New York City – Continuing on with my reading of “first novels” of food related mysteries, I moved on to JoAnna Carl’s The Chocolate Cat Caper. Her name is a pseudonym for a “multipublished mystery writer.” That worried me right off the bat. This is supposed to be a mystery. She, or he, is a writer of mysteries. Why the unwillingness to be associated with this book series? Perhaps there are legal reasons, who knows? But it left me wondering.
The book is definitely a step up from the one I reviewed yesterday. The prose itself is clearer, and written for adults with normal intelligence. There is a plot! There’s even a bit of mystery and suspense. And I didn’t find myself putting it down repeatedly wishing that I didn’t have to pick it up and continue.
Two pet peeves, or one, and a peeve that isn’t a pet. First, the inconsistent use of dialect. For effect, here and there, the dialog is in accented form, e.g., a Texas drawl, but only sometimes. Second, the protagonist has a quirk of saying the wrong, but “similar” sounding word at the end of sentences. It might have been a cute quirk if it popped up only under pressure, but it’s throughout the book, including in casual conversation. The character also always catches herself doing it. And the words aren’t always all that similar. After a bit, it just becomes irritating.
Once again the nutshell version… The manager of a chocolate shop is witness to the death of a client that turns out to be a murder by poisoning. Cyanide in the chocolates that she herself had delivered to the client. In this case, she doesn’t act particularly as a detective, but more as a snoopy witness. Clearly she is trying to make sure that neither she nor her aunt, the owner of the chocolate shop, is accused of the crime, and therefore has a vested interest in being nosey. The story is told from her point of view, and as a reader, we don’t learn anything that she doesn’t, and most of it is either overheard comments, observations, and gossip. A bit comes from interviews with the police detectives, who, rightfully, do all the investigating. Once again, however, the crime isn’t “solved” – rather, on the flimsiest of excuses, the murderer essentially decides to confess to her and take her hostage (for no real apparent reason), a situation from which she is rescued mostly by dumb luck. Once again, the police arrive and wrap things up.
One of the things I want in a murder mystery is mystery. I’d like to have a credible detective, investigator, even a civilian snoop, but credible. And I’d like to get the same clues that they get as they piece together the crime – giving me the opportunity to possibly beat them to the conclusion; or possibly to even be surprised by a turn of events. Both this, and the previous book, basically offer no solid clues to the reader (or the protagonist), and merely have things wind up solved more or less by accident.
Perhaps that’s why JoAnna Carl is a pseudonym…