Monday, January 20, 2014

A Taste for Murder (Hemlock Falls Mysteries #1), by Claudia Bishop (author), Justine Eyre (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, ISBN 9781470812485, August 2012 (original publication September 1994)

Sarah "Quill" Quilliam is the owner/manager of the Inn at Hemlock Falls, in Hemlock Falls, New York. Her sister Meg is the chef. They're not natives of this little upstate New York town, but moved there from New York City, after Meg's husband died and Quill decided she needed a break from her art career. They're both enjoying their new life, and the Inn is just starting to be profitable--when they have a week out of their worst nightmares and disaster may be upon them.

It's the week of the town's annual History Days, a major feature of which is a play reenacting a famous local witch trial. The local girl intended to play the witch is down with the flu, and one of the guests at the Inn, Mavis, is recruited to stand in for her.

Even though Quill doesn't like her, and she's friends with Quill's biggest local problem, Marge Schmidt, owner of a local diner,  this is okay--until the first night audience for the play realizes that the body that has just been crushed under a barn door piled with rocks is not the dummy it should be, but Mavis herself.

Among the other guests are Keith Baumer, a salesman with roaming hands and not nearly as charming as he thinks he is, Edward Lancashire, possibly the L'Apperitif reviewer come to award Meg her coveted fourth star, and Amelia (I'm blanking on her last name), Mavis' elderly employer, for whom she works as a companion. Some of these people offend Meg, who responds by doing interesting things to their food (baking soda, ipecac), even as she is falling all over herself to impress the presumed restaurant reviewer.

There were some silly things that annoyed me that likely wouldn't bother most people, such as the fact that their town's witch was executed by crushing, and there's mention of witches elsewhere in the colonies being burned, whereas English law prevailed throughout the colonies, and convicted witches were hanged. Always. Accused witches who refused to enter a plea, whether innocent or guilty, were crushed to death. Burning was the law in much of Europe--but not where English law prevailed.

But I assume that wouldn't bother anyone who isn't a history buff.

More annoying is that Meg comes off as a flighty, irresponsible, spoiled brat, right up till the end where we are supposed to believe she's the observant, level-headed one. Quill's character development also seems inconsistent. There are clear mentions throughout the book of the sisters having collaborated on, or interfered in, a previous case. This is clearly identified as the first in the series, but it really didn't feel like it; we weren't being introduced to the characters, and there's a lot of back story incorporated in ways that made me feel strongly that there was an earlier book that I'd missed.

And a point which did not bother me, but will bother people who read cooking/restaurant mysteries in part for the fun, creative recipes: Just one recipe.

All in all, this was okay, but just okay, and I will not be making any effort to hunt down later books in the series.

I borrowed this book from the library.