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Diners, Drive-ins, and Death

Book by Christine Wenger

Book by Christine Wenger

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when, in a mystery novel, a character threatens to kill someone who invariably ends up dead, said person will inevitably be arrested for the threatened deed.

Within the first chapter, larger-than-life Antoinette Chloe Brownelli dramatically brandishes a knife and announces, “As soon as I find Nick, I’m going to make sure that he never lies to me again!”  Her erstwhile lover Nick is, at present, missing and that means there’s a good chance he’ll turn up dead.  Good thing Trixie Matkowski is there for her friend Antoinette Chloe, aka ACB, and ready to solve her third case in the Comfort Food Mystery series.

ACB has an idea to turn an empty field into a drive-in movie theater.

“But aren’t drive-ins closing all over the United States?” asks Trixie (and likely readers).

To which ACB replies, “That’s right, Trixie. So why not strike while the bowling ball is hot?”

“How could I argue with crazy logic like that?” Trixie wonders.

Unfortunately, when a small group gathers for the groundbreaking photo op, the aforementioned Nick Brownelli is found, and “ACB’s future drive-in was now a crime scene with a dead body in its dirt.”

You know Trixie is going to want to find out what happened and clear her friend’s name, but first she needs to round up some suspects.

Turns out Nick has burnt a number of bridges in his past, including an ex-partner in business, an ex-partner in love, and ex-basket case who lost his girl and a precious Michelin star rating because of Nick.  Then there’s Nick’s currently incarcerated brother, ACB’s ex-husband, who might not be too happy about his brother dating his ex-wife.

Coincidentally both the ex-business partner, Chad Dodson, and the ex-basket case, Toxic Waste, breeze into town for Nick’s funeral.  More conveniently, both guys stick around for a bit (at Deputy Ty’s insistence), and since neither has a place to stay, Trixie offers up lot space for Chad’s posh motor home and Toxic Waste’s motorcycle gang of chefs, the Roving Rubbers.

Chad is from a wealthy blue blood family in Boston who went into the restaurant business with Nick and got burned.  Because of this and other bad investments, Chad’s family have cut him off.  So it’s quite convenient that he stands to benefit from Nick’s death in the event that ACB is found guilty.

Though Chad’s quite good looking, Trixie takes an instant dislike to him.  He’s “too pompous for Sandy Harbor.”  A shame really because it might have been a good set up for a possible love triangle since Trixie keeps noticing handsome cowboy Ty Brisco, but insisting she’s not really looking.

Then there’s Toxic Waste, aka William Gerard, who keeps hanging out with a Miss Salmon beauty pageant contestant even though he claims he’s still not over being dumped.  His girlfriend, Leslie McDermott, left him for Nick and in turn got jilted by Nick at the altar.

Oh, and that Miss Salmon pageant…

All the contestants have descended on Sandy Harbor and turned Trixie’s “big house” into a full house.  Trixie convinces ACB to come stay with her to help chaperone the young ladies and keep them away from would-be suitors like the biker gang.

It’s all quite a lot for Trixie to take on.  Investigating, chaperoning, managing the Silver Bullet diner, and maybe fitting in some needed sleep!

It’s a fun romp to the finish.  And even though some of the minor series characters don’t get as much play here, the novel builds on previous titles, characters, and circumstances nicely.  In particular–and a bit unexpectedly–we get to (re)visit Sal, ACB’s ex-husband, with some strongly written scenes set at Auburn Correctional Facility.

Of course, this being a culinary mystery, the book contains recipes for various dishes.  For sweets, there’s giant snickerdoodle cookies and Dick Green’s Famous Caramel Corn.  For savory, there’s a potato-cheese soup and a cowboy beef stew, and for your four-legged friends, there’s even dog biscuit treats!

I recommend reading Do or Diner first, unless you don’t mind the spoiler that essentially reveals that novel’s solution on page 5.  There is an allusion to events in book two, but nothing spoiler revealing.

Stay tuned this Saturday, August 8th for a “Live Read” of book four in the Comfort Food Mystery series, Macaroni and Freeze.  The Live Read will begin at 7:30 pm (EST) right here on The Poisoned Martini.

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