By Ellie Alexander
Series: A Bakeshop Mystery #5
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks
on January 3, 2017
Cover image and synopsis from Goodreads:
It’s almost spring in Ashland, Oregon, and the town is preparing for the Shakespeare and the annual Chocolate Festival. Business is cookin’ at Torte, and the store is expanding as Jules’ team whips up crèpes filled with mascarpone cheese and dark chocolate. Torte stands a chance of being this year’s confectionery belle of the ball! Life couldn’t be sweeter—unless murder taints the batter.
Evan Rowe, of Confections Couture, makes a chocolate fountain that would put Willy Wonka to shame, and his truffles are to die for—literally? Yes, the world-renowned chocolatier has just turned up dead…right after sampling a slice of Jules’ decadent four-layer chocolate cake. Now all eyes are on Jules as she tries to find the mysterious ingredient in her own recipe. Can she sift out the truth before another contestant bites the buttercream?
This is the fifth book in the bakeshop series, and the first one that I had read in a while. I have to say that it was a thoroughly enjoyable book and makes me wonder what took me so long to continue the series.
Jules is a professionally trained pastry chef who used to make her living running kitchens on cruise ships. Since the breakup of her marriage to another chef, Carlos, Jules returned to her hometown of Ashland, Oregon to help her widowed mother run Torte, a cafe/bakeshop. Ashland is a quirky town that is known for a Shakespearean festival, which means the town is filled with actors and other fun Shakespearean influences (such as a detective who quotes Shakespeare, or shops named after him and his works).
In this book, Jules and her mother enter Torte in a Chocolate Festival, but just as the event is getting started, Evan Rowe, a high-profile competitor, dies after eating one of Torte’s samples. Jules must work to uncover who poisoned Rowe, while still trying to represent Torte at the festival.
To begin, the premise of this series is so fun. Who wouldn’t love to run a bakery with their mom? Torte sounds like such a wonderful place to visit, full of pastries and delicious coffee and home made foods. And Jules has such a love of baking and the artistry behind it, that it’s hard to not want to wish Torte existed in real life (especially in my neighbourhood).
I enjoyed the Chocolate Festival plotline. Since the festival took place in Ashland, it was a nice way to have the book take place in a new setting while not straying too far from Torte. I liked reading about all of the other businesses and their different ways of preparing chocolates (i.e. different flavours of brownies, sea salts to pair with chocolate, marzipans, cakes). This book made me very hungry.
The murder mystery was an interesting one — the challenge of uncovering who poisoned Evan Rowe and how they were able to do it in such a public place was pretty interesting. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the book had me guessing until the end.
Throughout the series, Jules struggles with deciding whether or not she wants to stay permanently to run Torte with her mother, but this book offers her the chance to expand the store. An empty storefront has become available for renovation and Jules must decide whether she wants to go through the process of leasing the space, which includes necessary renovations. Once she uncovers a brick oven in the back of the space her decision becomes pretty straightforward. As well, Jules discovers that her mom has been diagnosed with arthritis, making it harder for her to bake at the same pace she’s used to. I think this really makes the decision as to whether Jules wants to stay or go much more immediate.
I think the only weakness of the story was the death scene for Evan Rowe. I find it’s awkward to have characters witness a murder in a cozy because it doesn’t feel like they properly react and just move on to trying to solve the murder. And I think that happened in this book (I mean, if someone died after eating food at a food festival in real life wouldn’t they cancel it rather than delaying the opening slightly? And no one seemed really shocked to have witnessed someone die in front of them). I do realize that it’s a cozy and the whole purpose is to solve a murder, but maybe this is why I prefer the deaths to take place off-page.
This book was a lot of fun to read and led to a dramatic increase in cookie consumption. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.