Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Probe the Plot, Enjoy the Pets: THE ICING ON THE CORPSE, Liz Mugavero

For the third time, I picked up a Liz Mugavero mystery, I chuckled at the entertaining cover (the protagonist has an organic pet food business) and I kidded myself that the book would be as fluffy as the cute pets on the front.

But just like in Mugavero's debut mystery, Kneading to Die, and her second, A Biscuit, A Casket, THE ICING ON THE CORPSE provides a  crime adventure featuring amateur sleuth "Stan" (for Kristan) Connor and her Pawsitively Organic pet-focused business in small-town Frog Ledge, Connecticut. And the plot complexities spin, the character nuances are well worth thinking about (Stan's inability to quite commit to her boyfriend; her unresolved issues with her mom), and the insight into (slightly exaggerated, sure) small-town New England life gives me shivers. Oh yes, and a need to set aside distractions and just keep turning the pages!

This time, Stan may feel that the costumed townsfolk saluting Groundhog Day -- wearing costumes, outdoors, on February 2 -- have turned the town hall and its environs into something surreal. But she's honored to be involved in the town's noted annual event, presenting an "edible gift" to the visiting creature imported for the occasion. It's a mark of how much people appreciate her pet treats business, and she's got enough orders to keep her running.

Unfortunately, before Stan can step up to this honor, she's distracted by the sudden death of the town's elderly historian, Helga Oliver. Her boyfriend's sister Jessie is a tough local police officer -- Stan's already had plenty of friction with her in the first book -- but Jessie's actually asking Stan to take a role in processing this death. And of course, if you read mysteries like this one, you (and one of the others on hand) have already guessed the death is murder. But Stan also has business to attend to:
She'd been getting requests for parties on and off since her first one last October, a birthday party for Benny, the fox terrier, had been so well received. Stan opened a new document on her iPad and prepared to take notes.

Dede smiled. "It's a bit more than a simple party, but I know you'll understand. Animal people always understand. I'd like to have a wedding ceremony for my rescue dogs ..." ...
It would be something else to add to her repertoire -- doggie wedding cakes.

I enjoyed the way Mugavero set Stan up to probe the town's history while juggling her work and helping out friends; there are just the right number of red herrings, and the action is swift and believable. If I had Stan Connor living in my town, you bet I'd call her in, as soon as something suspicious cropped up. Or before that, for amazing organic meals and treats for my pets -- oops, maybe not for the guppy in the fishtank, but if I did have dogs or cats ... well, you know what I mean. Mugavero's character line-up of critters is delightful and just as believable as her sleuth. And yes, the book includes some tasty recipes for four-pawed companions.

THE ICING ON THE CORPSE was released yesterday, so it should be easy to find a copy -- and if you have the chance, pick up Kneading to Die and A Biscuit, A Casket as well. You don't need to read them in sequence, but why not enjoy the opportunity? Nice chunky paperbacks, from Kensington Books. For more on the author, check out her website, here.

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