Sunday, November 18, 2012

Arsenic And Old Cake - Jacklyn Brady

Arsenic And Old Cake
A Piece Of Cake Mystery
Jacklyn Brady
Berkley Prime Crime
In the third installment of this series (A SHEETCAKE NAMED DESIRE, CAKE ON A HOT TIN ROOF) the story begins with Rita – owner of Zydeco Cakes in New Orleans – getting some bad news.  Business is down.  Way down.  Because of the economy, even the very wealthy are cutting back on luxury expenses and one-of-a-kind cakes are on that list.  I have to give the author credit for this.  Generally speaking, the ‘luxury’ businesses in mysteries remain strangely unaffected by events in the real world.  Forcing characters to deal with real problems like business downturns makes both the fictional world and the characters that inhabit it seem more realistic. 
While she’s trying to find a solution that doesn’t include cutting employees’ hours or lowering the bakery’s impeccable standards and reputation, Rita gets a couple of visitors.  Gabriel, the bartender at the local bar and one of Rita’s two casual boyfriends (the other is Sullivan, a cop) drops by with trumpet player Old Dog Leg.  Dog Leg just got a letter from his brother, Monroe.  Monroe disappeared forty years ago without a word to anyone.  Now he’s sent his brother a letter, inviting him to drop by the Love Nest, the bed-and-breakfast where he’s staying.  Dog Leg needs help.  He wants to be sure this person is really his brother and not some con man.  The problem is, Dog Leg is now blind.  The plan, cooked up by Gabriel and Dog Leg, involves Rita and Gabriel checking into the Love Nest posing as a newlywed couple and check out this Monroe character, then report back to Dog Leg.  They’ll know he’s Monroe by the birthmark on his shoulder.

This scheme seems like an incredibly bad idea for a lot of reasons.  First, Rita hasn’t been serious with either Gabriel or Sullivan and she’s not too keen on the idea of spending a weekend alone with Gabriel, pretending to be madly in love with him.  Second, there’s the problem of getting a look at Monroe with no shirt on, thus confirming his identity.  Another huge problem is that Rita is uncomfortable with lying, and this weekend will involve nothing but.  She’s eventually guilted into agreeing, though, since she’s fond of Dog Leg.  My feeling is that if a scheme sounds like it was cooked up by someone in a sitcom, it can only end badly.  The Love Nest turns out to be a b&b with a sort of annex attached that houses a group of senior citizens who have known each other for most of their lives.  It’s all very strange, and it gets even stranger when one of the seniors dies in the garden under Rita’s window, proving my theory.

It comes as no surprise that Sullivan arrives to investigate the death; and even less of a surprise when he declares it a homicide.  What is pretty surprising is that he asks Rita to hang around, since she’s already there, and see what she can find out about the residents and guests.  The rest of the story involves Rita doing just that.  She manages to get the seniors to spill information about events that they’ve kept quiet since the seventies.  While that’s not terribly believable, the story they have to tell is quite interesting, and it makes sense that the events of forty years ago would have bound them together and still reverberate in their lives today.  Again, Rita ‘solves’ the mystery only when someone confesses the whole thing to her, but by that time, I was as eager to know the answer as she was.

Rating: 7
November 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-25172-0 (paperback)


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