I was surprised when I had the chance to receive an advance reading copy (ARC) of award-winning author Debra H. Goldstein’s first book in her new Sarah Blair Mystery series, ONE TASTE TOO MANY (Kensington Books), available for purchase on December 18.
Full disclosure: I know Debra, having been on panels with her at writers’ conferences and having published some of her short stories in my capacity as Executive Editor of Bethlehem Writers Roundtable . One of her stories was nominated for an AGATHA AWARD in 2018 and another received an Honorable Mention for the 2018 BETHLEHEM WRITERS ROUNDTABLE SHORT STORY AWARD. (See Short Story Award hfor information about our 2019 competition which opens January 1.) Obviously, I already knew Debra to be a talented writer, so when this opportunity to get a sneak peek at her latest novel arose, I jumped at the chance.
As with her previous mysteries, MAZE IN BLUE (2012 IPPY E-Book Regional Bronze Award Winner) and SHOULD HAVE PLAYED POKER (Five Star Publishing, 2016), her new book is definitely of the cozy variety. Cozy readers know that means that the main character is an amateur sleuth, the story is usually set in a close community (e.g. a small town, a nursing home, a ski lodge, a cruise ship, a school, etc.), and there is no graphic language or violence. Some follow a theme, such as a particular craft or profession, and they often include a pet. As the cover of ONE TASTE TOO MANY promises, we get both a theme and a pet.
The main characters are Sarah Blair (nee Johnson), a twenty-eight-year-old recent divorcee and her fraternal twin, Emily. The Johnson twins are as different as any two siblings could be. Growing up in small town Wheaton, Alabama, a Birmingham suburb, one is fair haired; the other is a brunette. One is reserved and pragmatic; the other outgoing, talkative, and a bit of a risk taker. One is a “convenience” cook; the other is a gourmet chef.
Sarah married her high school sweetheart, Bill Blair, right after graduation and stayed in Wheaton. For ten years, her natural reserve was exacerbated by her husband’s unrelenting undermining of her self-esteem. Meanwhile her sister Emily, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), worked in restaurants in Birmingham and San Francisco. When Sarah’s husband leaves her with little more than the cat, RahRah, he inherited from his mother (to which he was allergic), and Emily moves back home to take a job at the Southwinds gourmet restaurant owned by her previous mentor from San Francisco, their lives intertwine in new ways that neither could predict.
Sarah’s ex-husband holds a controlling interest in Southwinds, and the woman who had stolen Bill away from her, Jane Clark, works at the restaurant and is Emily’s chief competitor for the open sous chef position. The competition heats up when Southwinds chefs compete against each other and other gourmet chefs from around the region at a Food Expo at Wheaton’s Civic Center.
When Bill is found dead late one evening at the Civic Center, with Emily at his side and her rhubarb crisp, which contained nuts to which he was deathly allergic, on his fork, foul play is immediately suspected. Everyone knew that Bill would never willingly take a bite of Emily’s rhubarb crisp, so the police chief identifies her as the prime suspect in Bill’s apparent murder. Fortunately for the twins, Sarah works as a receptionist for a lawyer who takes the case pro bono.
Jane makes a perfect foil for the twins. Not only is she Emily’s rival for sous chef, she claims to have papers that give her the right to take Sarah’s cat, RahRah. The tangled plot thickens when development schemes, an animal trust, and divided loyalties twist the sisters in different directions, looking for the person responsible for framing Emily. The more they learn, the less certain they are about whom to trust. The author also sprinkles in a hint of romance and finishes with an unexpected ending.
As with many culinary cozies, there are recipes at the end. But don’t worry if you’re not a gourmet chef—they are Sarah’s “convenience” recipes.
Debra Goldstein is the perfect person to write this book as an Alabaman, the mother of twins, a retired federal judge, and a convenience cook herself. Since this is promised to be the first in a new series, it should be very interesting to find out what Sarah Blair is up to next.
Carol L. Wright escaped a career in law and academia for one in writing. She is the author of the Gracie McIntyre Mystery series, the first of which, DEATH IN GLENVILLE FALLS, was a finalist for both the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award and a Next Generation Indie Book Award in 2018.
In addition to her mysteries, she is the author of short stories in several genres that have been published in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including the award-winning Bethlehem Writers Group’s “Sweet, Funny, and Strange” anthologies in an assortment of themes.
She is a founding member of the Bethlehem Writers Group, a life member of Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of Pennwriters and SinC Guppies. She is married to her college sweetheart, and lives in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog, Mr. Darcy, and a clowder of cats. You can learn more on Carol’s website, or by following her Facebook page.
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