To have a great restaurant, one needs more than just great food – one needs great wine as well. And despite his natural inclination to taste wine by the glassful rather than sipping it, Chef Maurice – chef extraordinaire and amateur sleuth – finds himself invited to dinner by Sir William Burton-Trent, the renowned wine collector. He finds himself in the company of a mixed bag of guests – you might almost think a murder was going to happen…
And murder does strike (obviously) and Sir William is found dead, locked in his own wine cellar. Luckily, Chef Maurice is on hand to “help” the local constabulary with their enquiries, along with his restaurant reviewing cohort Arthur Wordington-Smythe and the rest of the staff at the Cochon Rouge. But it’ll take more than brains to solve this one – it’s going to need Chef Maurice’s latest delicacy. A kipper sandwich.
OK, Book Two and you can’t fail to notice how much I loved the first one, Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle. It won the Puzzly (my Book Of The Month) for April and I’ve plugged it at every opportunity. I liked it so much, I was confident enough to give copies to Simon Brett, Martin Edwards, L C Tyler and Dolores Gordon-Smith at the Bodies From The Library (donated courtesy of the author). So heaven help us if Book Two didn’t go to plan.
Oh, in case I forget to mention – there are some locked room enthusiasts out there who follow the blog. Don’t get excited about that part. It’s not really a locked room mystery (and doesn’t try to be). But it does lead into the excellent kipper sandwich bit, which I absolutely loved. The idea, not the sandwich. The sandwich sound terrible…
But what you have, once again, is a properly plotted mystery (which had me looking the wrong way by the end) with charming characters – the entire staff of the Cochon Rouge are a lovely bunch, all contributing to the plot in some way, shape or form. The same goes for the police force – and you do need to overlook a) that the investigations are led by Police Constables (not even Detective Constables) and b) the fact that the police, notably PC Alistair and most importantly PC Lucy (“who seemed to carry certain misguided views on what information Chef Maurice should and should not have access to”) being only referred to by their forenames. But that is very easy to overlook as this clearly isn’t grounded in reality – our hero takes his pet pig with him on the train for example – and the book is so much fun to read that any such reservations fly out of the window almost immediately.
Just to go back to the mystery again though – one aspect that I loved was that Chef Maurice’s deductions didn’t just relate directly to the murderer. The logic and clues deal with the bigger picture as well – there are things to be deduced about other characters. J A Lang has constructed once again a clever and complete mystery, and she had me fooled yet again – as in the first book, she neatly avoids the “least likely suspect” trap that makes so many Agatha Christie books so obvious.
Of the reviews on Amazon for the first book, more than 90% (39 out of 42) readers have rated the first book as 4 stars or above. Goodreads stats are similar too. I’m saying this for two reasons – it’s not just me who loves this series and NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE READING IT YET! So if you’re a fan of proper, fair-play mysteries and have a sense of humour, then what are you waiting for? It’s out today on ebook and in that papery version too.
Oh, this is Highly Recommended, in case you hadn’t guessed… Roll on Book Three – Chef Maurice and the Bunny-Boiler Bake-Off!