Tags: Mystery, Cozy
When Marley McKinney’s aging cousin, Jimmy, is hospitalized with pneumonia, she agrees to help run his pancake house while he recovers. With its rustic interior and syrupy scent, the Flip Side Pancake House is just as she pictured it—and the surly chef is a wizard with crêpes. Marley expects to spend a leisurely week or two in Wildwood Cove, the quaint, coastal community where she used to spend her summers. Then Cousin Jimmy is found murdered, sprawled on the rocks beneath a nearby cliff, and Marley finds herself up to her short-orders in figuring out whodunit.
As a writer myself, I despise being “praised with faint damns,” as Dorothy L Sayers’ detective Lord Peter Wimsey once put it. I’ve no wish to do so, yet I must say (reluctantly) that this books reads like a formulaic “first novel” of the sort with which my first (and most horrifying) agent tried to ruin my burgeoning career.
Fox writes well, and any first novel of a series must present and define the parameters of location and characters while putting forth a good plot. Sadly, by 100 pages into the book, I was still largely disinterested in the characters and had to set it aside. The book is told in first person, a very effective method for character-based cozy mysteries; unfortunately, the lady is too predictable in her reflections and actions and without any particular features that make a narrator interesting. I found Marley McKinney to be unaware (for lack of a word). If she’d been raised on reruns of Magnum P.I., CSI, or even Murder, She Wrote, she would likely have had more “snap” to circumstances and situations. Without it being a spoiler, I can tell you that Marley thinks far too many times about “what will I do when I leave this town that I only came to because of the death of a relative, but where I’m discovering that I really want to be.” Even if it’s only because we know there are more books in the series, we know she’s gonna stick like a pancake in an un-greased pan. After a very short while, it becomes incredibly irritating.
Although the first in the series, this is not Fox’s first book, nor is it her first mystery. Perhaps that is why I’m concerned about… well, if I keep with the cooking metaphor, the soup seems watered down, the eggs a little dry, and the toast a bit burned. I won’t say that I know whodunit after these 100 pages, but sadly, I found myself not really caring all that much. There are also several secondary mysteries which might be clues to the murder, the murderer, or the motive(s) behind them; as presented, however, they seem more like well-intended muddying factors that are merely distracting. The herrings may be red, but they don’t go well with the boysenberry syrup.
For all I know, the tale has a cracking-good ending, with a brilliant denouement and a wholly satisfying conclusion. I hope to finish it one day, if just to prove myself right or wrong. It simply feels too formulaic and simply presented. A quirk, a twist, an unusual characteristic of the various characters would (forgive the continuing cooking metaphor) spice things up a bit. Ivan, the silent, surly cook, is the most memorable character in the story and, sadly, he appears to be quite the minor character; everyone else, including characters who are presumably more important to this story, is more bland oatmeal than anything else. A dash of McIlhenny’s best or sriracha might come in handy. After all, crêpes may be sweet or savory, and a mixture of the two would satisfy the palate.