Now that the holiday gorge-fest is over and a new year of calorie-counting is in full swing, how do you wean yourself off the decadent indulgences of the past few months? As ever, novels–in this case, mysteries–can sate your hunger. One of the most delectable subsets of the cozy murder tale–known for its intuitive, everywoman heroines who become amateur sleuths to solve local crimes–is the food mystery. Featuring caterers, chefs and restaurateurs, these cozies blend murder, romance and the inner workings of the food world, from the White House to humbler kitchens. With recipes woven in to further whet your appetite, who knew murder could be so delicious?
Let’s Start with Wine, of Course
Presley Parker is excited to take her professional party-planning skills to Napa Valley, lured by the promise of delicious wines (even though she doesn’t know from “bouquet”) and future lucrative events. She’s barely gotten started when her first party, at the Purple Grape, is derailed by the mysterious death of an environmental activist and fellow winery owner–a corkscrew through the chest. Penny Warner‘s “How to Dine on Killer Wine” sees Presley and her team on the hunt, wading through fake wine labeling, old rivalries and plenty of sour grapes. Filled with wine tasting and party-throwing tips, this mystery is perfectly paired with your favorite wine–though a red might remind you a bit too much of murder.
And Now for the Cheese
The Cheese Shop proprietor Charlotte Bessette has her hands full advising her customers on cheese pairings, bringing in new business and setting up a booth for Providence, Ohio’s, Winter Wonderland Fair. Her extended family–including Grandmere and Grandpere, cousin Matthew and his twin daughters–adds plenty of color and perspective. In “Clobbered by Camembert,” Avery Aames brings her small town to life, highlighting the tension between lifelong residents and those who’d swoop in and turn their beloved mom-and-pops into chain stores. Especially delightful is the role cheese plays in the murder, delivering curdled clues that only a dedicated dairy aficionado would be able to solve with as much aplomb as her heroine. Recipes include cheese and jam button cookies and pancakes with Gouda and figs.
Followed by Soup
Nothing kills business faster than murder, and Lucky Jamieson, the heroine of Connie Archer‘s “A Spoonful of Murder,” learns that lesson quickly when a body is found buried in the snow behind the Snowflake, Vt., soup restaurant she’s been running (with the help of her grandfather) since the death of her parents. Even their most longtime customers are steering clear, making Lucky more determined than ever to clear her family business’s name so her restaurant can continue warming up tourists and locals. Her sleuthing gets even more urgent when one of her staff is jailed for the crime. Stir in bumbling cops, torrid affairs, potentially crooked doctors and a missing earring, and you’ve got a recipe for a hot read. Soup recipes include potato yam, wild mushroom and tomato spinach, along with goat cheese-pancetta-and-French toast sandwiches.
Bring on the Steak
Ollie Paras is a White House chef with a knack for stumbling over dead bodies, and it doesn’t take long for her to do so in this tasty tome by Julie Hyzy. She’s got a lot on her plate running the First Kitchen, working with a cantankerous coworker to find a venue for a party the First Lady is throwing and trying to contain a pompous fellow chef, whose over-the-top ambition is highly irritating to her (and entertaining for readers). Not only are the victims found in half-tilt skillets, but Hyzy works in delicious, behind-the-scenes morsels of information about the inner workings of the White House (makes you wonder whether Obama, like the fictional POTUS here, orders burgers and fries when Michelle isn’t around). Recipes in “Affairs of Steak” include beef Wellington, vol-au-vent, apple strudel and more. Hyzy‘s titles are especially clever, including “Buffalo West Wing,”“State of the Onion” and the forthcoming “Fonduing Fathers.”
And Don’t Forget the Mashed Potatoes
Betts and her grandmother, Missouri Anna (Gram to Betts, Miz to everyone else), are set to teach their latest cooking-school class in legendary Broken Rope, Mo. All about potatoes, they call the class “Mash Away, but Respect Me in the Morning.” But when a busload of tourists comes calling, potatoes take second place to crime solving: One tourist is found dead and two others go missing. The supernatural series features a different ghost haunting this culinary family in each book; in “If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance,” it’s Sally, who lugs around the axe with which she was accused of murdering her parents. Together, Betts and Gram must figure out who’s stealing from tourists and hiding bodies before more disappear, plus reach back in time to figure out whether Sally is destined to be remembered as a murderess. Along the way, Paige Shelton treats readers to fitting recipes for funeral potatoes and sweet potato pie in this page-turning follow-up to “If Fried Chicken Could Fly.”
Dessert Decadence: Cupcakes
Fairy Tale Cupcakes owners Melanie and Angie are ready for a bit of adventure and some new customers when they agree to set up a stand at the annual Juniper Pass Rodeo, but they certainly get more than they bargained for. In “Red Velvet Revenge” the pair find themselves at a rodeo hawking Vanilla Vixen and Death by Chocolate cupcakes, battling their rivals at the Billy Bob’s BBQ booth over sales, learning how to make cake pops on the fly when the power gets pulled on their refrigerator and figuring out whodunit. By taking their baking skills on the road, they liven up this small-town series and mix in some barbecue, family drama, diva demands and public spectacle. You might not think rodeos and cupcakes (including vegan ones!) would mix well, but in McKinlay‘s hands, the best friends–along with their staff–get into the spirit and even learn how to grapple with a runaway bull. Recipes include French toast and vegan chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, as well as cake pops.
Clare Cosi runs the Village Blend, a famed New York City coffee shop owned by her former mother-in-law. Alongside her dashing ex-husband Matteo, who scouts coffee from around the world, she serves up espressos, lattes and ingenious solutions to crimes, like this one that plunges them deep into the world of food trucks. In “A Brew to Kill,” Clare’s adventures take her through a minutely detailed, up-to-the minute New York City, with a detour to the Vendy food truck awards and a heady rivalry involving a hit-and-run and Internet sleuthing. Mix in the ongoing antagonism between Clare’s cop beau and her close-at-hand ex, and you’ve got an invigorating cup of murderous mocha. Cleo Coyle includes recipes for coffee-themed desserts such as double-chocolate espresso-glazed loaf cake and cappuccino chiffon cake, as well as character-inspired dishes including carnitas and Mexican-style black beans.