Review: Murphy’s Slaw by Elizabeth Logan

Review: Murphy’s Slaw by Elizabeth LoganMurphy's Slaw (Alaskan Diner Mystery #3) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #3
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on June 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When a local prize-winning farmer is murdered at the state fair, Charlie Cook gets called in to help investigate, but she’s shocked to learn the victim is a friend in this latest installment in the Alaskan Diner Mysteries.
Charlie Cooke loves many things, like the Bear Claw Diner, the heated steering wheel of her car, and her orange tabby cat Eggs Benedict. Something she has never loved is the state fair. So when her best friend Annie Jensen begs her for a fair day, she’s reluctant. But Annie isn’t the only one who wants her to spend a day among farm animals and deep fried food. A vendor has been murdered, and Trooper Graham needs his favorite part-time sleuth to dig up the truth, and Charlie is happy to oblige.
The case grows personal when Charlie learns the victim is Kelly Carson, whom she and Annie were friends with in high school. If Charlie wants to find justice for Kelly, she and Annie will have to work together to weed out the killer.

My Review:

Everyone knows about “Murphy’s Law”, that entirely too often true dictum that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Then there’s Cole’s Law, which is shredded cabbage with mayo, with or without shredded carrots. There’s another version of Cole’s Law, at least according to the Urban Dictionary, that when dining out, either one person will eat everyone’s coleslaw, or nobody eats the coleslaw at all.

Somewhere west of everything there’s Charlie Cooke’s coleslaw at her Bear Claw Diner in tiny Elkview, Alaska, which doesn’t use mayo in the coleslaw – using vinaigrette instead, and her recipe is included in the back of the book – along with a few other tasty treats!

While people come to the Bear Claw Diner for those tasty treats – along with a bit of traditional diner cooking and flair – it’s not possible, at least not yet, for the delicious aromas and mouth-watering mooseloaf to make their way out of the pages of the book – not that the descriptions won’t make you hungry.

We’re here for the murder mystery, the portrait of life in small-town Alaska, and reading about the way that Charlie Cooke spoils her cat Eggs Benedict – better known as Benny – absolutely rotten. (Sometimes the amount of spoiling Benny gets makes me feel a bit guilty about the relative paucity of treats for our own four cats. And sometimes it makes me feel a bit better that we don’t spoil them quite THAT much!)

Murphy’s Slaw serves up plenty of all of the above, as Charlie and her fellow volunteer investigators find themselves scouring the Alaska State Fair in nearby Palmer for clues to the Fair-site murder of their friend KC. For a woman that everyone in Elkview seems to have loved, there sure are plenty of motives for KC’s murder. It’s ferreting out the possible suspects that keeps Charlie and Company on their investigative toes!

Escape Rating B: I read and enjoy this series because it allows me to vicariously re-visit a place that I once lived and mostly enjoyed. (Except for January, January in Anchorage absolutely sucks rocks.) I still tell Alaska stories from my own time there, and I love reading Alaska stories – especially when it feels like the author gets things plausibly right – as this author generally does.

I have to say that one of the things I read this series for is the way that Charlie spoils her cat “Benny” rotten to an amazing degree. Our cats are spoiled, but she does take the concept to new dimensions. But providing a feline with their due is not quite enough to power an entire series.

So, one of the things that I especially enjoy about this series that probably has more “legs” to power a series is the brush with plausibility of Charlie and her friends assisting Trooper, the Alaska State Trooper assigned to Elkview and its surrounds, with his investigations. There are a lot of ways that things get done differently in Alaska because there are relatively few people spread out over a very big space. The state budget has been shrinking the past several years while there are many more things done at the state level than is common in the “Lower 48” as there are relatively few cities or large towns and there is no governmental unit that is the equivalent of a county. And if there’s no counties, that means there are no county sheriffs, either.

So things are done just a bit differently. Meaning that while Elkview seems to have the same homicide rate as Bar Harbor, Maine or Midsomer County in England, there are considerably fewer police agencies to deal with those homicides and it feels more likely that local volunteers might get enlisted to the cause. (Even if it doesn’t happen in real life at all.)

