Monday, January 14, 2019

Cakes & Punishment (A Southern Cake Baker Mystery #1)

Author:  Maymee Bell
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683315711; 9781683317968
Crooked Lane Books
336 Pages
$18.35; $10.99; $9.99 Amazon
May 8, 2018 (TP November 13, 2018)

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Bucolic Rumford, Kentucky has glowing fields of bluegrass, a fine selection of bourbons, and now a professional pastry chef.  Broken-hearted Sophia Cummings has come home from New York city.  She's not there a minute before she's charmed into making her high school friend Charlotte's wedding cake.  The kitchen at the Rumford Country Club seems perfect until Chef Emile's body is discovered, sprawled near the stove, a cast iron skillet on the floor close by.

With one look at the shiny, new frying pan, Sophia knows it's not Emile's.  She offers her knowledge to Sheriff Carter and her talents to Evelyn, the manager, who needs an interim chef.  The mood in the country club is grim:  Emile's peppery personality had burned members and staff alike.  Sophia wonders which one of them burned him?

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Sophia Cummings is a pastry chef at an upscale restaurant in New York.  After catching her live-in boyfriend making whoopee with the Maitre'd at their restaurant, she took some time off and went home to visit her mother and father in small-town Rumford, Kentucky.

But rest isn't about to come her way.  While at a Junior League meeting at the local country club with her mother, she runs into some old friends, one of whom is about to be married.  Charlotte Harrington is beside herself because her baker has bailed on her.  But then she practically begs Sophia to make her wedding cakes, and Sophia reluctantly agrees.  When she goes the next day to the club to meet Charlotte, Sophia heads to the kitchen to check it out, but instead discovers that the club's chef Emile has already been checked out instead, hit over the head with an iron skillet.

When Sheriff Carter Kincaid arrives, she's summarily questioned and released; and even though she's not happy about having to work in the kitchen, she's even less happy when she finds out that Evelyn Moss, the director of the club, is the main suspect.  She refuses to believe that Evelyn, for all her gruff exterior, could kill anyone.  So when Evelyn asks her to temporarily help with meals until another chef can be found, she once again agrees, finding her vacation to be a working one, whether she wants it or not.

Just when she thinks her plate can't get any fuller, even more complications arise; and when she's determined to find Emile's killer before Evelyn can be charged with the crime, she discovers that someone out there knows what she's doing, and wants her to stop...even if it means that they'll have to stop her permanently...

This is the first in a new series and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  It takes place in a small town in Kentucky, but that's where the similarity to many cozy mysteries end.  There were no 'tried and true' clichés throughout the book: our protagonist didn't run home broke and out of a job, she merely took a leave of absence and has money in the bank; she didn't decide to start a business she couldn't afford and then struggle and hope she can eat the next month.  She actually wears makeup; she doesn't just 'throw on a little lip gloss' and have everyone tell her that she's hot (not that there's anything wrong with that); and I loved the fact there was no 'evil nemesis' out to destroy Sophia and her life, nor the dreadful love triangle that permeates so many of them (rant over!).

What I didn't like: she was a little invasive on people during her 'investigating', sometimes saying and doing things that weren't exactly danger-free, not even trying to hid the fact of what she was doing (however, it did show that she knew she wasn't very good at being a sleuth, which she also admits to herself) so it was to be expected that the killer would figure out sooner rather than later what she was doing.  (Example: when she went investigating Patrick).  She also writes out a 'suspect list' and isn't above practically bald-faced accusing people, which isn't smart and could very well alienate some from her forever.

However, she was smart enough to share anything she discovered with Carter instead of keeping information to herself, and I did like that.  It showed that her only goal was truly helping Evelyn, and not some misguided idea that she was better than the sheriff was at his job.  An intelligent move on the part of the author.

I found the mystery to be well thought out; the dialogue was witty and fun; the characters felt real as well as the friendship between Sophia, Charlotte and Madison; Sophia's mother Bitsy definitely ruled her little town, and even though Bitsy seems a bit manipulative, I never got the feeling that she was pushy or that Sophia minded one bit.  I actually like Bitsy as much as the rest of the characters.

When the ending comes and the killer is revealed, the reason made perfect sense, and the fact that the murderer had thought out how to frame someone else actually added to the plot because they weren't sloppy, which made it more difficult to detect who they were, and that was an added bonus.  I will say that while I had my suspicions, I liked the fact that the clues never directly pointed toward that person.

All in all, this was a delightful beginning to a new series, and it held my interest throughout.  I think I could easily become attached to the characters in this book and look forward to the next in the series, hoping to spend time with them again.  There are also some yummy-sounding recipes at the end that I will definitely be making.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Cake-Punishment-Southern-Baker-Mystery/dp/1683317963/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2673812368

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

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