Fresh settings, quirky characters and original twists abound in our favorite new cozies. Whether you prefer to sample exotic recipes, explore antique-filled English mansions, take a little break at a charming B&B or create a custom floral bouquet, a delightful adventure awaits in these books—oh, and murders, too. But don’t worry: The strong, determined and often hilarious women at the center of the action are sure to figure things out before it’s too late—if only just.
J.J. Cook, the beloved author of the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mysteries, moves from the hills of Tennessee to the streets of Mobile, Alabama, for the first in her new Biscuit Bowl Food Truck mysteries. Death on Eat Street is a quirky and entertaining mystery that centers on the backstabbing backside of the food industry.
Thirty-year-old Zoe Chase defies her parents by quitting her bank job to open, to their great dismay, a diner and a food truck. It’s not only her parents’ disapproval that Zoe has to deal with, though. Her new digs aren’t in the nicest part of town, and food truck vending turns out to be a cutthroat business. When a competitor is found dead behind the wheel of Zoe’s Biscuit Bowl truck, she finds out just how serious things can get.
Zoe and the delightful cast of supporting characters, including a lazy but lovable Persian cat named Crème Brulée, lend a light mood to this ever-escalating murder mystery. Zoe’s life is threatened at every turn, but she’s undaunted. She’s much more interested in sharing her famous deep-fried biscuit bowl treats with everyone from office workers to the men at the homeless shelter. Her kind heart and intrepid determination carry the day, along with her nourishing recipes, several of which are included.
BAD NEWS AT THE B&B
If you’re still hungry after your breakfast bowl with Zoe Chase, you might consider lunch at a new bed and breakfast, the Dixie Dew, where polite Southern chats over tea and cakes can carry a sinister undertone.
Award-winning author Ruth Moose makes her cozy debut with Doing It at the Dixie Dew, another tale of a woman reinventing herself. Instead of a food truck, Beth McKenzie is rehabilitating her family home and turning it into a warm and friendly B&B. Once the first guest is booked, she thinks she’s on her way, but things quickly take a grim turn when that guest turns up dead the next morning. Trusting the small-town gossip grapevine more than the local police to solve this crime, Beth follows a trail of precious jewels and deadly poison that leads her directly into the clutches of the astonishing culprits.
Along the way, she bakes muffins, falls a little bit in love with her handyman and stencils the heck out of her new tearoom. Beth’s bright optimism remains throughout, even when more murders are discovered and many of the clues appear to lead straight back to the Dixie Dew. Instead of dwelling on the implications, Beth and her friends make dark jokes—maybe the motto for the B&B should be “Rest in Peace,” they suggest—and move on. With Doing It at the Dixie Dew, Moose sets the stage for further adventures for the new innkeeper and her comrades; you never know who will come through the door next.
For afternoon tea, might we suggest a stop in the English countryside? In Murder at Honeychurch Hall, Hannah Dennison’s first novel outside of the popular Vicky Hill series, a thoroughly modern woman—television personality Kat Stanford—is tossed deep into the history of Honeychurch Hall. This 600-year-old estate holds many secrets, the latest of which is a missing—and possibly murdered—nanny.
The setting, the murder . . . none of it would even be on Kat’s radar if it weren’t for her mischievous mother, Iris, who has confounded her daughter’s respectable plans for her retirement by setting up housekeeping in a rundown carriage house on the premises. As exasperated Kat attempts to talk her reckless mother down from her latest adventure, the two share their aggravation and affection for each other in equal measure. Their entertaining banter anchors the fast-paced action, as readers come to suspect nearly everyone on the estate. Everyone has something to hide, from the stately Lady Edith to her fanciful grandson Harry. Even Iris has a few skeletons in the closet, leaving Kat to wonder about her own mother’s culpability.
Dennison keeps the twists and turns coming fast and furious, alleviating the tension periodically with humorous scenes involving the underwhelming local constabulary and unusual antiques like Kat’s beloved vintage Jerry mouse. In the end, it’s all connected, but readers will have a hard time putting it all together until the very last pages.
TILL DEATH DO US PART
It’s flowers and cupcakes for dessert at the romantic Rose in Bloom, a truly charmed flower shop in the small town of Ramble, Virginia. Owners and cousins Audrey Bloom and Liv Rose have an untarnished reputation for providing the perfect bridal bouquets, with the arrangements based on the Victorian meanings of flowers. These ladies are so good that not one of the couples wedded with their bouquets has ever gotten divorced. Just as the local paper is set to celebrate their success, tragedy strikes their latest customers: The groom turns up murdered, with flower petals from Audrey’s shop strewn over his body. Audrey has little faith in the local police, and when suspicion for the murder starts to turn her way, she relies on a strong network of friends and family to help her sleuth out the truth.
Bloom and Doom is the first Bridal Bouquet Shop mystery from Beverly Allen, who also writes as Barbara Early. Allen’s casual dialogue captures the camaraderie among Audrey and her co-workers, as they band together to design funeral flowers instead of wedding sprays. The central mystery definitely intrigues, although it may be a secondary mystery that holds the most surprising outcome. Both are revealed slowly, as Audrey and company realistically, and often comically, go through their everyday life accompanied by a charming parade of small-town characters, like the attractive cupcake chef from the bakery two doors down and Audrey’s crazy, escape-artist cat, Chester. Ramble is a town full of such characters, and there will surely be more for Audrey to discover in upcoming volumes.
This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.