Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Review: Death Dines In - Edited by Claudia Bishop and Dean James

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Light and tasty murder
Cons: Some endings under cooked; "Food for Thought"
The Bottom Line:
Delicious murder
In many bite size servings
Sample one today

Invitation for Dinner and a Murder

You are hereby invited to a sixteen course meal of murder.  Death Dines In contains sixteen short stories themed around food related crime.  That means we’ve got lots of poison and a couple of allergies.  And a few are just a murder while dining.

Coming into the book, I must confess that I was only familiar with three of the authors.  Parnell Hall takes his Puzzle Lady to a benefit luncheon where her talk is (fortunately) interrupted by one of her table mates dying.  Rhys Bowen shows us the first Christmas of her Irish immigrant Molly Murphy.  Molly takes on a case in 1901 New York City where she is looking for a thief only to have it turn into murder.  Finally, there’s Donna Andrews, who sends her series sleuth Meg to a dinner with a relative who has just been released from the loony bin for poisoning two people.

A few of the authors take the opportunity to write a story with new characters.  Meg Chittenden sets her story on a train and writes about a put upon husband.  Dean James, one of the editors, creates a very dysfunctional family coming together for the patriarch’s birthday.  And the other editor, Claudia Bishop, sets her story at Hemlock Falls, but instead of her normal detective introduces a couple who happen to be staying there as well.

Falling somewhere in the middle is Mary Jane Maffini who has created a pair of con artists she uses for short stories.  They show up here as well as their latest swindle goes horribly wrong when a dead body turns up under the tea table.  And Anne Perry used her story to introduce a new character, Theolonius Quade.

My favorite story was also the longest, running just over 30 pages.  “CafĂ© Con Leche” was written by Marcos Donnelly who was new to the genre.  He tells the tale of a church’s first week in their new building.  Just as the sermon is getting started, someone enters who claims that a man was shot in the building while it was a restaurant.  Maybe it’s because of the length, but I felt the story and characters were the best fleshed out of anything in the book.

And, frankly, that is my complaint overall.  The average length is about 20 pages, and a few times it feels like the author just threw the ending at us because time was up.  The stories are still enjoy, however, with a light touch and a dash of humor every so often.

After each story, there’s a three or four question Q&A between the editors and the authors, which was a fun feature.  Each author also provides one recipe.  You get everything from a salad dressing to shrimp, sweet potato soup, traditional English pudding, and pumpkin pie.  No poison is site.

I was all set to give this collection 4 stars until I ran into Jeremiah Healy’s “Food for Thought.”  This story was unnecessarily disgustingly crude and tasteless.  Trust me, I will never read anything else by him again and highly recommend you skip this story.

The other fifteen stories are well worth reading and savoring.  So make a reservation for Death Dines In today.

The Stories:
"Cocktails with the Corpse" by Mary Jane Maffini
"Lethal Luncheon" by Parnell Hall
"Stark Terror at Tea-Time" by Lyn Hamilton
"Cafe Con Leche" by Marcos Donnelly
"Alice and the Agent of the Hun" by Elizabeth Foxwell
"Waiting for Gateau" by Claudia Bishop
"All in the Family" by Dean James
"Matinee" by William Moody
"The Birthday Dinner" by Donna Andrews
"Where the Wildflowers Bloom" by Mick DiChario
"The Proof of the Pudding" by Rhys Bowen
"Food for Thought" by Jeremiah Healy
"The Spirit of Washington" by Meg Chittenden
"Sing for Your Supper" by Don Bruns
"License to Koi" by Carole Nelson Douglas
"Sing a Song of Sixpence" by Anne Perry

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