Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: Topped Chef by Lucy Burdette (Key West Food Critic Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters, we see more of Miss Gloria
Cons: Plot could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Reality chef
Despite murder of a judge
Competition’s fierce

Deadly Reality Show

While I don’t watch any cooking shows of any kind, I do watch a few reality shows (despite my suspicion about how true they are to that the name).  As a result, I was already interested in the topic of Topped Chef.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite pull off a cozy mystery take on reality TV as well as I would have liked.

For those not familiar with the series, this is the third in the Key West Food Critics series.  Hayley Snow is our young 20’s guide to the cuisine of the small Florida island via her job as a food critic for Key Zest, an online magazine.  She’s only had the job a few months and is still trying to make sure she can keep it, so she’ll take just about any assignment.

Hayley has been roped into becoming a reality TV show judge.  Someone has decided to do a search for a TV chef from Key West, and treat the search itself as a reality competition.  Hayley is less than thrilled at the prospect, but she is willing to dive in and make the best of it.

Hayley’s resolve waivers when she learns one of her fellow judges is Sam Rizzoli, a man whose new restaurant she had just deservedly panned that morning.  However, she is shocked when he is murdered that evening.  Suddenly, Hayley is left wondering just what she’s gotten herself into.  Did Rizzoli’s local political stands play a part in his death?  Does someone want this TV chef job enough to kill?

As I hinted earlier, this wasn’t the best showcase of a mystery set in the world of reality TV.  That’s because I felt the set up for the reality TV show and the first few rounds overwhelmed the mystery.  Despite the body showing up early, the plot was slow for the first third.  When it does get going, there are some interesting twists and developments before we reach the ending which was weaker than I would have liked, but everything does make sense.

Throughout the series, we’ve come to know a variety of colorful characters, and they are present here again as well.  A few of Hayley’s friends are pretty much reduced to cameo status, but the new characters make up for it.  The exception to this is Miss Gloria, Hayley’s boatmate.  I think this is the most we’ve seen of Miss Gloria, and I really got a kick out of her.  More of her is definitely something I hope for in future installments in the series.  A couple of characters from the first book were brought back in this one.  While we didn’t see the development with one I thought we would, seeing both of them again added an interesting layer to the story.

Of course, being a culinary mystery, there are four recipes at the end.   The cod soup doesn’t really interest me, but the other three definitely sound good, including the lime cupcakes and the one bowl chocolate cake.  Yum!

While not the strongest entry in the series, Topped Chef still does entertain and take us to a place I can only dream of visiting.  If facing a cold winter makes you wish for a warm place to escape, this is the book for you.

And you can escape to Key West again in the rest of the Key West Food Critic Mysteries in order.

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