The fifth Bakeshop Mystery
By Ellie Alexander
Available now from St. Martin's
Ashland, Oregon is a small town that's built up a Shakespearean tourist industry, as well as an annual chocolate festival. As the co-owner of Torte, Ashland's resident bakeshop, Jules is cooking on all burners. She's considering expanding the business, and using the festival as a chance to renovate her current storefront. She's also got a couple of guys vying for her attention, but she's not ready to move on from her estranged husband.
When Evan Rowe, the infamously mean owner of Confections Couture, dies of an allergic reaction during the festival, everyone suspects foul play. The desserts he was served were supposedly nut free. Jules would be interested in the case just to clear her own name, but her friend Lance pushes her to become even more involved in probing for answers. As is the case in many mysteries where the victim is a real jerk, there's a plurality of suspects.
I haven't read the previous four Bakeshop Mysteries, but I was able to dive right into this tale. There is some exposition at the beginning about Jules' business and husband which helped me understand the basics of the setting, although it made me think Jules' husband would actually show up in the story. The series has a fairly standard cozy mystery set up, which made stepping into the series in the middle still feel familiar.
What I found stood out about FUDGE & JURY is the importance of Jules' career. Her professional development often overtook the murder mystery as the most important part of the book. I don't think that's a bad thing, since there's a new murder per book but investment in Jules is what will keep readers coming back. I know I'm thinking about checking out the previous four books from the library. I find that most cozy mysteries are centered around hobbies, or people starting new careers, so it was unusual to read one about a woman who is excelling in her field and finding increasing success.
I thought the cast was likeable. The array of romantic options seemed like a bit much, although Ellie Alexander sold the scene where Jules turns one of her suitors down. I felt for the guy and appreciated how maturely Jules handled the situation, by making her feelings clear but being compassionate. That's always a rough situation.
The details of the various confections are lush and mouth-watering. I know I wanted some chocolate pasta of my own! (And I greatly enjoyed Jules' defense of cocoa-powder based brownies. This Smitten Kitchen recipe proves they don't have to be grainy.) The solution to the mystery surprised me, and will certainly make me more careful about serving one of my favorite sauces to guests. The denouement happened quickly, since FUDGE & JURY does focus on so much more than the mystery, but I found the clever solution satisfying.
I have one copy to give away. US only, 13 and up.
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