Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great mystery with well-done clues
Cons: Characters take a little bit to grow on you
The Bottom Line:
A gimmick of fives
Underpins strong mystery
Will keep you reading
Five Things You Need to Know About the First Five Ingredients Mystery
I was quite intrigued by the idea behind the Five Ingredients Mysteries. Each book will have five suspects and five clues that helped the main character solve the case. I had to see how that would work out in a novel, so I picked up By Cook or by Crook, the first in the series. And here is what I thought of the book in five points for you.
1 – Story Teaser:
Val Deniston has fled NYC and moved to the town of Bayport, Maryland, on the Chesapeake. She’s living with her grandfather and running the café at the local athletic club where she also plays tennis. There’s she’s met Nadia, a realtor and fellow tennis player, who wants to help Val getting a catering gig in exchange for sending realty referrals to Nadia. But when Val arrives for the meeting, she finds Nadia dead – stabbed by a wooden tennis racket that’s been whittled down to a stake. The police are focusing on Val’s cousin, so Val dives in to find the killer. Can she do it?
2 – Plot:
I must admit that I was a bit worried that having five clues and five suspects might make for a repetitive story as Val would spend the book rehashing things to fill pages. That wasn’t the case at all. Instead, this was a fast paced story that moved from suspect to suspect and clue to clue, constantly keeping me guessing what was really happening. The way things came together at the end was brilliant; the clues were all there, but they weren’t easy to figure out. The climax was wonderful and tied everything up well.
3 – Characters:
Unfortunately, the characters took me a bit to warm up to. The book is narrated third person from Val’s limited point of view, and for some reason, that kept me a bit out of the story. As I kept reading, I did feel I got to know the characters and warm up to them. It also didn’t help that we got some back story dump in the first couple of chapters. Again, the more I read, the more I grew to like the characters, and I am looking forward to getting to know them better in future books.
4 – Recipes
Of course, being a culinary cozy, there have to be recipes. We get 8 of them, for such various things as crab cakes, potatoes, and apple crisp to name a few. And - you guessed it - all of them have only five ingredients. Well, one of two of them cheat with a couple of optional spices, but we won’t mention that. They do sound delicious and super easy, which is nice.
5 – The 5 Gimmick
As I hinted at before, I didn’t find the gimmick of five suspects and five clues to be an issue at all. Despite being a numbers guy (I’m an accountant in my day job), I wouldn’t have known if the characters hadn't discussed it in these terms a few times. It’s fun, but it never gets in the way of telling a compelling mystery.