Kingdom Books Mystery Reviews

G. P. (Galit) Gottlieb‘s first culinary mystery, Battered, won fans for both its Chicago neighborhood setting and its punchy, relentless amateur sleuth, Alene Baron. Owner of a café with a specialty in vegan, “cruelty-free” pastries, Alene has an unusual crew working for her: the sister and daughter of the previous owner, as well as some talented young people and her own old friend Ruthie. She knows her customers mostly by name, and otherwise by what they order or how they hang out (and most of them do hang out for a while).

But nothing’s exactly simple for her as the sequel, SMOTHERED, opens. Yes, she’s started to date detective Frank Shaw, a nice by-product of his intervention in the earlier book. Yet her employees can be quirky and moody at a level that interferes with business; she’s got three kids at home (and a nanny); and her father usually lives with her but at the moment is ill in a hospital.

On top of all this, her business neighbor, a scuzzy guy with a womanizing habit, is running a health gym that serves up smoothies and prepackaged snacks that are starting to rival her own food business. When the neighbor is found murdered, Alene has every incentive to solve the crime, so she won’t be blamed.

Brace for roadblocks in her love life, of course, if Alene’s involved with the detective on the case: “It felt weird to talk about plans for the evening while Frank was dealing with Stanley’s death. Were their dates always going to be last-minute? And his partner Lee was with him.”

Culinary mystery collectors will want this book (published in softcover by D. X. Varos) on their shelves (no recipes, though); so will Chicago-area crime fiction collectors, for the fun of local landmarks and neighborhoods. It does have two marked flaws — an overabundance of unnecessary characters (to the extent that the book provides a character list before the story starts), and a number of genre-style hints of action or complication to follow that in fact are dropped abruptly, without explanation (even a romantic date that never takes place). Some focused editing would have helped a lot.

That said, the book is a good entry from an author whose professional training was actually in piano and voice; I hope she may bring in some of her expertise in those fields in future books, and I’ll watch for those with interest. Publication for this one is scheduled for February 16, 2021.

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