Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: "If You Can't Stand the Heat" (2011)

I hate favors. I hate doing them and I hate asking for them. They always sound so quick and innocent at first. A favor. Like a squeeze. But favors replicate, taking on a life of their own. Lending a hand in the kitchen for a few hours turns into a murder investigation, and then one night your house is set on fire. But how could I refuse after what they had done for me?

Synopsis: Poppy Markham caused a rift in her family when she left their Austin restaurant to become a health department inspector. But when a famous French chef is murdered at Markham's, Poppy hurls herself into the investigation. Joined by her hunky ex-boyfriend and her gay neighbors, Poppy squares off against a murderer. And her stepmother. And her stepsister. And the restaurant's general manager. And the sous chef. And...

Grade: B

Poppy Markham is an incredibly likeable amateur detective even when she's being wishy-washy about her ex-boyfriend, Jamie, and obstinate about her stepmother's effect on her father. This is no mean feat. And it's obvious the author has served her time on the line in many, many restaurants, and is very familiar with Austin. These are all good things for this book.

In fact, 3/4 of this book is great fun: light, frothy, funny, snappy and well-written.

And then there's the ending.

Look, I get that endings are hard, and this one actually made a great deal of logical sense; all the pieces in the story fell together and it was completely plausible. So what happened?

Two things. One, the fight with the murderer at the end. It was short and the murderer folded with one well-placed blow by a small health inspector and then the next thing you know, we're having the tearful family reunion at papa's bedside, where he explains everything (conveniently glossing over the ramifications of the solution, which were huge), then everyone hugs, even the people who were at each other's throats for most of the book.

I was like...that's it? I read 230 pages of a great mystery and you just Scooby-Doo'ed me?

Two? Hannah Swensen Syndrome. You heard me, I've now seen it so often in cozies, I'm giving it a name. After The Cookie Jar's own legendary crime-solving absent boss, it's when an amateur detective gets so caught up in solving a mystery that they forget where they work, and the author forgets, too.

Apparently Poppy Markham is a health department inspector who inspects restaurants, so maybe during the book at some point she should...inspect restaurants. She inspected a grand total of one, even though there's a scene where she mentions she's exhausted but has to go check on whether to issue a closing at a restaurant across town; she goes so far as to put the coffee on so she can stay awake for just that, then ...Poppy wakes up the next morning bright and early and makes no mention of whether she did the inspection.

This problem's made worse by the early introduction of Poppy's boss Olive, who we're told is incredibly controlling and micro-managing and calls Poppy at all hours, and then is never heard from again.

Do you know? If I just didn't go to work for a couple days, like three or four, with no explanation, I would definitely hear from my boss, and he's not in the least micro-managing and controlling. So what gives?

With those minor problems aside, it's still a great read, for the most part and I'm very much hoping that there'll be a sequel. The whole concept of the health inspector as detective really gives and gives, so here's to hoping for the next go round, the next person to find a body at a restaurant actually records an infraction or two.

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