When I first set up this blog I had intended to read a range of different mysteries but I have been on such a GAD kick lately that those other categories you’ll see on the navigation bar are looking a little sparse. After a run of vintage mysteries I fancied mixing it up a bit and, after a brief search of the library shelves, this caught my eye.
Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles was published back in 2015 and is the first in a series of cozy mysteries investigated by the owner of a soul food restaurant in Prince’s County, Maryland. The second book has already been published and the author is apparently currently at work on a third volume.
Halia Watkins grew up loving food and the way it could bring people together. As an adult she opened her own restaurant which has grown to be quite successful and is something of a family affair. Her highly opinionated, boisterous cousin Wavonne supposedly works as a server when she isn’t snapping at the customers or sampling the product in the back while her retired mother comes in early in the morning to bake the cakes and desserts.
Halia’s path to opening that restaurant was not smooth however and it was only possible because of an investment made by Marcus Rand, a very smooth, fast-talking entrepreneur who likes to bring his clients to dine at the restaurant. One evening he brings a group with him and they stay chatting long after closing. As it nears midnight, Halia gets fed up of waiting for Marcus and his group to leave and so she takes him up on his offer that he will lock up with his set of keys when he is done. When she discovers the building still open and Marcus lying dead in her kitchen she is worried about the negative publicity and so she and Wavonne secretly move the body to a spot in a nearby alley where they hope it will be found. As a result of this Wavonne ends up becoming the number one suspect in the murder and Halia realizes that the only way to clear Wavonne may be to find the real killer.
The biggest strength of this novel is definitely the characterization which is really rich. I had no difficulty imagining the different characters who populate the story. Halia does not always make good decisions – moving the body is definitely a questionable choice – but she is responsible and thoughtful in how she approaches trying to figure out what happened. I certainly have met a number of Wavonnes who can talk their way into trouble just as often as they talk their way out of it. My favorite character was Halia’s mother who only appears in a few chapters but is a sensible, no-nonsense woman who makes a meaningful contribution to the investigation towards the end of the novel.
Marcus is an intriguing character too as it quickly becomes clear that no one entirely knows where his money comes from. While we see that he is capable of being charming, no one seems to like him very much including his sister who works as his personal assistant. The clients he is dining with on the evening of the murder seem angry and stressed at points in the evening while his girlfriend seems more interested in his money than him. As Halia looks into things the list of suspects expands yet further.
The mystery itself is solid and, with the exception of a visual clue that doesn’t get described in enough detail to help the reader, mostly fair-play. While it is not directly labeled, the end of Chapter 42 is a Challenge to the Reader as Halia tells us that she is 99% certain she knows who killed Marcus. Attentive readers should be able to figure out the significance of the clue to work out who did the crime – the why is a little trickier though I think it is sufficiently clued, even with the problem of the visual clue.
The developments in the case are spaced out well and I felt that the for the most part the author does a good job of balancing the mystery with the themed elements. The only part that did not seem quite natural was a short exchange between two characters about food providence and large scale meat production though I don’t dispute that customers raise those sorts of questions – it is just a little awkward.
In addition to the mystery itself, there are recipes included for Sour Cream Cornbread, Light and Fluffy Belgian Waffles, Sweet Corn Casserole, Fried Chicken Wings and the House Cocktail described in the story. Unfortunately, being on a bit of a diet at the moment, I have not tried any of the recipes for myself though I may end up giving the Sweet Corn Casserole a try at a future family gathering as it does sound tasty.
Overall, I found this to be a charming example of the cozy, foodie mystery. I like Halia a lot as a protagonist and I will look forward to reading the sequel, Murder with Macaroni and Cheese, at some point soon to catch up with what happens to her next.