With Halloween approaching, October is the perfect month to read a book featuring chocolate, and JoAnna Carl’s Chocoholic Mysteries are a perfect choice. For my “A Taste of Murder” discussion series, I ended up reading two selections. I picked up a copy of Crime de Cocoa, which includes the first three Chocoholic Mysteries and a bonus short story!
Published in 2001, the short story, “A Chocolate Kidnapping Clue,” introduces readers to Lee McKinney. Author Carl describes her sleuth, Lee McKinney, as a Texas beauty queen who is making a new start in the fictitious resort town Warner Pier, Michigan, where she works at her Aunt Nettie’s TenHuis Chocolate shop. However, in this premier story, Lee is merely a sixteen year-old working in her aunt and uncle’s chocolate shop while her parents finalize their divorce.
“The Chocolate Kidnapping Case” first appeared in print in …And the Dying is Easy, an anthology of stories including entries by Tamar Myers, Dana Stabenow, Max Allan Collins, Lydia Adamson, and Selma Eichler, among others. The theme of the collection was “getting away from it all” or sleuths “on holiday.” The story served as a promotion for the novels to come; the first two Chocoholic Mysteries were published in 2002.
The Publishers Weekly review particularly cites Carl’s entry as a “satisfying appetizer will leave fans hungering for the main course in Carl’s upcoming novel, The Chocolate Cat Caper.”
In the story, Lee encounters rich bitch Alana Fairchild Hyden, who seems to visit the TenHuis Chocolade merely to make Lee’s summer miserable. Both girls are about the same age, sixteen, but they most definitely don’t move in the same social circles. But are the rich truly happy? Certainly Alana isn’t when she turns up kidnapped. Despite her dislike of Alana, it’s Lee who ends up solving the case.
Longtime mystery readers will likely have no trouble solving this little mystery. Still, it serves as a perfect introduction to this cozy series. It’s worth seeking out the story anthology or this more recent edition to read it.
I thought the story captured the mindset of a teenage rather well. At the beginning, Lee seems quite self-absorbed, and everything appears to revolve around her, at least to her mind. It’s not until she meets eccentric neighbor Inez Deacon that she begins to grow as a character and, of course, set about to resolve the kidnapping.
Now, since the viewpoint—Lee’s—is first person, the motives behind the crime–though very believable–come across as neat, black-and-white assumptions. We—and the narrator—are never privy to any confessions. This makes the death in the story more regrettable and a tad disappointing. This being a series, the killed off character could have been an interesting inclusion—worth more exploration—in later stories.
As for my second selection, naturally I chose to read the first novel in the Chocoholic Mystery series, The Chocolate Cat Caper; the review of which will appear soon.