If you’ve read one culinary-themed mystery, you’ve probably read something very much like Cookin’ The Books. Tish Tarragon has left her bank job, city life, and former husband behind, and moved to small town to open a café and catering business that is literary themed (there are many puns involved in the naming of her offerings; prepare yourself to wince). She has two friends from college who are equally stereotypical, Mary Jo, the slightly harassed mother who lives in the next town over, and Jules, the standard gay best friend who is high energy and excitable, and who says things like “I’m glad I don’t date women. Y’all are so complicated.” (p.186) Tish must deal with opening her new business and the cute local lawyer Schuyler, and of course the death of Binny, head of the local library, at a dinner that is Tish’s first event.
Cue the parade of quirky locals whom Tish must review and interview in order to clear her name, and get her business going, and of course all the locals are mostly willing to tell her everything about themselves. There’s the elderly-ish hippy romance novelist, the sheriff, the daughter of the victim and her husband who may both be having affairs with other characters, there are some library employees, one of whom might have a crush on Celestine, the local lady who has a serious baking talent and befriends Tish, the local doctor, etc. Naturally, it turns out that Binny was a terrible person whom everyone hated, and thus everyone has a motive to have potentially killed her. Obviously, Tish didn’t do it, so it must have been murder. Then someone else gets shot, and the gang must figure out how the two dead people might have been connected because these things are always related. Eventually, Tish figures out who dunnit and goes off to confront the killer, by herself of course, and may or may not end up needing to be rescued by her friends bringing the police with them.
In spite of the predictability of the story, there are some bright spots. The characters are just fun, like Opal the romance novelist eternally bugging people to model for her covers, and then there’s Jules who in spite of being the total drama queen stereotype that he is is just plain entertaining. A few of the local have backstory that makes them more interesting in hindsight like Augusta and Celestine, even though Tish herself doesn’t have much character and neither really does Schuyler, so maybe they deserve to end up together. There are a few places in the dialogue where the writing gets boring or could have been a little more interesting, but overall, this was a cozy mystery, the kind of thing you read just for brain draining entertainment. It’s not very challenging or thought provoking, but it has its moments of fun.