The Rambling Mann

Book reviews and occasional other thoughts from writer Richard Mann.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Final Sentence by Daryl Wood Gerber

Final Sentence
A Cookbook Nook Mystery (#1)
A Review by Richard Mann of
AUTHOR:  Daryl Wood Gerber
PUBLISHER:  Berkley Prime Crime
ISBN: 978-0-425-25804-0 Mass Market Paperback

FAIR WARNING:  I am going to grumble a bit about publishing trends in cozy mysteries before I get to my comments about this book.  Hang in there; there is an actual review before the end of this clump of writing.

I don’t know how many cozy mystery series I’ve read or read about recently that feature celebrity chefs.  I would hate to be a celebrity chef, because the world apparently believes they are all rude, egocentric, monomaniacal, power-hungry louts.  Even the good ones.  And they tend to get killed a lot—usually early in the book.

There’s another set of requirements, by the way, to be a successful cozy mystery.  Or so it would appear.  You need a bookstore, at least one cat, arrogant chefs or authors, and often a slightly off-kilter older female relative with some sort of woo-woo psychic proclivities.  Oh, yes, you also need recipes at the book.  It doesn’t matter if your book has nothing to do with cooking; you need to figure out some reason to sneak recipes into the back of the book.

Setting those unfortunate publishing trends aside, let’s talk about this book here, Final Sentence. Pretend that the presence of a bookstore, a cat, an arrogant celebrity chef and author as murder victim, an aunt who reads tarot and gets “feelings” about things don’t bother you.  Other than that, how was the book?

For me, there are many things that make a cozy mystery fun to read and make me want to follow subsequent books in the series.  Most important is the main character, the protagonist.  She (they are almost always women, almost always single, and almost always in their early 30s) must be someone whose thinking is not alien to my way of thinking.  She must have values that I can relate to.  She can have flaws—even lots of flaws—but she can’t be a mean-spirited or manipulative person.  She must be basically honorable.

Similar criteria apply to the deuteragonist. (I just learned that word this week.  It’s the person second in importance in the story to the protagonist.)  Usually, in these books, the deuteragonist is the main character’s best friend.  Sometimes she’s a close relative like an aunt.

OK, that’s probably enough generalities.  Back to Ms. Gerber’s book.  There were some things that bothered me, even though she follows the formula discussed above rather well.  There were no problems with the pro- and deuteragonists.  Jenna Hart, the main character, her aunt, and one of her best friends (who appears mid-book) are good-hearted people who behave in a manner that one can sort of believe.

One problem for me was the antagonist, the nemesis who at every turn is trying to thwart and hurt Jenna.  She’s a bitter older woman named Pepper who will do anything to embarrass, hurt, or distress Jenna and her family.  I have a problem with openly mean people as characters.  I’ve never known anyone like that (thank goodness).  I’m sure they exist, but I just don’t like to be around them, even in fiction.  Oh, murderers, criminals, and other evil-doers are no problem for me.  It is a murder mystery, after all.  But people who scheme, manipulate, gossip, connive, and even openly try to hurt people’s reputations out of sheer mean-spiritedness turn me off to such an extent that I want to give up on the book just to avoid further contact with that person.

In this book, there’s a quick paragraph or two near the end where an apology to Pepper for the decades-long source of her hatred purports to cure the problem.  I’m not buying it.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next book.

Another problem is the way that every little possible clue blossoms in Jenna’s mind and in multiple paragraphs from the author into a full motive for murder and an entire scenario of how the murder must have been done.  After the tenth or fifteenth time, it gets tiresome.  (What?  There weren’t anywhere near that many scenarios?  Well, it seemed like it to me.)

If you’re getting the impression that this was an awful book, don’t.  It’s really a pretty good story, with interesting relationships and situations.  The basic setup of a recently widowed Jenna returning to her small town roots to live with relatives and co-own a bookstore that sells mostly cookbooks works nicely.  It should give the author enough room to figure out at least semi-believable murder situations.  There will be time to develop the beginnings of a nice romance that is starting in this book.  There’s plenty to look forward to in the next couple of books.

All I can really tell you is that I read the book with some interest, but every session with the book was marred by some little tickle of dissatisfaction, disbelief, or awareness of an awkwardness in the story line.  I hope the subsequent books will overcome these problems, because I really want to like these books.


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