Something else this story highlights is just how few degrees of separation there are between people. Charlie and her bestie Annie knew the victim in high school. They also have continuing interactions because KC was a local farmer and supplier to Charlie’s diner and possibly even Annie’s inn. KC’s mother and Charlie’s mother are friends. Her murder hits close to home, as does the search for her murderer.

So I enjoy watching Charlie solve the mystery in this series, usually by getting herself smack in the middle of it whether she intended to or not. But what I sink into with a grateful sigh is the cozy small town ambiance that reminds me of somewhere I still remember fondly.

The one element I could have lived without in this particular entry in the series is the “bobble” in the relationship between Charlie and her best friend Annie over whether either of them can, or should, take even the first steps in a potential romantic relationship with the third member of their investigative trio, newspaper reporter Chris Doucette. Chris, of course, is not present for this discussion, but the difficulties that it raises between Charlie and Annie, and between Charlie and Chris, casts a strange air over their performance of their “regular” sleuthing for entirely too much of a chunk of the story. Not every long-running mystery series requires a romance between any of the continuing characters. My 2 cents.

But it all did get resolved by the end, along with the murder. So I’ll be back the next time the author takes a trip to Elkview. After all, I have to see how Benny is doing!

Review: Fishing for Trouble by Elizabeth Logan + Giveaway

Review: Fishing for Trouble by Elizabeth Logan + GiveawayFishing for Trouble (Alaskan Diner Mystery #2) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #2
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on November 24, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Something fishy is going on at a local seafood processing plant, and Charlie Cooke is on the hook to solve the case in this new Alaskan Diner Mystery.
Summer has come to Elkview, Alaska, bringing twenty hours of sunlight every day, not to mention a surge of tourists and seasonal workers. Chef Charlie Cooke is eager for a busy yet relaxing season, but when a young man working a summer job at the local fish processing plant dies moments after walking into the Bear Claw Diner, she’s quickly swept into the investigation.
Soon, through her best friend Annie Jensen, Charlie learns that another student worker at J and M Processing has disappeared, leaving more questions and fewer answers. The near-endless sunlight gives plenty of time to search for clues, but Charlie will have to work with Annie and local reporter Chris Doucette to net the killer before anyone else gets hurt.

My Review:

Whenever someone’s ex shows up in a story, it always means drama. Not always trouble – although usually trouble – but always drama.

In romance, when an ex shows up with whom the protagonist has unfinished business, there’s the possibility of a second-chance-at-love story. But there are always other possibilities, especially in a mystery series like the Alaskan Diner series.

When Charlie’s (let’s call him emotionally abusive – as well as unfaithful) ex turns up in tiny Elkview, Alaska, it certainly wasn’t to deal with any unfinished emotional business between them – no matter what the lying, cheating asshole pretended.

Oh, he’s still emotionally manipulative and abusive – just for kicks. It was enough to make me think that Ryan Jamison was going to turn out to be an EvilEx™ but he wasn’t nearly that important.

He was just a sleazy lawyer on retainer for a local fish processing plant. The very same fish plant that employed a summer worker who had just died in Charlie’s Bear Claw Diner – before his order had even been delivered.

Which doesn’t let food poisoning out as a possible cause of the young man’s death – but certainly absolves the Bear Claw of any possibility of being the agency of the poison. But Ethan Johnson is still dead, his girlfriend tried to skip town and one of his friends is missing.

There’s clearly something rotten in the village of Elkview, and the advent of Charlie’s ex just adds to the stink already coming from the fish processors. Especially when the cause of death turns out to be, not food poisoning, but mercury poisoning – and mercury that was administered over a long-term at that. Mercury that could have been in the fish that was being processed. Or part of an experiment. Or some other cause yet to be determined.

The Alaska State Trooper stationed in Elkview, Cody Graham, is as overworked as he was in the first book in this series, Mousse and Murder, leading him to re-activate his gang of volunteer sleuths – a gang that includes both Charlie and the local newspaper reporter Chris Doucette.

Charlie, both with and without Chris’ assistance – but definitely more with – has to discover out what’s really going on at the secretive fish processing plant – and why so many of its summer workers are going missing, getting into trouble or ending up dead.

