Charlotte Bessette is on the verge of achieving her dream – the opening of The Cheese Shop in her hometown of Providence, Ohio. Things at first couldn’t be better – her brother and his daughters are starting a new life in town, her grandmother is running for another term as town mayor – she might even be on the verge of a date with the dashing cheese producer Jordan Pace.
But there are shadows on the horizon. Her plans to buy the building the shop is housed in are being blocked by the current landlord Ed Woodhouse and his wife, Kitty, is aggressively campaigning against Charlotte’s grandmother for mayor. Worse is to come though – on the night of the grand opening of The Cheese Shop, Ed is found outside, stabbed to death (with a cheese knife – what else?) and Charlotte’s grandmother is standing over the body, covered in blood. With no other suspects, Charlotte takes things into her own hands…
A suggestion for any non-US readers. If you are ever in a US city, go to a Barnes & Noble, pop along to the “Mystery” section, sit back and marvel at the sheer volume of cozy mysteries on sale. In the UK, these are minimal – M C Beaton is the primary culprit, but there isn’t much beyond that. In the US, though, thanks in part to Berkeley Prime Crime, there are a few more.
For example, you can purchase: PTA mysteries, Beatrix Potter mysteries, gardening club mysteries, witch mysteries, artificial intelligence mysteries, literary agent mysteries, glassblowing mysteries, bookseller mysteries, ballroom dancing mysteries, bargain-hunting mysteries, DIY mysteries, small-town mayor mysteries, Amish mysteries, haunted bookshop (with cat) mysteries, consignment store mysteries, booklover mysteries, garden society mysteries, accessory store mysteries, candy shop mysteries, Glee club mysteries, senior citizen mysteries, book club mysteries, tea shop mysteries, local cafe mysteries, Arapaho mysteries, movie theatre mysteries, flower shop mysteries, museum mysteries… and that’s just for starters.
But, despite some of the bad press that the so-called cozy mysteries get, they do tend to be, or at worst attempt to be, actual mysteries, which, to be honest, appeals to me more than a hard-boiled detective story, often an adventure masquerading as a mystery. So, while in the USA recently, I picked up a few – starting with this one.
And I rather enjoyed it. Yes, it ticks the cozy cliches – lack of gore, distinctive trade and a cat – and the heroine (it’s usually a heroine) is surrounded by a loving group of family/friends and has a ridiculously perfect love interest. And Charlotte does have a slightly annoying habit of over-describing food and drink as if she’s lecturing the reader.
But… this is a very enjoyable read. In fact I found it quite the page-turner. Charlotte is an entertaining narrator and, despite there only being one major crime, the action keeps ticking along nicely. The murderer isn’t obvious and, most importantly, the villain is worked out from a series of clues, rather than being caught when they try and fail to kill the heroine.
We’re not talking anything on the level of Carr or Christie here, but what you do get is a light, entertaining read with, at the heart of it, a genuine mystery, clues and all.
I’ll be honest – I sort of bought this book expecting to give it a bit of a kicking. That’ll teach me (although I’m staying away from The Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries – EDIT: Actually I caved on that one. The review is here for Last Wool And Testament). So, much to my surprise, this book is highly recommended. And if I can get a copy over here, I’ll be heading back to Providence soon.