Carstairs Considers Reviews by Mark Baker

Last year, I made the acquaintance of Alene Baron in the first Whipped and Sipped Mystery.  I enjoyed it enough to make a return visit with Smothered.  Unfortunately, this mystery was uneven.

It’s only been a few weeks since Alene Baron solved that first case, and life has pretty much returned to normal at Whipped and Sipped, the vegan café she owns in a Chicago neighborhood.  Her biggest annoyance these days is Stanley Huff, the man who owns the Better Be Fit gym next to the café.  She feels some of his business practices are shady, and he’s just an inconsiderate neighbor.

As annoying as he can be, Alene didn’t expect to find him dead one morning.  The police are called, and they have some suspicions that Stanley’s death might not be the heart attack that Alene thought it was.  When one of Alene’s employees become the prime suspect before disappearing, Alene can’t help but try to figure out what is going on.  Will she solve this murder as well?

My problems with this book aren’t anything that couldn’t be fixed by a careful edit.  There are some plot threads and red herrings that are introduced but never fully resolved.  There were some timeline issues, one of my biggest pet peeves.  At times, we were given summaries of conversations instead of actually watching the scene unfold.

And yet, there were things I enjoyed about the book.  There are a lot of characters, many of them returning from the previous book.  I’ll admit, it took me a bit of time to keep them all straight, and I was grateful for the cast of characters at the beginning of the novel.  However, the further into the book I got, the more the characters came alive for me.  I was especially impressed with the growth we got to see in the characters, not only in this book but between books.  Alene is a very relatable main character, possibly too relatable with her flaws.  No, the flaws don’t overwhelm, but I identified with her a bit too much.

Meanwhile, the plot is good overall.  I was impressed with the motives that were introduced and how Alene figured it all out.  The ending was perfectly logical and the climatic scene was very entertaining.

This wouldn’t be a culinary cozy if we didn’t get recipes.  Since Alene’s café is vegan the recipes are slightly different than you might see in a normal culinary cozy, but the food in this book still sounds mouthwatering.

Like with the first book, Alene’s neighborhood in Chicago becomes a small cozy community.  The setting may be a large city, but by focusing on a small part of the town, this book definitely still works as a cozy.

While Smothered had its flaws, I did enjoy other aspects of it.  If you enjoyed the first, you’ll definitely want to see what happens next to Arlene.