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Ideals are behind the story of Smothered

Alene Baron, mother of three and owner of the Whipped and Sipped vegan café in Chicago, has her hands full trying to balance her responsibilities. Then there’s the personal issues of her staff, her ill father who needs to be watched closely and the possibility of a relationship that usually gets put on hold.

To make life even more complicated, one of Alene’s staff members finds Stanley Huff, the neighboring business owner, dead. There’s a good chance he’s been murdered. Huff owned the “Better Be Fit” fitness center and seemed to have wandering hands and no concern for the health of his clients.

Shortly after, Homicide Detectives Frank Shaw and Lee Bautista arrive on the scene to begin their investigation. Alene feels she can uncover the truth one morsel at a time and begins her own investigation. She discovers that Stanley’s son is transitioning to be a woman and she’s one of Alene’s employees. Then there’s the possibility of an associate being the guilty party and family members eager to get their hands on their inheritance. There seems to be more concern about Stanley’s will than the reason why Stanley was killed.

One character Gottlieb really captured was Sylvie, Huff’s widow, who is loud, demanding, free to point the finger of guilt, and has dementia. I can still hear her yelling to Alene as she visited her father in the hospital. How convenient is that for finding clues? As with any mystery, there are other characters intentionally placed in the story to have you thinking they have to be the guilty party. They make frequent appearances and act inquisitive, guilty, annoying and offer a morsel of fact to help you determine who is the guilty individual. Frequently, Stanley’s family members popped in the cafe or were at the hospital. Then there were those sitting off in the distance, visible, but not offering a lot of input. Those are the characters you have to watch out for.

A couple of things that made the book a little difficult to read. I can handle books that aren’t linear, think the amazing TV show “This is Us.” But I get lost when there are too many characters introduced. The character list was a must for me to review. There were also a few storylines that kind of fizzled with no resolution. I would have also liked to see more action or danger. All in all, it was an interesting book with characters you can relate to and some who cared about the people they loved.

three and a half out of five slices of baked pumpkin apple cake

Denise Fleischer (