Writing under the pen name Maddie Day, Maxwell puts her five years of life in southern Indiana to work with a brisk plot and engaging characters. The country store that Robbie -- short for Roberta -- reopens as both a breakfast/lunch restaurant and a vintage cookware shop is based on a real business, the Story General Store in Story, Indiana. From there, the mystery leaps into fiction, though. Robbie's mom died a year earlier, and she's on the rebound from life's complications, including her own upbringing in California, without a dad, but very attached to her mom and her mom's family. That includes southern Indiana resident Aunt Adele, plucky and encouraging, an anchor for Robbie in the small town. Under Adele's urging, Robbie's bought the shop; rehabbed it and refitted it, thanks to the carpentry skills her mom taught her; and is pulling together a growing staff, in response to the brisk opening business.
But when the town employee who'd been toughest to get along with during the overhaul turns up murdered, with a strong connection to Robbie's newly opened restaurant, it looks like Pans 'N Pancakes may have a short shelf life.
"Poor Stella. But what does her death have to do with me?" I heard my voice rise and swallowed hard.Author "Maddie Day" thus resolves the most critical component of any "amateur sleuth" mystery: the motivation that takes a friendly non-detective out of her comfort zone and into the risks of investigation and detection.
"She did not die of natural causes," Buck said.
"Oh, no. That's awful," I said.
"Do you mean she was murdered?" Jim's voice came out low and slow.
"Yup. And then somebody stuffed a cheesy biscuit in her mouth." Buck stared at me.
A cheesy biscuit? One of my cheesy biscuits? Damn. Double damn.
FLIPPED FOR MURDER steps up the pace and the stakes with a pair of parallel plot components. First there are two mysteries on hand: the murder of the very unpleasant Stella Rogers, and the question of who Robbie's father might have been -- something that's suddenly a live question, when she realizes that her mom's departure from Indiana so many years ago fits the time of getting pregnant. Was there a man to run away from? A heartbreak in the past? A danger?
At the same time, Robbie's exploring two sets of possibilities for her own life: the adventure of owning her own business, employees and all, and the endless wondering of who life is bringing for romantic possibilities. After all, although Robbie is an experienced chef and ready to invest, she's also only 27 and repeatedly startled by the attractive men in her life!
The back-up characters in FLIPPED FOR MURDER have charm and pizzazz. There's the mayor's daughter Danna, with her dreadlocks and flair for culinary creation; Robbie's friend Phil, grandson of a church leader; surprising Aunt Adele, with romance plans of her own; and the men, oh the men ... like Ed Kowalski, country-store competition in the next town; real estate lawyer Jim Shermer, ready to help Robbie in other ways; Office Buck Bird of the local police force, who seems to like Robbie but won't hesitate to arrest her if it's called for ... These folks are clearly sticking around for the next book, and I'm eager to see how Robbie invests in their lives, as well as in her restaurant and the defense of her innocence.
Yes, the recipe for Robbie's Cheesy Biscuits is included, along with a few others. Most remarkably, in her Maddie Day persona, author Edith Maxwell proves she can differentiate a new voice for her woman-centered "cozy" mysteries. The core of each of her four series (three already in print, one more coming in 2016) is a woman standing up for herself and wondering what life's bringing her, while making strong, decisive choices on what to accept and what to walk away from. But the professions, surroundings, and -- as in FLIPPED FOR MURDER -- the casts of characters are sharply separate, intriguing, and promise a lot of fun ahead.
Kensington Books offers a teaser for the next in the country-store mystery series, Grilled for Murder, at the end of this debut. It's clearly going onto my "plan to get the next one" list!
PS -- it's well worth visiting Edith Maxwell's author website. Here's the webpage for the country store mysteries, and it's easy to navigate to the author's Events listing, too. Why not get two copies -- one for yourself, one for a holiday gift -- and get them signed by the author? She'll be mostly in Massachusetts, but there are some events this coming week in the Midwest, and sure to be more, as her research issues the call of the road!