Some readers consider it a cardinal sin to flip to the end of the book to see how it ends. You might occasionally hear someone actually admit that they "cheated" and peeked. We might issue a hall pass in the case of CRUNCH TIME, featuring Goldy Schulz, the Energizer Bunny of all caterers who moonlights as a private eye. If you're a regular reader, you know that Diane Mott Davidson liberally sprinkles throughout her books recipes of her culinary creations while she juggles cooking with sleuthing. A couple of books back, she (or her editors) wisely decided to put them at the end so that readers won't lust after the recipe of the brownies on page 65 right in the middle of a hot pursuit of the robber. Hint: The Crunch Time recipe collection begins on page 450. You are now on the honor system.
So much happens between chapters one through 24 that you wouldn't have a clue about who did what to whom, and why, unless you keep your head in the game. It started when Yolanda, an old friend and chef, shows up on Goldy's doorstep with her wheelchair-bound Auntie Fernandina after being burned out of their home. Arson is suspected, so Goldy not only takes them in, but when their former landlord turns up murdered, she finds herself and her houseguests right in the middle of a crime. This of course involves Goldy's husband, an investigator with the sheriff's department. Goldy is so busy cooking and racing all over Aspen Meadows, Colorado, tracking down jewel thieves, murderers, marijuana growers and puppy mill creeps, and feeding her customers --- quite a few of whom are suspects --- that she presses Yolanda and her aunt into helping her.
The elderly but hardly disabled auntie turns out to be a wonderful cook (there are two Cuban recipes that I can't wait to try) who likes to reminisce about the good old days in Havana when she was a "sniper" in the revolution. She is recuperating from a recent hit-and-run incident and suspects that a newly arrived Cuban millionaire from her past is stalking her and may be responsible for her accident. Their former landlord was a private detective who was investigating several cases, including the Cuban. Any one of his cases could serve as a motive for murder. When a marijuana grow house is discovered on the dead detective's property, the list of suspects grows, and the women fear for their lives.
Mix in an heiress married to a con artist, a brilliant college student who moonlights as a hooker to pay her tuition, sprinkle liberally with nine beagle puppies rescued from a puppy mill, and you have a mystery stew pot that demands your full attention. When Mother Nature stirs it all up with a late summer blizzard, you have the usual ingredients for a Goldy the Caterer smorgasbord of action. When bullets start to fly, everyone gets in on the act, including Auntie Fernandina.
So whip up a batch of Crunch Time cookies, pile them on a plate next to your favorite chair, and munch your way through from the beginning. Remember, if you cheat, the surprising ending will make absolutely no sense at all.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on April 25, 2011