Sugar And Iced - Jenn McKinlay
Berkley Prime Crime
A beauty pageant isn’t Melanie Cooper’s idea of a good time. As a feminist, she doesn’t like young girls believing that the outside is all that counts. But, when her best friend and co-owner of Fairy Tale Cupcakes, Angie DeLaura begs her to take the meeting, Mel reluctantly caves. The two meet the organizer of the Sweet Tiara Beauty Pageant, who wants each contestant to submit an original cupcake recipe. The cupcakes will be baked by Fairy Tale Cupcakes, giving them some great visibility. And, the pageant would like a cupcake ‘tower’ in the lobby of the resort every day of the pageant. It’s pretty impossible to refuse.
Back at the bakery, they’re surprised to learn that Lupe, the skater-girl friend of their intern, Oz, is interested in the pageant. With her hair-in-the-eyes ‘do and baggy black clothing, she’s not what you’d expect to see in the pageant, but Oz wisely points out that the winner also receives a full-ride scholarship to the university of her choice. Lupe has been accepted to Stanford, and there’s no way she can pay for college on her own. Despite her misgivings, Mel hands Lupe over to her own mother, Joyce, and her pageant aficionado friends to see what can be done.
The bakers arrive at the resort for day one of the pageant and it’s everything Mel both hoped and feared. There are highly-polished young women and their equally-polished stage mothers everywhere. It’s clear that no one has spared any expense at any step along the way. Mariel Mars, one of the judges, is not shy about opining that Lupe doesn’t belong there. When Mariel torpedoes Lupe’s initial interview score, there’s a yelling match in the lobby. It’s large and it’s loud, it involves Lupe and Mariel (and Joyce,) and it ends with Lupe threatening Mariel. The following day, Mariel is nowhere to be found. Until Angie finds her, under the skirt of one of their cupcake tables, strangled with a pink pageant sash. Now it’s really going to get ugly.
In the past, I’ve complained about the Tate and Angie will-they-or-won’t-they story. Even the characters finally seemed to tire of that, so it’s been resolved in the main, to my great relief. Now we have the Melanie and Joe story. I won’t spoil it, and I know that many readers enjoy this kind of plotline, but I find it very tedious. In contrast, I found the Oz and Lupe relationship arc sweet and believable. Of course Oz would want to protect Lupe from accusers, and of course he doesn’t know how he feels: he’s a teenager. Oz has been one of my favorites since he was introduced, so I’m glad to see him continuing to evolve.
A beauty pageant, no matter your personal view, is a great venue for a mystery. There are loads of people with intricate histories, any number of which might have a reason to commit murder. Some of the girls are under intense pressure from parents; some parents are clearly forcing the girls to enter and succeed. This is an expensive world; any number of lucrative business deals could be forged or broken, also providing motive for murder. The author does a wonderful job of bringing together many disparate personalities and motives and making it all work. Each character, each suspect, is a reasonable choice. The solution makes sense and will satisfy any mystery lover. As always (see list below) there are cupcake recipes included. This series continues to deliver solid entertainment.
Rating: 7 ½
Cupcake Bakery Mysteries:
SPRINKLE WITH MURDER
BUTTERCREAM BUMP OFF
DEATH BY THE DOZEN
RED VELVET REVENGE
GOING, GOING, GANACHE