Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Murder in Small-Town Indiana, WHEN THE GRITS HIT THE FAN, Maddie Day

Ready for a "cozy" mystery that keeps things stirred up but will send you to the kitchen, instead of into bad dreams? Maddie Day's "Country Store Mystery" series is prepped just right, off the breakfast griddle and into the sort of amateur investigation that rings true to small-town life.

In the third book in the series, WHEN THE GRITS HIT THE FAN (release date March 28), restaurant owner Robbie Jordan ought to have a peaceful winter season for her mostly breakfasts shop, Pans 'N Pancakes. It's not tourist season, and the nearby Indiana University campus doesn't directly affect her, but she's just started hosting the Sociology Department dinner gatherings, which ought to help with cash flow.

In classic cozy fashion, the book opens with a gathering where it's clear that a lot of people have reason to dislike Professor Charles Stilton, whose specialty appears to be mean comments -- when he's not baldly stealing the work of his graduate student or emotionally abusing his wife and son. So to readers of the genre, it's no surprise that Robbie Jordan and her friend Lou, the graduate student whose work was stolen, find Stilton dead the next morning. But author Maddie Day (one of the pen names for New England author Edith Maxwell, who has some Indiana roots) knows how to liven the story with unusual twists -- from local family secrets to revelations in the restaurant's old upstairs rooms to the kinds of stress that thrive in academia.

Robbie Jordan's experience (see the two previous titles, Flipped for Murder and Grilled for Murder) in helping sort out crimes for her friends means several of the presumed suspects lean on her right away. She hears things the police don't necessarily, because she's becoming part of the town herself. For example, there's her not-so-casual questioning of the library assistant, Georgia, who's been accused of being the killer:
I pulled my scarf closer around my neck and turned on the bench to face Georgia. "I keep thinking about the murder."

She winced and averted her eyes.

"I wanted to ask if you knew about any other people, locals, who had a beef with Charles. I can't picture any of the so-called persons of interest actually killing him -- my friend Lou, her department chair Zen Brown, Maude, Ron. None of those make any sense. And definitely not you."

"You know, Charles was very charming in public. From a distance. I think a lot of folks liked him thought he was smart and a nice guy, but if you had any close dealings with him, whoa. Watch out. He'd stab you in the back."

"That sounds bad."

"I've seen him in action." She glanced at me. "Not a pretty picture."
The pace is smart, chatty, and steady, and whips into high tension in the last few chapters, as Robbie's persistent defense of her friends plus her ability to put the facts together take her into the sights of the killer.

A good read, with plenty of rural Indiana color and lots of food and wine chatter -- and of course, a handful of recipes at the end, including one for Grits with Cheese that I just might have to try soon.

I'm posting this review a bit early to make room for readers who like to preorder, but also because it's a busy season for the author. She has three very active "amateur sleuth" mysteries, and her next book, Called for Justice (a Quaker series), comes out in a couple of weeks under the Edith Maxwell author name. Great fun to follow all her books at once; for lists and news, check out her website here.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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