Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cozy Night: Tim Myers, Pepperoni Pizza Can Be Murder

I've been up to my eyebrows in dark and violent characters and plots, as I ponder the phenomenon of the Steig Larsson books and some similar series. So it's a huge relief to take time off and enjoy a "cozy" for a change. Chris Cavender's second book featuring Eleanor Swift and her sister Maddy, and their pizzeria, A Slice of Delight, is warm, delightful, and well plotted -- PEPPERONI PIZZA CAN BE MURDER tosses a sturdy crust of small-town community, adds a sauce of the way personal connections get in the way of crime-solving, and tops the recipe with a golden bubbling pleasure of sisters who rub each other wrong sometimes but who laugh together, grieve for and with each other, and have each other's backs without question.

Author Chris Cavender may be relatively new to pizzeria as a business, but good food comes readily to this seasoned writer of American hometown mystery series. It's not a big secret that Cavender is one of the pen names of Tim Myers, who also writes as Elizabeth Bright and Melissa Glazer (and I ran across mention of two more names with books to follow!). With the same embrace of restaurant food prep that applied to innkeeping, candlemaking, soapmaking, and card-making in earlier books, Cavender's details offer a friendly look behind the counter and into the kitchen. (There are even a few recipes at the end of the book.)

Wearing her widowhood with grace is business owner Eleanor Swift, who needs to stay calm with her kitchen suddenly a middle-of-the-night crime scene. Chief of police Kevin Hurley doesn't suspect her, but he's ready to accuse her delivery man of murder -- let's see, there's motive (money that brothers Wayne and Greg have been fighting over), means (the rolling pin used to bash in Wayne's head), and opportunity (of course Greg knew where to find the key to the building -- but then again, so did at least a dozen people).

But Eleanor's defense of Greg isn't cutting much cheese with Chief Hurley. She admits right off the bat that "he might have believed me -- or even listened to my argument -- if I hadn't dumped him back in high school nearly twenty years ago. It was a long time for someone to hold a grudge, but he clutched it like a starving man grabbed for the last donut in the box."

At least this particular murder can't be about the money at the pizzeria. Eleanor, her sister Maddy, and Greg had worked so hard the day before, with a crowd of Elvis impersonators taking a bus break at the restaurant -- and then somebody stuck a gun in Eleanor's face on her way from the kitchen to the bank and took all the money. And when Eleanor needs to show up at the crime scene, it's to identify the murder weapon. Luckily, Maddy is available to go with her, and by the next day, the sisters are in full sleuth mode. After all, if nobody else believes their delivery man is innocent, they'll have to find the real criminal, won't they?

Don't count on Eleanor resolving anything romantic here -- she's still very much missing her husband Joe. But it's clear that Maddy is able to manage a dating life while also working at the solution to the crime. Cavender does a dandy job of keeping the action going and moving the pieces around, so that when the murderer is finally identified, there's a perfect mix of surprise and "ah, of course!"

This tasty bit of beach reading is scheduled for a July 27 release -- which is just far enough from now, if you like, to also put in an order for Cavender's earlier book, A Slice of Murder, in order to munch your way through the two books in sequence.

PS: Dave just said "let's go out for pizza." Don't mind if I do!

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