Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cookie Dough Or Die - Virginia Lowell

Cookie Dough Or Die
A Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery
Virginia Lowell
Berkley Prime Crime


After her divorce, Olivia Greyson returns to her hometown and, along with lifelong best friend Maddie, opens The Gingerbread House, a shop on the first floor of a Victorian house (she lives upstairs) devoted to cookies, cookbooks, and especially cookie cutters. During the planning and opening stages, local businesswoman Clarisse Chamberlain was a sort of mentor who became a friend and customer. Not coincidentally, Clarisse was an avid collector of vintage cookie cutters, loving them for the feeling of history and home they gave her.

It comes as a horrible shock when news arrives that Clarisse is dead. In her sixties, Clarisse was still a force to be reckoned with, both in her business and personal lives. Widowed, she still took a very active role in her various businesses, along with her grown sons, Hugh and Edward. The sheriff believes the death was an unfortunate and accidental combination of wine and sleeping pills (Clarisse had insomnia) but Olivia refuses to believe it. Clarisse was clear-headed and quite in control of all aspects of her life. If it was murder, the motive seems pretty obvious: money. Then the will reading reveals that Clarisse left Olivia a large amount of money and her very valuable collection of cookie cutters. Now it looks like Olivia had a motive, too. Undaunted, Olivia is determined to get to the truth behind her friend’s death.

I wouldn’t have thought that a shop like this one would thrive in an economy like ours, but I have to admit that the shop sounds divine. And it’s a great place to gather various characters. Olivia has a lot of history in this small town; she knows just about everyone in some way. That makes for a large and varied and interesting cast of characters, all with intersecting stories and possible motives. Olivia moved away from town for a while, but her friends and family remained there, so they’re able to fill her in on what she might have missed. Olivia’s mom, Ellie, is an interesting character who manages to be eccentric without veering into caricature at any point.

This is exactly the kind of mystery that made me a fan of the genre. My first mysteries were Agatha Christie novels, so it’s fun to see Olivia compare herself to Tuppence Beresford. A couple of scenes, like the will reading and the gathering of all the suspects at the end, seem like homages to classic mysteries, without being slavish imitations. It’s always a joy to find a new series that has such a solid first outing and contains such promise. There are plenty of possibilities to the story at hand; enough suspects and subplots to make the mystery delightfully twisty, and to sustain suspense until the end. I’m hoping for lots more from this author.

Rating: 8
April 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24067-0 (paperback)


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