Changing things up a little bit today.
I received this book for an early review and couldn’t wait to read it,
so I stuck in a Flashback Friday spot.
That means we are having a FlashForward Friday
so I could tell you about it right away.
Tart of Darkness (Chef-to-Go Mysteries)
1st in Series
Setting – Illinois
Sourcebooks Landmark (April 3, 2018)
Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
Kindle ASIN: B0748MXMSZ
Right when Dani thinks she’s hit a dead-end in her career, she unexpectedly inherits an enormous old house in a quaint college town. This gives her the perfect opportunity to pursue her true passion―cooking! So Dani opens Chef-to-Go, preparing delicious, ready-made meals for hungry students attending the nearby university, as well as providing personal chef services and catering events for the local community. To help support her new business, she opens her home to a few students, renting them rooms and becoming almost like a big sister figure in their lives.
But just as Dani is relishing her sweet new life, the friend of one of her boarders is murdered, and Dani becomes one of the primary suspects! She’ll have to scramble to clear her name and save her business before the killer reappears―perhaps to silence the new chef forever.
This series is off to an amazing start!
Danielle (Dani) Sloan quit her job, dropped her “Dr. McCreepy” and is cooking up a storm, watching Hell’s Kitchen and Cupcake Wars, as she sends out her resumé. She is usually joined by Ivy Drake, an 18-year old college junior that lives across the hall. Not a typical friendship, more of a big sister/little sister thing, but it works for them. One day she receives a letter telling her she has inherited a mansion, an old Victorian that was being remodeled into a B&B. After the shock wears off she realizes this inheritance could make her dreams come true. So while the lawyer gets the paperwork done she makes plans for her new business, Chef-to-Go. She will be doing catering, providing meals on the go for the college students and hiring herself out as a personal chef. She gets help with the business from her new tenants, Ivy and her friends that used to live across the hall. They were evicted for some major infractions of the landlord’s rules. Their parents have agreed to pay for them to live with Dani as long as Dani watches over them and Ivy’s Uncle Spencer checks on them weekly. Spencer, the head of college security is glad to help the girls any way he can, especially after he meets Dani.
Things are going great until one of Ivy’s college friends is murdered, shortly after Dani caters a party for her. The investigating detective decides quickly that Dani is the killer. She could lose everything. She needs to clear her name and fast or the only place she will cooking will be the state penitentiary.
The first book in a series is a huge undertaking because you have to introduce the characters, give them each a back story, connect them together and then wrap them in a mystery that keeps readers flipping those pages while leaving them wanting for more. Ms. Swanson more than met this challenge.
I liked Dani immediately. She left her job for a very good reason and I was excited that she could follow her passion. Her business plan makes sense and her new living arrangement is unique and fun. Ivy being so young is a bit naive and needs to have someone looking out for her. Her friends Tippi and Starr do what they can, but she needs Dani and Spencer in her life too. Tippi and Starr are typical college students and Dani likes having them live with her, but one tends to shirk her responsibilities to Danni quite a bit. Spencer is a former FBI agent who spent most of his career undercover. Now retired he enjoys the slower pace of running the security division for the college. These core characters are engaging and interesting. The author has left plenty of room to grow as the series continues.
There are some crazy characters too. Detective Mikeloff is off the rails and the victim and her family have their issues too.
The plot and subplots of this story are very well developed. The mystery itself had plenty of suspects with motive. The victim had done some really terrible things. Dani is a great investigator, people opened up to her so easily. She tries to help everyone she talks to, even when she was facing the murderer. This blends in with the romantic tension Dani and Spencer have every time they are in the vicinity with each other and Dani having to deal with a request from her ex.
I do enjoy the college campus setting. There are tons of possibilities for future stories.
I did have a couple of minor concerns. The author mentions her Scumble River series and ties a couple of characters to characters in that series. This may be likable for fans of that series but may be off-putting to those who have not yet read that series. Also, while the Epilogue wraps up this story, Dani comes off just a little bit preachy at the end.
I am excited to see where Ms. Swanson takes this series. I am invested in the characters and can’t wait for the next story.
Denise Swanson is the New York Times bestselling author of the Scumble River Mysteries, the Devereaux’s Dime Store Mysteries, the Change of Heart romances, and the Delicious romances She worked as a school psychologist for twenty-two years before quitting to write full-time. She lives in Illinois with her husband, classical music composer David Stybr.
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