Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Batter Off Dead (A Southern Cake Baker Mystery #2)

Author:  Maymee Bell
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683318781
Crooked Lane Books
304 Pages
$17.70; $9.99 Amazon
December 11, 2018

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Sophia Cummings may be unlucky in love, but she knows that the way to a man's heart is through his sweet tooth.  This evening, she plans to use that knowledge - and her skills as a New York City-trained pastry chef - to open the hearts and wallets of Rumford, Kentucky's richest men.  Sophia, proprietress of For Goodness Cakes, has been commissioned to cater the Heart of the Town Library charity fundraiser at Grape Valley Winery.  She's spent all her dough to make this a successful event, raise her profile, and win more plum catering jobs.

At first, the going is as smooth as an elegant chocolate ganache.  After nibbling Sophia's tasty treats, Ray Peel, the winery's landlord, announces he will pay off Rumford's library loan.  But the evening soon turns decidedly frosty when Ray is murdered - before he can make good on his promise, and before he can pay Sophia for her catering services.

For Goodness Cakes will collapse if Sophia can't collect what she's owed.  So Sophia once again puts on her sleuthing apron to figure out who iced Ray.

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Sophia Cummings has returned home to the small town of Rumford, Kentucky, where her mother rules the local society and her father is a successful attorney.  She's recently opened a bakery, For Goodness Cakes, and has been kept busy with catering jobs, special orders, and people wanting to buy her amazing pastries.  She's surrounded by her best friends Madison, who's a real estate agent, and Charlotte, who's a newlywed come to work for Sophia.

She's working on a charity fundraiser for the library, to be held at a local winery.  Although Sophia hasn't been paid yet for the treats she's created, she hopes to collect a check that evening from the winery's owner, Giles Dugan.  The librarian, Catherine Fraxman, is also excited because a local bigwig, Ray Peel, has offered a huge donation that will pay for the library's new addition.

When she arrives at the winery she runs into Madison, who seems excited about an upcoming meeting with Ray; and she also heads to Giles' office to collect her check, but finds him having a heated argument with his daughter, which she finds out due to an employee, is because Ray is planning on selling the winery immediately, which explains his meeting with Madison.

While shes' setting up Madison returns, obviously upset.  Unfortunately, she's not in a good mood anymore, due to the result of her meeting with Ray.  It seems Ray doesn't think Madison is right to sell his property, and she's understandably angry.  But when she goes looking for Giles in order to get her check, she literally trips over the body of Ray.

Someone murdered the man, in the middle of the party, in the vineyard, and Sheriff Carter Kincaid, now Sophia's boyfriend, isn't pleased that this is the second time she's found a dead body.  But then again, neither is Sophia.  According to her, all she wants to do is create the tasty pastries for the town and live a quiet life.

But that's not to be, especially since she learns that Madison is the main - and probably only - suspect in the murder, since what she said to Sophia about Ray was overheard.  When Carter refuses to eliminate Madison, Sophia feels that her only choice - with Madison and Charlotte begging her to help - is to try and figure out who hated Ray enough to kill him.  Once she starts looking, she finds out that there are several people who might have wanted him out of the picture.  But who had the best motive?  And which one of them were angry enough to kill?...

This is the second book in the series, and, I am glad to say, is just as good as the first.  I was delighted in the first book, Cakes & Punishment, and this one picks up shortly after the last.  The plot is again well thought out, with a host of suspects who all had a reason for Ray to be out of the picture.  However, it seems that Carter is only focused on Madison, which irritates Sophia no end.

When he asks her to stay out of the investigation, deep down he knows it isn't going to happen; and when her mother Bitsy seems to 'want in', it only makes it worse.  Carter accepts the fact his girlfriend isn't going to stop what she's doing, but only hopes that she doesn't try to expose herself to danger, and insist she share all her information with him.

The characters are a lively bunch, and Sophia and her friends and family have a believable relationship with each other.  You can practically feel the rapport between the three women, their closeness with each other coming through the pages.  Her relationship with Carter is also very well done.  He's an intelligent man who follows the clues and does a thorough job, even if it's not fast enough for Sophia.  He knows he can't change her and doesn't try, and she never imagines herself smarter than him or a better sleuth.

There were a couple of things that bothered me, even as I didn't allow them to spoil my enjoyment of the book.  I was a tad uncomfortable with some of Sophia's blatant questioning of people and then going so far as to search offices while there were people right down the hall (not a smart move); and I did get tired of everything being 'mouth-watering.'  Really, I don't think I've ever in my lifetime had any food make my mouth water thinking about it or seeing it, yet this happens a lot to her.  (Maybe I just don't have tons of saliva in my mouth, but hey...)

When the ending came and the killer was revealed, it made sense in a twisted sort of way, although I didn't feel that we were given any clues to the murderer (although I may or may not have hidden a few in my review).  Although the ending was put together well, it would have been nice to have a couple of clues at least that led us in the right direction.

Ms. Bell has given us a tale with crisp writing and a great deal of southern charm, people you'd like to know and a town you'd like to visit.  All in all, a worthy second entry to a series that I hope will be around for a good long while.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Batter-Off-Dead-Southern-Mystery/dp/1683318781/ref=

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2676719396

More on Maymee Bell's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/b/maymee-bell/

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