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by Avery Aames
Berkley, July 2010
336 pages
ISBN: 0425235521

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In yet another food-oriented mystery series (this time, set in a small local cheese and wine shop), murder reigns. This time, Fromagerie Bessette has just been renovated, and cousins Charlotte and Matthew have taken the helm of the family business, once run by their grandfather. Charlotte is the cheese-monger, while Matthew works the wine side of the shop. Grandfather has retired, but still seems to make an appearance at the shop on a daily basis, while grandmother is the town's mayor and runs the local playhouse, putting on quirky productions (like a ballet version of Hairspray).

With the excitement of the cheese shop's renovation, a gala is arranged to bring out the town to celebrate. Everything appears to be going well, despite the usual gossip and bad behavior normally associated with certain individuals in town. However, it all turns suddenly wrong when a local landlord is found dead, stabbed to death with a cheese knife in front of the shop, and Charlotte's grandmother is accused of committing the murder.

In addition to being a successful landlord, the deceased also had a lot of enemies, not least of whom was his own wife who is running against Charlotte's grandmother in the town's mayoral race. The marriage had been shaky, and the deceased had a long history of flirtation with many other women in town. Then there are the real estate deals to consider. Was the motivation money or love?

In the meantime, there are plenty of other events going on, from secret meetings by Charlotte's cousin Matthew, a mysterious brother-sister pair who suddenly appear in town, estranged relations between Charlotte and her best friend, and a town full of gossips who all think they have the clue to solving the mystery. Charlotte has her own budding romance to think about, as well as worries about the sale of the building in which the cheese shop is located.

It all wraps up nicely, with plenty of cheese lore thrown in. The Bessette family is likable, and there are plenty of unusual personalities in town to make the hunt for the killer a challenge for readers. My biggest complaint about the cheese novel is the promotion of Hershey's chocolate, which seems jarring when one considers the foodie interest in cheese and wine. Anyone with a refined palate for cheese would surely be consuming a finer quality of chocolate. Also jarring is the constant reference to the grape shaped chimes that ring every time someone enters the cheese shop. Enough already with the chimes!

Despite these minor quibbles, the Cheese Shop Mystery series is likely to be an outstanding success. It's got just the right mix of story and personality to keep readers engaged and on the hunt for a nice Bündner Bergkäse next time they are out shopping.

§ Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, June 2010

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