Thursday, January 24, 2013

Murder For The Halibut - Liz Lipperman

Murder For The Halibut
A Clueless Cook Mystery
Liz Lipperman
Berkley Prime Crime

Jordan McAllister writes the food column for her local paper in Ranchero, Texas.  Her recipes have done a lot to boost the circulation of the paper.  Since Jordan can’t cook more than a Pop Tart (and considers them fine dining, indeed) the recipes come from her friends; mostly casserole dishes with fancy-fied names.  Now her reputation is paying off – or making her pay.  Jordan is on a week-long Caribbean cruise, judging a cooking contest.  It sounds great, especially since it’s all free.  The big catch is that Jordan will now have to eat the gourmet food she hates in order to judge it.  Pretty much the kind of problem anyone would like to have.

On the first night of the contest, one of the chefs, the arrogant Stefano Mancini, drops dead after tasting his own dish.  It’s fairly quickly determined that Stefano had a fatal reaction to ground peanuts someone included in his spice jar.  None of the other jars contained nuts, so it looks like this is a case of murder.  After knowing him only one day, Jordan realizes that there are plenty of suspects: the other chefs each have their own reasons for enmity, some more than others.  Since a lot of people paid for the cruise specifically for the contest, the powers that be decide that it will continue.  That gives Jordan and her band of friends a chance to solve the mystery.
If you’ve been following the series (LIVER LET DIE, BEEF STOLEN-OFF) you’ll be familiar with Jordan’s family-away-from-home.  They’re a lively and interesting bunch.  Each one of them is present on the ship, and each one has a different reason for getting the trip for free.  It strains credulity, but it’s a fairly minor point.  The scenes on board ship and during the off-ship excursions are fun, natural, and serve to move the story forward.  If you've ever wondered why Bacardi uses a bat as its logo, the answer is here.  It’s been cold and rainy here, so I enjoyed the virtual vacation.
The rest of the supporting cast consists of the contestant chefs, and the organizers of the contest and various members of the ship’s crew.  Jordan’s fellow judges, a celebrity chef and a man who made a fortune with alcoholic desserts are complete opposites.  The chef is kind and willing to share tips of the trade (always bring mints to a tasting) while the CEO is a revolting lech who is not above openly flirting with female contestants.  The basic direction of the mystery was pretty clear to me from the get-go, although I admit I would never have guessed at the labyrinthine reasons behind it all.  The story does suffer a bit in the end from a lot of over-explaining and filling-in of details, but overall, it’s a fun and diverting mystery.  Don’t miss the recipes at the end.
Rating: 6
January 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25182-9 (paperback)


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