Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #3
Published by Berkley Books on June 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
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.
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!