In Guilty as Cinnamon by Leslie Budewitz, Pepper Reece owns the Seattle Spice Shop in the Pike Place Market, where she has developed a clientele of restaurants to supply with the spices they use in their cooking. One day she helps Tamara Langston as she prepares to open her own restaurant as a competitor of her boss, Alex Howard, as Tamara gets everything prepared before she is ready to tell her boss. But Pepper’s problem employee tells Alex anyway, and when Pepper goes to the location of Tamara’s new restaurant to try to make things right, she finds Tamara dead.
As she still works hard to keep her business running, Pepper also investigates the case, partly because she feels she owes it to Tamara and partly because Alex, whom she dated briefly, has been arrested for the crime and begs Pepper to get to the truth, just as she had done six months earlier in the first book, Assault and Pepper. The case that begins as a bad dream turns into a nightmare when Pepper gets hints that the murder weapon was the ghost spice, the hottest spice on record and one included in Pepper’s twice-weekly shipment to Alex. So could Pepper have supplied the murder weapon herself? It’s enough to make get feel responsible for locating the killer.
This book is full of flavor in many ways. The vivid depictions of the spice shop and Pikes Place Market bring everything to life. I felt I could actually smell the many blends of spices that Pepper and her employees concoct to create numerous flavors. Having the ghost pepper serve as the murder weapon also just adds to this cornucopia of senses, something I don’t usually expect to find in a book.
The characters in this book do not have the same roundness and flavor as the spices and Pikes Place Market. We do learn a lot about Pepper herself and what gives her drive in life. But we don’t really get to know the other characters very well. We see Alex, the detective pair Spencer and Tracy, other people in the restaurant world, and Pepper’s cop ex-husband, but we don’t really get to know them. I want to connect to the other characters in my books, either positively or negatively, but I don’t get that sense in this book. For a book that immerses me so effectively in the surroundings, I am actually rather surprised at the lack of character development in the book. Even the dog, Arf, who shows great potential for creating delight in the reader, comes close but not quite close enough to meeting this standard.
The book also goes off on a strange tangent on the topic of hunting ghosts. In general, I don’t like the addition of the paranormal to my cozy mysteries, but I will accept such topics if the ghosts don’t take up too much space in the books and do not make the books feel creepy. But though the paranormal details in this book are not overly intense or eerie, they seem to arise out of the blue and don’t fit well with the plot of the book.
The audio edition of this book is read by Dara Rosenberg. Her performance suits the voice and attitude that I sense in the character of Pepper, who gives a first person narration of the book. I am certain that I would not have felt the vibrancy of sensory stimulation that I experienced in this book without such an effective narrator or even as a book read on my own instead of audibly.
Despite my stated reservations, I really did enjoy this book. Each chapter begins with a quote that I really enjoyed. Most books that start with a quote don’t catch by attention with the this, and I find myself merely bearing the opening quote in order to get to the meat of the bike book. But I found the quotes that open each chapter to be lively and suit the text. The plot took some fascinating turns, catching by attention dramatically. I give this book four stars!
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