Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Cookie Before Dying - Virginia Lowell

A Cookie Before Dying
A Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery
Virginia Lowell
Berkley Prime Crime

It was a dark and stormy night.  No, really, it was.  And good thing, too, because the heat and humidity in Chatterley Heights has been almost unbearable lately.  A good storm would be welcome.  Just before it hits, Olivia Greyson, owner of The Gingerbread House, is walking her Yorkie through the town square when she stumbles onto a body lying in the grass.  She doesn’t know his name, but she’s pretty sure he’s the guy she saw running out of a neighboring business – The Vegetable Plate – after vandalizing it.
The Vegetable Plate is owned by Charlene Critch, not one of Olivia’s favorite people.  For one thing, Charlene is convinced that sugar is the devil and that it should be eradicated from everyone’s life.  Not a real popular stance, especially when Olivia and her lifelong best friend, Maddie, run a shop based on baking and decorating cookies.  So it’s pretty awkward that Olivia’s younger brother, Jason, is still apparently in love with Charlene from their high school days.  And it’s even more awkward when the dead man turns out to be Charlene’s unmentioned ex-husband and Jason immediately admits to killing him.  Olivia knows that Jason is only trying to protect Charlene, but she’s not going to let her brother go to jail for a crime he didn’t commit.
That’s the bare-bones plot outline of this second installment (following COOKIE DOUGH OR DIE) but, as in all well-plotted mysteries, it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.  Mysteries set in small towns can be tricky: if everyone knows everything about everyone, how could anyone get away with murder?  Here, the author skillfully constructs a place that’s home to lifetime residents; people who moved away, then came back home for one reason or another; and those who are new to town.  Each character is absolutely realistic, and each one has a detailed and understandable history. 

The mystery presents a real puzzle.  It’s always just possible that Jason really did kill the victim in order to protect Charlene, no matter what his loving sister and mother believe.  It’s clear that neither Jason nor Charlene is telling the truth, but that still leaves several very viable suspects in play.  The story does start out a bit slow this time around, but by the time Jason confesses, everything starts moving along at a nice clip.  There are several subplots to unravel, and some great new characters.  The author is very good at weaving the various storylines together and creating the kind of mystery that reminds me why I love this genre.
Rating: 7 ½
December 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24501-9 (paperback) 


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