Those of us in the literary community don’t call cozy mysteries cozy mysteries (or “cozies”) for nothing. It should be said that when regarding this fabulous subgenre of crime fiction, you can almost always count on the majority—if not all—of its tales having five major attributes: exciting, captivating cover art; a cute, lovable, witty, and meddling leading lady; a tall, handsome, distinctive, and physically powerful male co-lead; delicious pastries teamed with a variety of comfort food; and murder.
Fortunately, it is an enthusiasm-inducing formula that never ever gets old. The mesmerizing genre just keeps on going, exfoliating to renew itself time and time again. And despite the genre’s set-in-its-ways nature, the stories (whether short or protracted) are forever introducing all-new heroine sleuths (each one in her own right, with her own separate life and unique experience) who consistently bring fresh new adventures in crime-solving mysteries to the pages of the category’s humorous narratives for the eyes of millions of “cozies” fanatics (myself included) to enjoy.
In the case of M.E. Harmon’s short culinary cozy, Barbecue, Bourbon and Bullets, book 2 in the HoneyBun Shop Mysteries series, there is no exception.
Our free-spirited main protagonist, Ali Daniels, is the adorable owner of HoneyBun Sweets and Sandwiches. And as this scrumptious literary puzzle begins to progress, Ali and her business partner, Al, watch from the balcony of their store as a large group of protesters march along the Brooklyn Bridge, chanting in unison and soon becoming unruly with the authorties who have been assigned to police the march—in order to ensure that the demonstrations will be kept peaceful. At the Mayor’s request, many business owners are closing up their shops earlier than usual due to the angry demonstrators. And Ali has chosen to parrot the other entrepreneurs in a similar action. But just as Ali is closing all of her store’s window shutters, along comes the lusciously handsome Detective Avery Hamilton, with whom Ali already has a platonic acquaintanceship.
In the wake of their pleasantries, Detective Avery Hamilton, after he has been informed by friends that they will be unable to honor a Groupon date to dine with him at the swanky new barbeque joint, Grover’s, in Manhattan, asks dear Ali if she would care to join him in their place. And of course, the weak-in-the-knees Ali accepts. For it is an impossible offer to refuse, what a delectable dinner of tasty barbecue washed down with the finest of Bourbon while in the cozy company of an imposing, chiseled man who himself should be edible. Ooh and ahh. What a charming evening it’s going to be.
Eating Barbecue Can Get Messy.
Business is booming at Grover’s and the line is practically around the block, but Avery and Ali have to wait—for at least an hour—before they’re escorted to their table inside. Once seated, the duo are then greeted and served by their waitress, Debbie, who not only provides big tip-worthy service, but also takes Avery and Ali on a kitchen tour of the fine new establishment, introducing them both to the entire on-duty staff, including Grover’s head chef and co-founder, Greg. Everything is perfect on Avery and Ali’s first date: their waitress, their food, their Bourbon, one another’s company, and even their imminent dessert of fried ice cream—which Debbie has informed them will be served compliments of the House. Everything is just dandy… Until they—along with the other diners—hear an ear-splitting scream resonate through the dining room from the kitchen.
Who Killed the Owner of the Hottest New Restaurant in Manhattan?
In this amusing and gloriously sweet treat of a whodunit, that is exactly what our amateur sleuth of a leading lady would like to know.
The dead owner’s name? Rick. Rick (a former Wall Street money man) had been the co-founder of Grover’s and a connoisseur of some of the most luxurious brands of Bourbon in the world before he was mercilessly cut down, shot, in his own entity’s kitchen during the distracted dinner rush. And according to his bio, the arrogant Rick had made acidic enemies, particularly of those who were closest to him.
As Rick’s corpse lay on the restaurant’s brand spankin’ new white tiled floor bleeding out, an immediate investigation ensues as Detective Avery Hamilton goes straight into cop mode, closing in every employee and patron on the premises, not allowing even one to leave. For they all must stay put until the authorities arrive. And that may take awhile considering that the department is stretched thin as a result of the protests.
Someone in the kitchen killed Rick. But whom? And why? As our busybody Ali takes it upon herself to “help” Avery get to the bottom of this mystery, she secretly questions a few of the eatery’s employees before creating her own makeshift list of possible suspects.
According to the aroused suspicions of the intrusive Ali, the killer can be either one (or more) of the following:
• Greg, the head chef and co-founder of Grover’s who had one twisted reason to want the Bourbon savvy and drug-addicted Rick out of the way: Rick’s wife, Alma, with whom Greg is engaged in an extramarital affair.
• Alma, Rick’s contentious and adultress wife who harbored a long-standing resentment towards him, and covertly coveted having both the booming new business that is Grover’s and her inamorato, Greg, all to herself. Also, it doesn’t help that Alma and Rick were seen “quarreling” only a short time before he was killed.
• Debbie, the bouncy and way-too-chipper waitress…and Greg’s jilted lover.
• Connor, the habitual nail-biter and lowly dishwasher at Grover’s whom, despite carrying a burning torch for Debbie, is perpetually ignored and overlooked by the object of his desire simply because her burning lust is reserved primarily for Greg.
• Sylvie, the quietly bitter human directional. Sylvie’s job is to stand (on her sore, tired feet) outside of the restaurant for hours on end holding up a welcoming sign for its newfound customers, all of whom have an estimated wait time of between 1-2 hours before they can be seated inside. Rick had assigned this humiliating duty to Sylvie and she hated him for it.
Each one of the suspects had a motive to murder Rick in cold, crimson-hued blood. And following along with this amazingly homey and respectably penned plot to discover just who that person is will not leave the reader even the least bit disappointed. In fact, its aftereffect will have the reader’s mouth watering for more … for more of our endearing sleuth, Ali Daniels.
I absolutely loved this culinary cozy! Like with many other narratives of its categorical kind, I truly felt a sense of warmth and comfort while reading it, as it kept me smiling and completely absorbed from start to finish.
Barbecue, Bourbon and Bullets is (52) pages of perfectly grilled fun. And for a job well done, M.E. Harmon is worthy of my genuine commendation and recommendation the same.
Although Barbecue, Bourbon and Bullets (# 2) was my very first M.E. Harmon experience, I eagerly anticipate reading the other efforts in the HoneyBun Shop Mysteries sequence:
• Sweet and Salty Treachery (#1)
• Candy Canes and Criminals (# 3)
• Macaroons, Mummies and Murder (# 4)
• Secrets and Sweet Rolls (# 5)
• Chaos and Chocolate Mousse (# 6)
Palatable in both titles and synopsises, oh, these are going to be a tasty pleasure to read. As for Barbecue, Bourbon and Bullets, who could ask for a more finger-licking appetizer?
Five hickory smoked stars.
• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Harmon Publishing for the complimentary copy of this fiction. On behalf of Reviews by Cat Ellington, the house has my sincerest gratitude.