Maine Clambake Mystery series in order – the mysteries themselves stand quite on their own. But, even if you were as skeptical as I had been about culinary cozies, you’ll want to read all of them anyway because a Barbara Ross culinary cozy mystery is nothing less than a satisfying cozy mystery that just so happens to have a culinary background, much like Rex Stout provided for Nero Wolfe. Except she does go one step further: She includes a number of recipes that you won’t need a French chef to produce. I confess that I have yet to try them, but I do know how to read recipes (as well as how to prepare them), and these read like ones I intend to add to my own personal collection. Now, that’s not a gimmick. That’s what my Cajun cousins call a Lagniappe – an extra gift, gratis, from the author to you. If you like to cook as well as to read cozy mysteries, you’re going to come out way, way ahead on this deal.
Note: Sis received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in return for her own, unbiased review of this novel. Neither the author, nor the publisher, nor NetGalley has, or has attempted, to influence her opinion or my review in any way. They didn’t need to — she loves the Maine Clambake Mystery series, and she hopes you will, too.
Iced Under, the newest in the series is now available for pre-order, with release scheduled for 27 December 2016!
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