A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Review: Murder Most Finicky

Murder Most Finicky, by Liz Mugavero, combines three of our favorite things: cats, food, and of course, murder.

Well, I say “cats,” but what I really mean is “cat,” singular. His name is Nutty, and he’s a Maine coon who has the great good fortune to live with one Kristan “Stan” Connor, a former public relations guru who now creates delicious goodies for pets. Every cat should have a person who spends their days thinking up recipes for delectable feline foods—am I right?

Anyway, Stan is looking to partner with one Sheldon Allyn (that’s “Mr. Pastry” to foodies in the know) to open a pet patisserie in Frog Ledge, Connecticut, her hometown. There’s just one little catch, though, and the book opens with Stan being blindfolded and put into the back of a pastry truck by one of Sheldon’s goons…I mean “helpers.” Nutty is also placed into the truck, which is then driven to an undisclosed location for what is supposed to be a weekend retreat for a bunch of “star chefs.”

Turns out the real purpose of this gathering (and “retreat” is hardly the word I would use to describe it) is to prepare a very special meal for a bunch of investors. The event will be featured in a magazine, and there’s the possibility of a television series on a food channel. Stan’s role is to prepare food for one investor’s Siamese cat: a pampered, prize-winning Siamese cat who will undoubtedly be finicky. Nutty is to be the taste-tester. No pressure though, right?

Naturally, things soon take a bad turn. Before the group members have even toured their fancy digs for the weekend, Stan wanders off and finds a dead body. (These things just happen to some people; we don’t know why.) The body is that of Pierre LaPorte, a pastry chef who was supposed to be part of the event. Questions among the group quickly go from “Where’s Pierre?” to “Who slit Pierre's throat?”

What follows is a crazy but surprisingly plausible weekend of suspicion, amateur sleuthing, innuendo, and a little cooking. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone (except Stan) seems to know some secrets about their fellow chefs. After one chef disappears and a replacement fails to show up, it’s starting to look like this event is not a safe place to be, but Sheldon is not about to cancel—not when so much money is at stake. And so the show goes on, all the way to its unexpected conclusion.

Mugavero has given us an intriguingly yummy read. We came to like Stan right away. She is a refreshing bit of normal in a big bunch of crazy. The other chef and baker types are… Well, let’s call them eccentric. Stan, though, is just the kind of person you would trust to cook for your pet; she loves animals and she’s not a wacko. Yes, she seems to have a knack for stumbling across dead bodies, but you can't really blame a person for that.

Mugavero’s writing is lovely, clear, and effortless to read, even when the plot gets complicated (there are several past and present relationships to keep track of). We especially enjoyed the kitchen scene in which cooking for the grand event finally begins. Pots are boiling, vegetables are sautéing, oil is spattering. It sounds like a delightful kitchen to be in, except for that sense of doom hanging over everything (doom is generally a bad thing in a kitchen).

Our one beef with this book is that Nutty the Maine coon is not as much in the center of things as we’d hoped. We like to see the cat as the star of the show, doing lots of catlike things, but here he’s more of a well-fed supporting character. That, though, is a minor point in a book that is 100 percent enjoyable otherwise.

Highly recommended!

A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good read; two paws is for a great read. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!

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