My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Probably closer to a 3.5 for some of the things that happened but it's a debut novel and Halia had a great voice so I rounded up. I won this from a Goodreads Giveaway but that did not in any way influence my thoughts on it.
There aren't that many African American detectives out there and fewer still that are amateur detectives so it was nice to that diversity here. Halia Watkins is a 40 something single business woman running Sweet Tea, a soul food restaurant that is successful in Prince George county near D.C.. She's assisted by her mother who does all the baking and her young cousin, Wavonne who is a waitress. Mom is more interested in finding Halia a man than anything else (as a single 40 something myself, I can only say I'm glad my mother isn't this aggressive about it!). Halia is far more interested in running her business and helping to keep Wavonne, who she helped her mother to raise, out of trouble.
But trouble has a way of finding people. Marcus Rand helped Halia get her restaurant off the ground. He's a smooth talking businessman who is assisted by his sister, Jacqueline, a fitness obsessed woman and his business partner, Charles. He's dating a hairdress, Regine and likes to order Halia around a little when it comes to her making her best dishes even if they're not on the menu that night.
Marcus ends up dead and here is where the story stumbled a little for me. Cozy mystery authors are always faced with the problem of 'why is this non-detective trying to solve a mystery?' Unfortunately it comes about after Halia does something incredibly stupid and damaging to the real investigation. The most credible thing is to say she panicked but I have to say it bugged me a little. Still, I like the character. As I said, she has a great voice so I read on. Halia's foolish move is compounded by Wavonne doing something bone stupid. Now she has to solve this case before Wavonne ends up jailed as the prime suspect in Marcus's death.
Halia has to navigate Marcus's business dealings which get shadier by the moment trying to find the real killer before Detective Hutchinson puts the cuffs on Wavonne. Hutchinson isn't much of a character in the book and while it's not his story I wish he was more of a presence. I'm just glad he's not the hostile, incompentent detective that you sometimes see in cozies (I dislike that trope).
In spite of my reservations about how Halia gets involved, I had a lot of fun with this one. Halia and Wavonne are fun characters. The recipes that come with this look tasty too (I haven't tried them yet. Sadly most of them aren't too diabetic friendly). I'm looking forward to more.
One spoilery comment about the end (mildly so).
It bothered me a little that neither Wavonne nor Halia have to face consequences of their earlier actions but I suppose it makes sense. It would kill a series if they did, I suppose. Still, this is a minor quibble.
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