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One Taste Too Many
Sarah Blair Mystery
BY Debra H. Goldstein

Kensington Mystery
December 18, 2018 / ISBN 978-1496719478

Reviewed by Leslie C. Halpern 

This cozy mystery is set in the days before, during, and after a major food expo in which a struggling new restaurant named Southwinds is participating. Chef Marcus and his various helpers are competing in taste-test competitions against other eateries to establish their restaurant as a premier dining establishment. Emily, an aspiring sous chef showcasing her award-winning rhubarb crisp and spinach pie in recipe demonstrations, is among his eager staff members. Emily and her twin sister, Sarah, have no idea as the event draws near that murder will soon follow.

Sarah, who works as a receptionist for an attorney and plans to attend the expo to support her sister, is shocked to hear that her ex-husband has died after eating a piece of Emily’s nut-topped rhubarb pie. The circumstances of his death are unclear, although he had a known allergy to nuts. Emily (who knew about the allergy) evolves from a person of interest to the prime suspect when yet another Southwinds employee winds up dead soon afterward with a knife stuck in his back.

Because Sarah believes her sister is innocent, she calls upon her professional relationship with her boss for pro bono help, and tries to get the police chief (a former high school classmate) on their side as well. As no other characters are introduced beyond the Southwinds staff (the huge hulking chef, a tattooed culinary student, a handsome young cook and a ruthless rival cook), the police chief, the attorney, and an elderly neighbor, one of them must be the true killer, and it falls upon Sarah (at least she thinks it does) to find out which one.

The story is strongest while in the food expo setting where the finicky cooks and their attention to demonstration details, and petty attempts to rig the system (including Ex-Lax brownies) add fun to the mystery. However, the story veers off-course at times, such as when Sarah repeatedly argues with Jane, her ex-husband’s girlfriend who happens to be Emily’s rival at Southwinds, over a cat named RahRah. This struggle over the cat loses its cuteness by taking up too much time and space. There’s also a secret development deal going on with the restaurant that’s unnecessarily complicated.

Red herrings (and sticky red rhubarb) fill this story, and it’s difficult to figure out the true villain among the collection of shady characters. Cozy mystery lovers might enjoy the first of this new series, which includes two of Sarah’s “cook of convenience” recipes in the back.

Reviewed 2018