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THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC
by Mary Jane Clark
William Morrow, January 2014
358 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 0062135473


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Who can resist a vicarious visit to New Orleans, especially when you stir in some beignets, a little voodoo, and murder? Mary Jane Clark's fourth installment in the Piper Donovan Wedding Cake Mysteries series counts on the mix of engaging main character and exciting location being the recipe for success, and if you're looking for a fun, fast read, here it is.

Still suffering the traumatic after-effects of an attempt on her life the previous month, aspiring actress/baker Piper Donovan has been chosen to work at the renowned French Quarter bakery Boulangerie Bertrand to learn from owner Bertrand Olivier and his wife Marguerite. Creepy things start happening right from the start, with Bertrand's lecherous looks, hints of voodoo rituals, and unsettling encounters with strangers. Clark quickly introduces us to a fairly large cast of characters, all of whom fall under suspicion at one point or another in the course of the novel as the murder count grows. Clark sprinkles clues and red herrings throughout the story and keeps the plot moving with fast-paced action told from multiple viewpoints—including the killer's. The first time the reader witnesses a murder feels a bit of a cheat since the author is obviously holding back information (we see the murder but not the murderer), but for the most part, the technique works. Short chapters with multiple scene breaks also keep the pages turning quickly.

For those not familiar with the Piper Donovan series, Clark does a good job of giving enough information about recurring characters to make it easy to read this as an introduction to the series or even as a stand-alone novel. Frequent references to the previous book invite further exploration of the series without giving away any crucial information, and Piper's flashbacks add a deeper sense of drama to the current story.

While the continuation of the wedding cake/baking aspects of the series are a bit thin here, and the murderer's viewpoints and reveal leave the reader feeling a little bit cheated, overall, we meet some interesting characters, get a hint of flavor of The Big Easy and its citizens, and even get a beignet recipe—not a bad way to spend a few hours.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, January 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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