The husband-and-wife writing team known as B. B. Haywood returns to the small Maine seaside town of Cape Willington, where columnist and blueberry farmer Candy Holliday finds herself embroiled in trouble at the Lobster Stew Cook-Off.
"While superb professional restaurant lobster recipes are provided here, the book rises above many food mysteries with layers of plot and character."
Town status is oddly tied to the winner, and Candy learns about the lengths to which people will go to discover recipes of past winners. Wilma Mae Wendell tells Candy that a secret recipe is missing, along with her neighbor and best friend. Readers saw the gentleman’s murder through the victim’s eyes in the prologue and will nervously wait for characters to discover the body. When Candy and her best friend, Maggie, realize that a smell is pervading Wilma’s house, they find the corpse and then try to sort out the clues.
Candy is called upon to replace the victim as a judge in the Cook-Off and realizes that one of the stews has the taste of the secret ingredient Wilma insists was in her missing recipe. A guest judge seems bent on not including it among the winners. Furthermore, the names and entries seem to be switched. Clearly, something besides the cooking is rotten to Candy.
The town museum director acts odd when Candy visits her for information and newspaper work, and then is found dead. Powerful but poisonous Wanda Boyle ratchets up her loud dislike of Candy, but they still work together to find out what happened to the two victims. Candy does not know who to trust, though, as Wanda was involved in the Cook-Off.
The first book in this series, TOWN IN A BLUEBERRY JAM, ended with one of the most suspenseful catwalk scenes to be found in an amateur sleuth novel. When Candy has to return to that location to meet with a secret source, readers will find the suspense building again at a heady pace.
Candy’s father is back and admits that his plan of running a small blueberry farm with his daughter was perhaps too much for either of them. But neither seems ready to admit what changes will be needed, and Candy continues to try to harvest and sell products in between her newspaper work and sleuthing. Maggie loses her job when her boss is involved in a scandal, and finding another in their area seems a remote possibility.
While superb professional restaurant lobster recipes are provided here, the book rises above many food mysteries with layers of plot and character. Candy herself is appealing, as there are people who dislike her and she is not entirely satisfied with her life in the small town. While BLUEBERRY JAM was a bestselling paperback title, LOBSTER STEW is even stronger with in-depth passions lurking in surprising places and a main sleuth who is finding her way with some insecurity. The style and high quality of writing is reminiscent of M.C. Beaton’s work, Juile Hyzy’s Grace series, and Paige Shelton’s Farmers’ Market Mysteries. Even those who know nothing about cooking will find much to enjoy here.
Reviewed by Amy Alessio on August 25, 2011