Thursday, August 15, 2013

Death Al Dente - Leslie Budewitz


Death Al Dente
A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery
Leslie Budewitz
Berkley Prime Crime
 
Mystery
 
Over a century ago, Erin Murphy’s great-grandfather opened the Mercantile (known as the Merc) as the town’s first grocery store.  Now Erin is back to manage the place, hoping to steer it out of some troubled economic waters.  Her plan is to make the place an “artisan market for local and regional foods.”  There are plenty of local producers of everything from grain to dairy to meats, and many locals put a gourmet spin on their offerings.  Erin’s mom, Fresca, is adding to the product line with her own handmade pastas and sauces.
 
It’s the start of summer, and tourism is just starting to pick up.  Erin’s plan for a Festa di Pasta is in full swing.  It’s a weekend of food-centered parties, starting at the Merc.  During last-minute preparations, Erin runs into Claudette.  Claudette used to work at the Merc with Fresca, until she ran off to Vegas with the town’s resident (married) Elvis ‘tribute artist.’  Months later, the pair returned, ‘Elvis’ to his wife, and Claudette to try and re-start her life.  Rumors are swirling that some of Fresca’s recipes were stolen from Claudette.  Eager to make peace, Erin invites Claudette to the Festa.  What no one expects is to find Claudette in an alley, dead.  It seems impossible, with all the preparations going on, that no one heard or saw anything.  And, with suspicion pointing at her mother, Erin wants to find the truth.  Along the way, she finds that there are things simmering under the surface in even the nicest of towns.
 
Far too often, series like this are set in a too-perfectly-twee-to-be-true place.  Jewel Bay may sound like one of these places, but we very quickly see that this is a small town inhabited by real people.  There are realistic problems, realistic concerns, and very realistic characters.  Erin is a woman trying to adapt her family’s business to keep pace with the times.  She’s a daughter trying to protect the mother she knows is innocent.  And she behaves like a rational adult would.   She suggests hiring a lawyer, then she starts working the town network to try to figure out what really happened, all while keeping her business (which impacts a lot of suppliers and their businesses, too) a going concern.
 
The plot is effectively layered and nicely twisty, with several interesting subplots playing out over the course of the book.  There are plenty of potential suspects, and some of them even act suspicious.  Some of the storylines stretch back years, and Erin discovers, as most adults do, that no matter how old you are, your mom wants to protect you from unpleasantness.  That makes the investigation more difficult and makes the characters that much more believable.  The author clearly loves food, and her Montana home, and presents them both in a wonderful way.  There are recipes included, too.  Montana, Jewel Bay, and the Merc are fascinating places, and I look forward to my next visit.
 
Rating: 7 ½
August 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25954-2 (paperback)

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