Kensington releases Barbara Ross’s 4th Maine Clambake Mystery

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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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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False Wall by Veronica Heley, Severn House

Highly recommended, without reservation

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False Wall CoverVeronica Heley has a unique – and beloved – voice in the world of British cosy mysteries, as well as Christian cosy mysteries, because she manages to blend the two without blemish to the other.  Once again, her gift is apparent in False Wall, the 10th volume in the Abbot Agency Mysteries series.

The story, and the mystery, open with Bea’s garden wall suddenly collapsing, almost on Bea herself, as an amateur attacks the ivy that has covered the wall in his family’s garden.  The disaster destroys Bea’s mature sycamore tree, the one that she has enjoyed gazing upon when perplexed, as well as the wall separating her back garden from the newly purchased home of her friend, and would-be fiancé, Leon Holland.  The destruction then sets off an inexplicable hostility between the owners of the garden wall that fell, as well as equally inexplicable attacks on Bea and the Abbot Agency itself.

The reaction to each succeeding event falls fast and furiously, distracting Bea from her efforts to think things through and see what is really going on and why.  And that’s no coincidence, but part of the plan to keep her off balance and unable to respond to the efforts to undermine not only her, but also Leon.

I love double entendres and puns, equally, so the title delighted me.  It refers not only to the wall separating so many back gardens, but to the walls between Bea and Leon – the false walls that have kept Bea from accepting his many proposals of marriage – as well as to the walls between others.  In fact, this is as much British cosy mystery as it is as novel about the relationships between families and friends, although the latter certainly serve to promote the former.

Like both of Mrs. Heley’s mystery series, these books are best read in order – because the relationships between the characters have as much to do with the mysteries as the mysteries themselves.  The mysteries do stand on their own, but one would lose so much without understanding the growth and development of the relationships between the recurring characters in the Abbot Agency Mysteries, as well as the Ellie Quicke Mysteries.

I believe this book will appeal most to fans of clean, comfortably cosy mysteries who are not hostile to Christianity.  As always, Mrs. Heley writes with a deft hand that makes the Christian fiction part merely a natural part of the stories’ backgrounds, and this is especially true with the Abbot Agency Mysteries, where Bea, a 60ish widow, is herself a fairly new Christian.  Readers who are absolutely hostile to Christianity won’t like the book, because some of the characters, including Bea, are portrayed as the average practicing Christian.  To all except those, this is a book I highly recommend.  Personally, I couldn’t read it fast enough . . . and then I wanted to read it all over again.

I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a review reflecting my own, original and unbiased opinions.  For what it’s worth, I have yet to read a book written by Veronica Heley that I did not absolutely love, and I bought most of them, regretting only that the exchange rate at the time made me buy them over a longer period than I would have preferred!

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