Julia Buckley launches her new series, The Big Chili, with a model cozy mystery. The comment "Murder held a whole town hostage to uncertainty and fear" exemplifies the spirit of the small town mystery in which the balance of the town is thrown off, and the amateur sleuth must restore the equilibrium.
By day, Lilah Drake is a receptionist at her parents' real estate business. By night, as well as some days and weekends, she meets secretly with select individuals in Pine Haven, Illinois. Lilah aspires to be a caterer, so she started by making her best dishes for people who wanted to pass them off as their own for one reason or another. Pet Grandy is known throughout the church parish for chili, chili she pays for out in the church parking lot. It's always a favorite dish at church bingo. When a parish member dies instantly after tasting the chili, Pet insists she made the chili, leaving Lilah caught up in the lie. Tell the truth to the attractive police detective and shame Pet, or go along with Pet's claim? For Lilah, it seems kinder to support her friend while checking the victim's background. And, quite a few people in town had reason to want her dead. But, which of them also wanted the second victim dead?
Lilah is an amateur sleuth trapped by indecision and one lie. She's a sleuth with a conscience who sets out to find answers she might be able to pass on to the police. She's not foolhardy, but she does get caught up in the case, and ends up in a couple risky situations through no fault of her own.
Buckley introduces readers to an engaging cast of characters. What's an amateur sleuth without an appealing pet? In this case, it's Mick, a lovable Labrador. Lilah realizes she's paired up with Mick, while everyone else seems to be a couple. Her parents are admirable. Her beloved brother Cam has an adorable new girlfriend. Even Lilah's wealthy landlord has a kind, attractive girlfriend.
While Buckley and her readers have fun with the story's October setting and a boisterous Halloween party, there's always a shadow hanging over the story. If Lilah and her mother knew the people at bingo, which of their friends or neighbors is a killer? It's a shadow that often hangs over a small town mystery. And, there's the frightening threat of a cozy mystery at it's best. That's the appeal of Julia Buckley's The Big Chili. It will leave the reader longing for a second serving.
Julia Buckley's website is www.juliabuckley.com
The Big Chili by Julia Buckley. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 9780425275900 (paperback), 293p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.