Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Book Review: Crime of the Ancient Marinara by Stephanie Cole (Tuscan Cooking School Mysteries #2)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fun characters, good mystery
Cons: Slow pacing, language barrier, one major editing miss
The Bottom Line:
The first tourist group
Brings a murder to villa
Wanted to like more

Good Mystery Smothered

When I read the first Tuscan Cooking School Mystery last year, I definitely saw the weaknesses, but I also saw promise, so I decided to give the second one a try.  Sadly, Crime of the Ancient Marinara didn’t improve on the flaws of the first.

Nell Valenti has now been in Italy for a month, and in that time, she’s made tremendous progress in getting Villa Orlandini ready to welcome Americans to a cooking school where they can learn the secrets of Chef Orlandini’s recipes.  In fact, the first group of tourists is just about to arrive for a class in marinaras, including the one that made Chef famous.  Unfortunately, Chef breaks his right arm while playing bocce ball the day before everyone arrives.  Nell is hoping that will be the worst of her problems.

However, when the guests arrive, they aren’t what she expected.  While some seem eager to learn, others just complain or have their own agenda.  Then one of the guests gets sick, and it appears that Chef’s marinara is the culprit.  Can Nell figure out what is going on?

The fact that this book takes place in Tuscany and not the USA or England was one of the things that appealed to me about the series.  However, it also proves to lead to one of the problems.  Nell just speaks a little bit of Italian herself, so she has trouble communicating with the others helping her run the cooking school.  While that is realistic, it is also frustrating to read.  At times, we also get summaries of conversations as Nell cuts out the back and forth with translators.  That serves to push us out of the story.  Fortunately, the suspects are all Americans in this book, so Nell is able to talk to them easily.

And the characters are great.  I do enjoy the characters who came back from the first book.  They can be fun and provide some grins if not outright laughs.  The suspects grow as the book progresses, so don’t judge them by your first impression.

The mystery takes a long time to set up.  Yes, some of the time is used to set up suspects and motives, but I was still very ready by the time it really got going.

Which is a shame because there is a good mystery in there.  I was impressed with the way the clues and red herrings were sprinkled through the book.

Adding to my frustration was some poor editing that had a character in two places at once.  Fortunately, it didn’t wind up impacting the mystery.

All the talk of food in this book made me crave Italian food.  If that happens to you as well, you’ll be pleased with the recipes at the end.

As I said at the start, I wanted to like Crime of the Ancient Marinara.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me.  If you enjoyed the first, you’ll enjoy this one, but if you struggled with the first one, there’s no reason to pick up this book.

NOTE: I received an advanced review copy of this book.

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