And figure out who is leaving Charlie threatening messages – before she ends up in the same boat!

Escape Rating B: This is turning out to be a comfort read series for me. It reminds me just enough of the Alaska I used to live in, although this is certainly a more idealized version of life in the Great State than real life. Even in Anchorage the winter weather is both long and brutal, and the feeling of isolation can be overwhelming. (January generally sucks. Period. Exclamation point.)

But the summers can be glorious, and that is portrayed very well in this second entry in the series, including the strangeness of trying to go to sleep when it’s still light out and getting to be out until midnight while it’s daylight.

So part of what I read this series for is that lovely small-town vibe with a special Alaskan flavor.

That being said, this is a cozy mystery series, and it may eventually run into the conundrum that all such series face – that the population is too small to support the number of murders that will eventually ensue. But that’s for another day, far down the road. For this one, we have students on summer jobs to provide both the corpses and the murder suspects.

This is a story where the red herrings, the many, many red herrings, are particularly tasty – and not just because they’re nestled among the absolutely mouth-watering descriptions of all the yummy things that Charlie cooks, bakes and serves at the Bear Claw Diner.

Charlie and her friends are extremely amateur sleuths. They wander down a lot of dead ends to reach the killer – who in the end reaches out for them because, well, they are so not professional about any of this.

This was a story of multiple misdirections, as none of what looked like clues in the beginning turned out to be germane in the end – at least not to the murder. Not that they didn’t uncover plenty of other skullduggery being processed along with those fish.

The identity of the murderer came a bit out of left field, and it felt like Charlie’s ex exited in that direction. We don’t get near enough clues about the real identity of the murderer or his motives, and Charlie’s EvilEx™ turned out to be a Chekhov’s Gun ex. He hung on the proverbial mantlepiece and wasn’t nearly as involved as it looked like he would be at the beginning.

On the other hand, the tentative beginnings of Charlie’s relationship with Chris became a bit less tentative over the course of the investigation, while Charlie’s frankly adorable relationship with her cat Benny continued to provide just the right amount of sweetness to this story without spoiling the story. Benny on the other hand is VERY spoiled.

In the end, this was as light and fluffy as one of the omelets served at the Bear Claw Diner. I’ll be back for another delicious treat when the author returns to this series with Murphy’s Slaw in May 2021!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

 

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Review: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan + Giveaway

Review: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan + GiveawayMousse and Murder (Alaskan Diner Mystery #1) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young chef might bite off more than she can chew when she returns to her Alaskan hometown to take over her parents' diner in this charming first installment in a new cozy mystery series set in an Alaskan tourist town.

When Chef Charlie Cooke is offered the chance to leave San Francisco and return home to Elkview, Alaska, to take over her mother's diner, she doesn't even consider saying no. After all--her love life has recently become a Love Life Crumble, and a chance to reconnect with her roots may be just what she needs.

Determined to bring fresh life and flavors to the Bear Claw Diner, Charlie starts planning changes to the menu, which has grown stale over the years. But her plans are fried when her head cook Oliver turns up dead after a bitter and public fight over Charlie's ideas--leaving Charlie as the only suspect in the case.

With her career, freedom, and life all on thin ice, Charlie must find out who the real killer is, before it's too late.

My Review:

It is more likely that the Elkview Bugle would win a Pulitzer – after all, the Anchorage Daily News just did – than it is that Charlene Cooke attended her first – and only – year of law school in Anchorage. There are no law schools in Anchorage or anywhere in Alaska.

Not that Elkview actually exists, but there are places just like it along the Glenn Highway. And in spite of some small but mostly necessary changes (I’m still niggled about the law school thing), the Alaska of Mousse and Murder reads like the place I lived in – in all of its cold, wintry “glory”.

But it was great to be back in the “Great State”, even vicariously, for a few hours, to meet the residents of Elkview and solve a perplexing mystery.

The mystery is plenty perplexing, and the red herrings it offers up are as tasty as the offerings at the Bear Claw Diner. Or perhaps that should be the other way around.

