Tuesday, February 17, 2015

At the New Edge of Cozy: CRIMINAL CONFECTIONS, Colette London

Colette London's new "Chocolate Whisperer" mystery series begins with CRIMINAL CONFECTIONS, as top-secret consultant Hayden Mundy Moore, on hand for the noted Maison Lemaitre retreat -- a gathering of the makers of the finest chocolate products -- tries to keep her client relationships a secret, even while looking for her next possible consultant assignment at the posh location just outside San Francisco. Because she's on hand to rescue chocolatiers whose processes hit snags, she's got to stay quiet about her actual contracts. An expert in the many forms of Theobroma cacao and its exquisite flavors and textures, she's honored (but a bit out of her depth, in terms of elegance and wealth!) to attend the conference, and she's invited her hunky bodyguard Danny to keep her company.

So it's a shock when the Lemaitre staffer she's been worried about turns out to be a victim during the first day's events:
Instead, I saw Adrienne. Her limp body was propped in Nina's arms, slumped at a strange angle. Her head lolled. Her chef's coat was stained with blood. Her sleeves were speckled with it, too, as though she'd held up her arms to ward off ... something.

Something, I realized, that had killed her.

Adrienne was ... dead?

It didn't seem possible. But then suddenly Danny was there.

He was fighting through the crowd, pulling me into his arms, tucking my head against his shoulder. "That's enough now."

Oh God. That's when I knew it was true.
Astute readers may already notice more descriptions of bodies (living and dead) and their positions and contacts than many a mystery can boast. And that's surely part of this author's established style -- because Colette London is a new pen name for established romance author Lisa Plumley.

But in spite of its foodie angle, sensuous moments, and sweet recipes (included at the end), CRIMINAL CONFECTIONS is more edgy than many of today's food-related "cozy" mysteries. Hayden takes investigation seriously, and the malicious motivations of some of her fellow chocolate-linked conference attendees are downright dangerous at times.

Even more important, you know the notion that a "cozy" involves a cat and a cup of tea? In this one, even a warm cup of chocolate can be dangerous. Hayden's escapades give a whole new sense to the host who may offer a drink by asking, "What's your poison?"

I'm particularly intrigued by the edginess in CRIMINAL CONFECTIONS because recent work from another author known for her gentler mysteries, Maine writer Lea Wait, also has a fresh uptick in the sting of malice and suspense (see Twisted Threads review).  I'll be watching for more of this trend. I think it's a healthy twist toward blurring the edges of today's mystery subgenres!

But -- back to CRIMINAL CONFECTIONS: Hayden's task quickly shifts from kitchen consults to sorting out whose motivations are murderous, and who might benefit from the death of a significant Maison Lemaitre staffer -- one who actually should have been worried about Hayden's in-process consulting report, about to be issued to company head Christian Lemaitre. Could someone have known what she'd found in the firm's chocolate lines?

I enjoyed the setting, the scenario, and the plot twists, as well as Hayden's confusion of lust and affection for the men in her life. London's style gave me the feeling that this first book of the series had been reworked too many times, with multiple pauses per page for Hayden to analyze what's going on. I'm hoping the second in the series, Dangerously Dark, will move boldly ahead and avoid the "hesitation cuts" of the series debut. After all, the puns and wordplay in this series are so marvelous that it must have a terrific future. Even the cover of this debut announces: "Revenge is bittersweet." Ah, chocolate!

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