Thursday, January 30, 2020

Book Review: Murder on the Half Shell by Shawn Reilly Simmons (Red Carpet Catering Mystery #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery and setting
Cons: Characters could be stronger
The Bottom Line:
Island movie set
How did two teens disappear?
Great summer setting

Life’s Not Quite a Beach

When I was looking to round out my January reading list, I decided to pull out Murder on the Half Shell, which has been sitting on my to be read mountain range for a while now.  It turned out to be fortuitous because this book takes movie caterer Penelope Sutherland on location to an island off the coast of Florida.  Who doesn’t want to read about summer on the beach in the middle of January?  (Yes, I’m in Southern California, but still!)

Penelope and her crew are working on a period movie that once again stars her best friend, Arlena.  The island is small enough that they are the majority of the non-locals this summer, and their presence is a boom for the local economy.  Penelope has rounded out her crew with some locals, including two teenage girls who work for her part time as servers.  After a Friday night party to celebrate how well the movie is going, the two girls disappear.

Suspicion quickly falls on Emilio Babineau, one of the chefs that Penelope studied under during culinary school.  The chef is planning to open a franchise of his popular sea food restaurant on the island, and the suspicion is hurting him with the locals.  Penelope doesn’t want to believe her friend could be guilty, but there was an incident that happened in the past that makes her doubt her beliefs in his innocence.  How could the girls disappear on such a small island?  Is Emilio really innocent?

It’s been over three years since I read the first book in the series, so I had forgotten who all the characters were and what their relationships to each other are.  Sadly, this book did little to remind me of that since it doesn’t offer much in the way of introductions to the characters.  I was able to figure out everyone’s relationships before too much time had passed, but it wasn’t as easy as it should have been.  It doesn’t help that it took a while to get to know the characters.  They definitely have different personalities, but again, it wasn’t obvious right away, so remember how they fit into the story was hard.

On the other hand, the story is strong.  Naturally, with two girls missing, I felt the tension right away.  It’s actually an interesting contrast between the slow life on the island and the suspense of the mystery.  I felt like we got the best of both worlds – enough tension to keep us interested, but yet the slow pace of island life.  Don’t misunderstand, there are some good twists along the way, and plenty of red herrings to keep us engaged.  The plot wraps up well and leaves us satisfied.  Author Shawn Reilly Simmons has found a way to balance an engaging mystery with the relaxing life of the setting, and it works well.

This is a quick read.  I breezed through it in just a couple of days, but I was left satisfied.

If you can’t wait until summer, now is the perfect time to dive into Murder on the Half Shell.  It’s the next best thing to sticking your toes in the sand for real.

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