In Death al Dente, the first of Leslie Budewitz’s Food Lovers’ Village Mystery series, Erin Murphy returns to her hometown of Jewel Bay, Montana, to run Murphy’s Mercantile for her mother, Fresca Murphy, which has belonged to Erin’s family for over a century. She focuses on trying to revive “The Merc” by promoting locally grown and prepared food. As things start to get off the ground, Erin organizes the Festa di Pasta to celebrate the particular cooking of local chefs and restaurants. But then, just as the festival is set to take place, along comes the couple who created the greatest scandal in Jewel Bay in a long time.
Chiropractor Dean left his wife and practice to run away to Las Vegas in order to go to school to become an Elvis impersonator, taking Fresca’s manager, Claudette, with him with only a day’s notice to her boss. But he has failed out of Elvis school and decided to return not only to Jewel Bay but also to his wife. Immediately, rumors begin to spread that instead of having Claudette quit abruptly on her, instead Fresca fired Claudette in order to replace her with Erin. In particular James Angelo, a chef who hates Fresca’s success, gets busy making sure everyone “knows” that the key reason Fresca fired Claudette was to steal Claudette’s recipes to pass them off as her own recipes.
As the Festa di Pasti prepares to begin, Erin stumbles across the body of Claudette. Realizing that her mother, as the woman rumored to have fired Claudette and stolen Claudette’s recipes, is the likeliest suspect, Erin gets concerned. Her high school best friend, Kim Caldwell, with whom she had a falling out soon after the death of Erin’s father their senior year, is now a detective and takes over the investigation of the case. With all these complications, Erin gets involved in looking into the case herself.
This book has a lot of depth to it in its strong story and writing. I liked the many angles to the book, which provides plenty of creative twists and red herrings to make us wonder what will happen next. Budewitz creates many believable scenarios for who might have committed the murder. The characters are very round, with lots of life to them. Even the minor characters have plenty of depth to them. The quality of writing of this book makes it extra enjoyable.
Rebecca Mitchell performs the audio edition of this book, which I enjoyed. I appreciated the multiple voices that Mitchell creates for each character and her means of helping to make the story develop cleverly.
I really enjoyed Death al Dente. Budewitz writes another series of culinary mysteries featuring the Seattle Spice Shop, and each has its own strength, but what they have in common is good writing, creative mysteries, and characters we really connect with. I give the books five stars.
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