Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review: The Chocolate Snowman Murders, by JoAnna Carl (2009)

The Chocolate Snowman Murders by Joanna Carl:

I hit the snowman with twenty pounds of chocolate.

Synopsis: She totally did. Then she had to run screaming through the snow like Jason XI: Jason Freezes His Tail Off.

Life in Warner's Pier isn't much like a box of chocolates at all.

When series heroine and chocolate entrepreneur Lee Woodyard agrees to sit on the board of the Warner's Pier, Michigan Winterfest, she's expecting a little bickering with the other board members and hopefully a lot of great publicity for the chocolate shop she runs with her great aunt. What she gets is, say it with me, a dead body. No scratch that, two dead bodies.

She also gets a mercifully plausible reason for being suspected by the police, and a chance to tell the story in her own uniquely mellow and readable voice.

See, I used to be mighty fond of culinary mysteries, and then as the field saturated, I either burned out on them or just read a whole string of them that sucked it, hard, so I don't read as many as I used to. But I'm a sucker for well-written small towns, for a start, and I have a thing about first-person narratives: they have to be really well done for me to go near them. Weird, right? Well, I do very much like Lee's voice. She's strong and capable and snarky and arrogant and sometimes she's just flat-out wrong, which are all characteristics I find myself empathizing with a great deal. Make of this what you will. :)

The scene in the blockquote is probably my favorite from recent cozy-culinary memory, btw. Lee's lured out to the abandoned conference center at dawn and then chased by a homicidal life-sized snowman over hill and dale. The scene is executed flawlessly, and it's only later, during The Big Reveal, that I realized there is no earthly reason for the murderer to have dressed up like a snowman. I sort of still don't care. It was that much fun of a scene.

But a facile voice can't carry a whole book. Facile doesn't mean artistic or compelling, and luckily this book was only a quarter (yes $0.25 and gods bless my crazy Hannafords used book bin) because it's headed right back out there. Notice that the title and quote are one and the same. That's because really, there were no other sentences in the book that made me perk up and take notice, made me stop and just admire the way the author wrote. It was almost as if oh hey, deadline for the next book's coming up, better take a week and crank this out. Soulless, kind of.

Just like a box of chocolates, I'll read one more from this series and then I'll stop, I swear.

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