Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Roux Morgue by Claire M. Johnson

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written a review of Roux Morgue by Claire M. Johnson. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Roux Morgue by Claire M. JohnsonBuy from Amazon.com

Roux Morgue by
A Mary Ryan Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-487-2 (1590584872)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-487-3 (9781590584873)
Publication Date: April 2008
List Price: $24.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): pastry chef Mary Ryan is back at her old alma mater. Initially ecstatic to be teaching, Mary finds herself trying to straddle both worlds, caught between her original mentors and her contemporaries.

To make matters worse, Homicide Detective O’Connor has enrolled as a student, claiming to be on disability from the San Francisco Police Department.

In the middle of this turf war, Mary is confronted by the dean Robert Benson. Mary must either force Coolie Martin to leave the school or lose her job. Why would Coolie’s father, a member of the Board of Directors, allow this to happen? But when faculty and staff begin dying, Mary thinks that Coolie’s forced exit might only be part of a larger, more sinister plot.

Acting on a hint from O’Connor, Mary contacts the only person who can help her: nemesis Thom Woods. Will Mary and Thom uncover the truth before another chef bakes his last pie?

Review: Claire M. Johnson's second Mary Ryan mystery, Roux Morgue, has the San Francisco pastry chef joining the faculty of the Ecole d'Epicure (School of Cooking) and finding herself in the midst of all sorts of mischief and mayhem.

A battle royale is raging at the school between the "old" chefs who believe traditional European cooking should be taught, and the "new" chefs who want to embrace of more inventive, modern, and healthy methods of food preparation. If that weren't enough, the dean of the school gives Mary an ultimatum regarding the status of a student, one with which Mary not only doesn't understand, she doesn't agree. And what is homicide detective O'Connor doing enrolled at the school? When a student dies after eating shellfish (an item conspicuously missing from the menu), it's assumed to be a tragic accident. But when another death follows, suspicions are aroused. Is all this conflict connected in some way, and if so, how?

Roux Morgue is not a culinary mystery in the generic sense of the genre's definition. The mystery happens to be set at a school of cooking, and Mary is a pastry chef by profession, but there is very little in the way of culinary arts going on here. Mary isn't the most pleasant of characters, a sort of vulgar Nancy Drew. She seems to bounce from one mystery to another (and there are several more not covered here) and it's never quite clear how her involvement furthers the investigation of any of them. There are attempts to inject humor into the story, to lighten up the sometimes dour mood, but they generally fall flat.

Roux Morgue is all the more disappointing since the elements (ingredients, if you will) for a good mystery are all present. It's just that they never come together.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of for contributing her review of Roux Morgue and to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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