By Sue Merrell, author of the Jordan Daily News Mystery Series
Big city Chicago becomes a tightly-knit small town in G. P. Gottlieb’s debut novel, Battered: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery.
Gottlieb weaves a world where neighbors in a Lakeview apartment building have grown up together and shared a lifetime of secrets. In spite of some personality clashes, they trust each other enough to exchange keys to each others’ places. They drop in for bedtime ice cream, walk to the zoo with the kids, visit the local gym before work, and meet up at the neighborhood health food and coffee shop.
The coffee shop, Whipped and Sipped, is owned by the story’s heroine, Alene, who bought the business from her neighbor, Gary, and employs a couple of Gary’s relatives as well as her former college roommate. The cast of characters is intertwined like a small town within the city. Even the cop who shows up to investigate a murder is the same one who helped deliver Alene’s youngest child eight years before.
The murder victim is Gary, whose body was found in a neighbor’s apartment. Gary has three grown, problematic kids by two different wives and a scary stepson by his third wife, Joan, who is also attacked before the tale ends. Joan happens to be the woman who had an affair with Alene’s husband, leading to their divorce several years before. The man who used to live in the apartment where Gary’s body was found died mysteriously eight years earlier after a bike accident. And then there are rumors of embezzlement from a business many years earlier and Alene’s vague memories of a dinner party with her parent’s generation. Are all these incidents somehow related?
Battered isn’t a fast-paced action adventure with surprising twists and turns. It’s a complex recipe with lots of ingredients being added a little at a time. The story simmers as characters develop and relationships are unraveled. When the resolution comes, it is as swift and lethal as a cleaver pounding into the cutting board.
Granted, this simmering stew of personalities can get a little confusing at times, but the reader can always consult the cast list on the opening page for a reminder of who’s who. The author has a good knack for describing characters to make them easy to visualize.
I loved Gottlieb’s portrait of city life where a little boy and his mom can go to the apartment building’s community room and watch a lightning storm from many different angles, where neighbors build bookshelves for friends or pick them up at the airport. Chicago street names and landmarks, as well as the beloved lakeshore, will resonate with all fans of the Windy City.
Many scenes feature tasty treats and vegan specialties from eggless omelets to overnight oatmeal. After the mystery is all wrapped up, several pages of recipes offer an extra satisfying finale. To whet your appetite for the next course, you’ll find a taste of a sequel that’s in the works.
Fair warning: if you try this first Whipped and Sipped Mystery, you might just get hooked.
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