With her wedding plans in place and her future mother-in-law settling in at the Gray Whale Inn, it’s a rare patch of smooth sailing for innkeeper Natalie Barnes. Even Natalie’s guests–a mystery writer and a woman researching her grandfather’s decades-old disappearance from Cranberry Island–are interesting and enjoyable, adding a lively element to the dinner conversations.
But while picking berries for her Lemon Blueberry Pudding Cake, Natalie makes a ghastly discovery — a dead man in a skiff adrift on the waves. With people she cares about on the hook for murder, Natalie must act quickly to bail out her friends and catch the killer.(Goodreads)
By Karen MacInereney
Every time I write a Gray Whale Inn mystery, I find myself drawn to the kitchen, trying to recreate what innkeeper Natalie Barnes is making for her guests at the inn on Cranberry Island. Because food and cozy mysteries go together like… well, like a Miss Marple book and a package of Callard and Bowser butterscotch.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up devouring Nancy Drew mysteries (often in tandem with M&Ms and caramel creams) and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books, which always seemed to demand a nice cup of tea and the aforementioned English butterscotch. Now, whenever I see a package of Callard and Bowser, it brings me back to those lazy afternoons under the flowered comforter of my upstairs bedroom, my mind across an ocean in Christie’s England.
The connection between food and books has been there as long as I can remember. I remember, at the ripe old age of 13, reading about someone having a simple meal of cheese and wine in an inn along a road. A few minutes later, I found myself digging in the refrigerator, pouring a few illicit drops of my parents’ jug Chablis into a juice glass and pairing it with an over-the-hill chunk of Crackerbarrel Cheddar, trying (in vain) to recreate the taste of the moment I’d just read. (I still do this, by the way. Which is why my husband once walked in on me attempting to make mayonnaise at three in the morning after reading a book by M.F.K. Fisher.)
Why are food and books so connected? I think it’s because recreating a food we’ve read about is a way to ‘travel’ to the world we’re immersed in. I’m a seasoned armchair traveler, which means I find myself experimenting with a lot of unusual recipes. If I read about people in Greece making coffee in an ibrik, I find myself poking around the local Mediterranean market and buying a little brass pot so I can attempt to recreate the drink at home. If I am deep into a book about Tuscany, I’m experimenting with pork loin and rosemary, trying to approximate the flavor of the porchetta I read about. And when I’m writing a mystery, I’m always trying to make recipes that will transport me – and my readers – to the cozy, gray-shingled inn on the rocky coast of Maine. Coffee cakes with tiny wild blueberries, sugar-crusted cranberry scones, deep, dark chocolate frosted brownies… they’re all delectable treats that speak of comfort and sweetness.
And that, despite a healthy dollop of death, is what cozy mysteries should be about. It’s a match made in heaven! (Even if it’s less than terrific for my waistline!)
Am I the only one who does this? I can’t believe that I’m the only food-obsessed bibliophile. What are your favorite book/food memories? (Believe it or not, I associate Gone with the Wind with cherry Italian ice and warm milk; I was rather obsessed with that odd food combination at the time I read the book.) What strange lengths have you gone to to “recreate” a food experience you read about?
Mysteries abound on Cranberry Island, and there are several of them in Death Runs Adrift, the sixth book in the Gray Whale Inn series. The most pressing question, of course, is who is the dead man in the skiff, and how and why did he get there? Then there’s the mystery of the very old bones recently discovered on Murray Selfridge’s land. Could they be the long-missing Episcopal priest and grandfather of one of the inn’s guests? And what’s up with the mysterious lobster boat with the orange and turquoise buoys that Natalie has seen lurking around Smuggler’s Cove?
Innkeeper Natalie Barnes is as curious and intrepid as ever in this book, but somewhere between the first book and now, she’s learned a little caution and a bit more respect for the police. (It doesn’t hurt that the bumbling, obnoxious police chief from the first book was replaced by a much savvier and approachable man.) I’m also delighted with the way Natalie’s relationship with John is going: the couple are engaged and planning a wedding. Natalie is engaging and likable, and John is a great match for her: levelheaded and protective without trying to squelch her. It’s also refreshing to see a friendly relationship between a mother- and daughter-in-law (well, in-law-to-be), instead of the stereotypical sniping, tension-filled relationship so common in fiction. John’s mother, Catherine, doesn’t play a major role in the investigation, but she does have a part to play; Murray Selfridge appears quite taken with her, and she seems to be a good influence on him.
The rest of the usual island cast are here as well, with the exception of Natalie’s niece Gwen, who is off in California finishing her degree. Gwen’s fisherman boyfriend Adam is a potential suspect in the murder case, though, which gives Natalie plenty of reason to investigate and try to clear his name. The other islanders are always an interesting bunch, and the island itself provides a wonderful setting for a cozy mystery — though given the number of murders and mysteries that have taken place there, I’m not sure I’d want to visit!
The mysteries in Death Runs Adrift are complicated enough to be interesting, and definitely kept me guessing, sometimes correctly, but not always. That’s a good thing; I hate it when I can solve the entire thing too easily, but I don’t want to feel inept, either! However, Natalie and everyone else do seem to have one very blind spot. It was almost immediately obvious to me what the strange lobster boat was up to, but it took everyone in the book a very long time to catch on, which frustrated me no end. Still, that’s my only real complaint about an otherwise quite enjoyable cozy mystery. The series, like Natalie herself, has grown, and I look forward to more adventures on Cranberry Island.
Incidentally, if you find yourself dreaming of Natalie’s baked goods and the other food mentioned in the novel, there are several recipes in the back. Lemon squares, blueberry pudding, Texas Ranger cookies, chocolate express muffins, stuffed french toast, and shrimp alfredo… my mouth is watering already!
Category: Cozy mystery
Series: Gray Whale Inn Mystery #6
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Release date: May 8, 2014
Book source: I received a digital review copy via Great Escapes Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review.
About the author: I’m the author of the Agatha-nominated Gray Whale Inn mystery series, Tales of an Urban Werewolf. the Margie Peterson mysteries and the upcoming Dewberry Farm mysteries (plus a new fantasy in the works). My reading is like my writing: eclectic!
I grew up in the Northeast, but I currently live in Austin with my husband, two kids, and a houserabbit named Bunny. Feel free to visit me online at www.karenmacinerney.com; I love connecting with readers. (biography source: Goodreads)
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