A Country Cooking School Mystery

By Paige Shelton

Berkley Prime Crime, 2012 ($7.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-425-24585-9

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Isabelle "Betts" Winston's Gram may be one tough cookie, but finding her dinner date dead in the supply closet of her cooking school was bound to cause her some distress. Broken Rope, Missouri has a long history of odd, gruesome, violent deaths, but murders these days are usually fakes staged for the tourists who are the town's lifeblood. Everett Morningside, owner of the local theater, is definitely not playing dead. Who killed the mild-mannered man, and how did he end up in the closet of Gram's Country Cooking School? That information is of vital importance to the authorities, and, when Gram gets put at the top of the suspect list, it becomes of vital importance to her and Betts too.

Betts recently returned to her home town after dropping out of law school. She'd decided the legal profession was not what she'd expected, but she wasn't sure what to do with her life. Her parents asked Gram to teach her the fine art of Southern cooking while she waited to discover her true calling. Turns out helping Gram run her nationally-acclaimed cooking school was just what she was looking for.

There's something else Betts wasn't expecting when she returned to Broken Rope. The newest member of the police force is Cliff Sebastian, her first love. They had parted amicably after high school to go to different colleges, but she'd never forgotten him. Last she'd heard, he was an architect in San Francisco, married to a medical student. As the murder investigation goes on, the two perform a tentative dance trying to figure out where they stand now.

But wait, there's more: Betts discovers she can see, and talk to, dead people, just like her dear old Gram. After she gets over the shock, she bonds with Jerome Cowbender, a handsome and very dead Missouri outlaw. It seems his reputation as a bad hombre may not be deserved, and he's still pretty handy in a gunfight.

Even when there's a murder to investigate, the show must go on. In this case, the show is the Southern Missouri Showdown, a cook-off that brings visitors from all over to Broken Rope. Gram's students are looking forward to taking part, and she won't let them down.

This is the first in a new series for Ms. Shelton, who also writes the Farmers' Market Mysteries. It is a total delight, with well-drawn characters, a wonderful setting, a well-plotted mystery, and just the right amount of woo-woo. Oh yes, and lots of good food, with recipes included. I hope to see much more of Betts, Gram, and their ghostly friends.

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