Our primary amateur detective in this one is chef and diner owner/operator Charlene Cooke. The Bear Claw is the diner that her mother owned and operated while Charlie was growing up. Charlie herself was practically raised at the counter. Now that Charlie is an accredited chef, her mother can leave the diner in Charlie’s capable hands while traveling “Outside” (that’s Alaskan for anyplace away from the state) with Charlie’s dad.

Charlie’s hands don’t feel all that capable when she and her head chef have one of their epic arguments in the middle of the diner, resulting in Chef Oliver stomping out in a huff. A fact that Charlie doesn’t reveal to her mother in their daily phone call, as mom is half a world away on a Danube cruise and Charlie doesn’t want to spoil it for her.

When Oliver turns up dead, and Charlie is briefly considered a suspect, ruining mom’s vacation is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Considering the state of bush policing in Alaska (the statistics Charlie cites are all too real) clearing her name and figuring out exactly who did kill Oliver – and why – shoots right to the top of Charlie’s to do list.

Charlie is determined to leave no stone unturned, and with the help of local reporter and fellow informally sworn-in deputy Chris, she uncovers a web of secrets that shows that absolutely no one really knew Oliver in spite of his decades-long tenure at the Bear Claw.

And that Oliver’s secretive past – and present – provide plenty of motives for his murder.

Escape Rating B+: If you enjoy quirky small-town mysteries, and/or mysteries featuring felines as companion animals, sounding boards and occasional sleuthing assistants, Mousse and Murder is an absolute delight. Oops, I forgot to tell you about Benny.

Benny is the feline who holds Charlie’s heart. He’s a big, fluffy orange cat whose full name is Eggs Benedict. He’s smart enough to answer to either name. He is also clearly the light of Charlie’s life, and he’s adorable. The cat he resembles most closely is Diesel in the Cat in the Stacks series, although he’s not nearly as large. Few domestic cats are.

But Diesel and Benny are both friends and companions for their humans who are the actual amateur sleuths. They are both intelligent, but on the cat scale of intelligence. (As much as I love Joe Grey, one clowder of speaking cats solving crimes is probably enough.) Part of the delight of this story is the way that Charlie loves and cares for Benny, and how much fun they have together. Benny serves as Charlie’s comforter-in-chief and best sounding board. One of the marvelous things about companion animals is that we can tell them anything and they never judge – while humans, of course, pretty much always do.

Mousse and Murder also has shades – or should that be flavors and aromas? – of Diane Mott Davidson and other wonderful culinary mysteries, including a couple of yummy looking recipes tucked into the back. In between investigations, Charlie spends plenty of time at the diner, providing readers with plenty of virtual goodies to salivate over. Remember, there are no calories in the desserts that you only read about – but you’ll be tempted to make some of these!

One of the things that is so fascinating about Alaska is that it is one of the few places where a person can still completely hide in plain sight. In our 24/7 connected world there are very few places where a person can still be part of a community AND be relatively isolated at the same time. That Oliver came to Elkview to live and work in a place where he can both be known and keep his secrets is still possible – and would have been even more so when Oliver started working at the Bear Claw when Charlie was a little girl.

What makes the story so much fun is the cast of characters who frequent the Bear Claw, both the residents of Elkview and the frequent regulars, like the truckers Manny, Moe and Joe, who stop by so often that they have their own booth. I have a feeling we’ll be meeting more of the regulars as the series continues. Based on the ones we’ve met so far, it’s going to be fun getting to know them.

But this first story is all wrapped around Charlie. Hers is the perspective we follow, and she’s an interesting and likeable protagonist, and not just because of Benny. She’s easy to relate to, her fears and insecurities make sense under the circumstances, her mistakes feel real and we want her to succeed.

We also want her to succeed in her potential romance with reporter Chris, but not too soon!

Mousse and Murder is a fun cozy mystery in an unusual setting with a great cast of characters. I did figure who probably “dunnit” fairly early on, but the why was not remotely apparent until very near the end, so that’s also a win.

I’m looking forward to more of Charlie’s adventures, and another visit to Elkview, when Charlie and Benny go Fishing for Trouble later this year.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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