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CHEDDAR OFF DEAD
by Korina Moss
St Martin's Paperbacks, March 2022
304 pages
$8.99
ISBN: 1250795192


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

"Curds and Whey" is the name of Willa Bauer's cheese shop in the small town of Yarrow Glen, California. It has only been open for two very short weeks. Willa is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a local critic, Guy Lippinger, who writes for All Things Sonoma; she is convinced he can make or break her store. Willa also thinks that if the review is positive, it may help her win the Best New Business Sonoma's Choice award and that's only a month away. Willa has a lot resting on this one critic and his opinions.

While she's waiting, Willa is killing it at self-promotion. She's gotten her store on the California cheese trail. She's having a contest for customers to guess the weight of a custom-made wheel of aged artisan cheddar. She's teaching some of her neighbors, other shop owners, how to make mozzarella cheese; the hope is that networking will pay off for all of them. She has recipe cards made up to go with various cheeses; she wants to talk to Roman, the owner of a meadery, about pairings to go with her wares. If hard work and preparation are all it takes to succeed in Yarrow Glen, Willa will do just fine. When Guy does show up, at the end of the class and long after he was supposed to be there, he is drunk, surly, and highly critical. This does not bode well for Willa, and it only gets worse as the night goes on. Willa finds him dead in his car in her back alley, and the knife in his neck came from her store.

Willa decides that nobody is going to clear her name unless she gets involved. The police, in the form of Detective Heath, tell her more than once to stay out of their investigation. She does do the responsible thing; if she finds out anything, she tells Heath right away. Hence the "more than once" part of their interactions. It seems everyone in business on Pleasant Avenue has a motive, or secrets they want to keep secret, not just Willa. The Golden Glen Meadery is owned by Roman Massey, whose good looks appeal to Willa more than his attitude, at least at first. Vivian, owner of the Rise & Shine Bakery, is running the shop for her niece Hope, who will inherit it fairly soon. Derrick, the manager of The Apricot Grille, sued Guy over a bad review, and won. Birdie owns the Smiling Goats dairy farm; there is a connection somewhere. Baz, the local handy-man, comes to Willa's aid on more than one occasion. Willa's two employees, Mrs. Schultz and Archie, prove to be excellent sources of local information as well.

Yarrow Glen could be any small town with a good tourist base. While Moss goes a little overboard with her descriptions of store interiors, those same descriptions set the tone for the store. The characters fit their occupations, which also helps in terms of ambience. The connections with the victim, some of which go back years, make the red herrings blend right in with the "real" clues. Learning about cheeses was interesting, and was spread out over the entire book, so it wasn't overwhelming. All in all, a good start on what could be a tasty series.

P.J Coldren: 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 live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, August 2022

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