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by Debra H. Goldstein
Kensington, December 2018
323 pages
ISBN: 1496719476

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Sarah Blair, recently divorced and working as the receptionist for a lawyer, knows exactly who to call when her sister Emily calls her in the middle of the night from the police station. Harlan meets Sarah in the office of the Wheaton police chief, Peter Mueller. Before anyone really knows what's going on, Jane Clark busts in and starts attacking Emily, all the while accusing Emily of killing Bill Blair, Sarah's ex-husband. Jane works with Emily (for Chef Marcus) at Southwind, a fairly new up-scale restaurant in Wheaton. She is also competing with Emily at the local Food Expo, where Bill was murdered. If it was indeed murder, and not just a bad reaction to something Bill ate.

Sarah doesn't cook. Her go-to recipe is Jell-o® in a Can, a real recipe from 1955 (yes, it's in the book). Emily, on the other hand, wants to move up from line cook to sous chef at Southwind; Jane can't seem to decide if she's better off with Bill (Sarah's ex-husband) or Chef Marcus (once Bill is out of the picture) and might be playing both ends against the middle. And she wants custody of Rah-Rah, Sarah's cat, inherited from Mother Blair because Bill is incredibly allergic. Rah-Rah is the only thing Bill didn't fight Sarah about. Now Jane is claiming that Rah-Rah is part of Bill's estate, which she is claiming as his fiancée and she has paperwork to back up that claim.

Then another member of Chef Marcus's staff is killed, and again Emily is right there when the cops show up, covered this time in the victim's blood rather than the rhubarb pie filling from Bill's crime scene. Chief Mueller seems even less inclined to look beyond Emily than he was before Richard's body was found. The circumstantial evidence just keeps piling up, which makes it easy for him to keep his focus on Emily, no matter how much Sarah protests and brings up other possible suspects and reasonable doubts.

Ms. Goldstein keeps a lot of balls in the air over the course of this novel. There are many characters, all with their own story; some of these stories are clearly relevant to the plot, some not so much and perhaps a little distracting (on purpose?). There are many reasons for all kinds of people to want Bill Blair dead; the connection to Richard (victim #2) isn't even remotely obvious until the very end of the book. The contrast between Sarah (a cook of convenience) and Emily (a trained chef) highlights the usually low-key sibling rivalry in a new and rather different way, and it works. The information on animal trusts was interesting, and an unusual way for an ex-spouse to rip off a former loved one. As a long-time reader of "culinary crime" (Rex Stout was my first), I found this debut for a new series to be interesting and well worth the time spent in Wheaton.

§ I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, December 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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