Monday, December 3, 2018

Monday Book Review: A Recipe for Murder by Jo A. Hiestand, #HolidayBooks

A Recipe for Murder (A Peak District Mystery, Book 2) by Jo A. Hiestand
Published 2017 by Cousins House (third printing, revised edition)

About the Book:
December bullies its way into the village in a swirl of snow and biting wind, threatening to cancel the annual St. Nicholas festival. But winter’s slap pales when a body is discovered in the candlelit church. Someone is not living up to the seasonal wish of ‘peace on earth, good will towards man.’
But the village harbors more than Christmas gifts, DS Brenna Taylor discovers as she and her colleagues from the Derbyshire Constabulary begin working the case. There is the feud between two rival authors; a wife’s open disdain of her husband and his secret comfort in the arms of another woman; the pent-up emotions of a vicar’s wife forced to conform to idealistic conceptions; the tacit threat of a troubled teenager and his delinquent girlfriend.
Brenna also discovers emotions she didn’t know she had when DS Mark Salt, her harassing macho cohort, makes overtures of genuine friendship. Now Brenna must not only examine her love for her boss, DCI Geoffrey Graham, but also consider the likelihood of its ever being returned.
As if sorting through the affairs of the heart and the tangle of motive and suspects in the case weren’t hard enough, a series of arsons threatens the very village itself. And Brenna wonders if they are looking for two felons or just one very disturbed individual.
My Take:

 I grew up reading English mysteries in paperback, that my mom would devour by the truckload. Agatha Christie was her favorite, and I soon traded in my Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy stories for Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. 

The appeal of mysteries is the puzzle - the idea that all the pieces are there if you look at them the right way. As the main characters unfold the clues on the pages, the reader tries to solve the crime before the detectives (or little old lady, in the case of Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote, another of my mom's favorites.)

In later years mom also discovered P.D.James and Martha Grimes, for the straight police procedural. None of the coyness of the cozy mystery, these authors walk the reader alongside actual detectives as they work to solve crimes the "real" way. The best books in the genre also strive to make the police themselves into "real" people, with emotions and problems outside the job that might color their abilities to see things clearly.For a modern twist on this I love the series by Toby Neal set on the Hawaiian islands, following a young female police detective battling crime as well as racism for her island roots and a macho society that doesn't think a woman should be a police detective in the first place. But I digress.

This mystery and this series by Jo Hiestand is more old-fashioned, set in the English countryside and reminiscent of P.D.James in style and tone. Definitely a slower read which needs a roaring fire and a cup of tea to go along with it. The story is told in first person by Detective Sergeant (DS) Brennan Taylor, the first police person responding to the murder scene on the very first page of the book. The story unfolds through her eyes, meeting all of the potential suspects as well as gathering the potential clues. She also struggles with her own emotions, emotionally drawn to her boss but keeping her feelings hidden away, adding depth and humanity to her character. Her own emotional struggles color how she interacts with the suspects, all hiding various emotional secrets of their own, which the reader knows she understands all too well. Her own secrets help grant her insight into the reasons others may keep secrets.

So... in writing a review of a mystery, I'm not about to tell you much about the story itself - that would spoil the fun of it all. The author put enough of the teases and clues into the back-of-book blurb to let you know the gist of what to expect. The twists and turns and red herrings - those are what make a mystery fun to read. To outline them in a review defeats the purpose. Suffice to say, it's a well-plotted mystery that will keep the reader guessing, and rooting for the lead detective to figure things out before someone beats her to it. While stories like this are no longer my favorite genre, I'll give this one 4 stars for a well-done mystery, and a book my mom would've loved.

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