Chef Maurice has run out of mushrooms. His supplier, Ollie Meadows, has disappeared but when the chef “visits” Ollie’s house on the off-chance he can grab his supplies – of course he’ll pay Ollie when he turns up – he finds the house ransacked and, more intriguingly, a large quantity of high quality truffles, which, rather annoyingly, the police won’t let him have.
Convinced the truffles were grown locally, Chef Maurice, with his friend Arthur, a food critic, and Hamilton, a newly acquired pig with possible truffle-hunting abilities, head into the woods to find the priceless fungus. And while they don’t find that, they do find Ollie, shot in the chest with a shotgun.
Determined to get to the bottom of things – especially once Hamilton is kidnapped… er, pignapped – can Chef Maurice and his friends find the murderer before they end up on the menu? (Sorry, it’s late, that’s the best food-ish pun that I can think of.)
“You ask a lot of questions, Mr Maurice. You’re not Belgian, are you?” “I am French, madame.” “Is that so? I knew a Belgian once, a little fellow. He asked a lot of questions too.”
[INSERT SWEARWORD HERE.] This should have been the 500th review. This is the sort of book that is the whole point of the blog.
OK, this fits my categories for a cozy novel that I’ve laid down before – distinctive trade for the sleuth (although in a change from the norm, it’s a man), a lack of gore, an amiable supporting cast and a pet (although not a cat for once). That might put some readers off. As will the occasional brief sections that are written from the point of view of the pig. But it really shouldn’t. Because unlike most cozy mysteries, this is a fairly clued one as well. And it’s genuinely funny as well. Laugh out loud in places, in fact.
It takes nerve to include a line like the one that I’ve quoted up there, but it’s well deserved. It’s actually a shame that I went in with incorrect preconceptions – I probably wasn’t concentrating on the mystery as I wasn’t really expecting one. My (massive) mistake, as when it became clear that J A Lang was playing fair with the reader, I’d missed crucial clues. But I’m an idiot, we’ve established that before, many times. Bonus points as well for a well-constructed mystery that doesn’t involve locked rooms or other weird occurrences. Just a bloke shot in the woods, but it’s a clever plot nonetheless.
Chef Maurice is a great lead, self-centred at times, especially when it comes to food, but not objectionably so and, it seems, a generally nice person. Ditto the supporting cast, who the author takes time to make into real characters, despite being in a light-hearted tale. It must be very easy to let characters in such a tale slip into caricature but J A Lang avoids that pitfall with ease.
A niggle – no murder would be left to a village PC to solve as lead investigating officer. But that’s done to support the plot. No right-minded police investigation would allow the interference of a over-the-top French chef either, but without that, there wouldn’t be a book.
I’m not going to say any more, for fear of spoilers, but in case you can’t tell, I absolutely loved this book. I’ve still got a smile on my face from it, both from the humour and the plot. Obviously this is Highly Recommended.
It’s out on the 7th April as an ebook (and a papery one too, I think…) If you want a free teaser, then Chef Maurice And The Rather Fishy Tale is a short story that precedes this one (I think) which should give you an idea if the humour is for you. And I rather hope that it is, as I need more books in this series as soon as possible! UPDATE: This short story has been removed so that it can be included in a collection at a later date.