Friday, August 2, 2013

A Festival of Food and Murder in Jewel Bay, Montana

When Erin Murphy returns home from Seattle to Jewel Bay, Montana, to take over the family business, she can't begin to anticipate the obstacles that stand in the way of her potential success.

The business is the Glacier Mercantile, known locally as "The Merc," and it was established a hundred years earlier by Erin's great-grandfather. Recently the store has been run by Erin's mother, Fresca, but Mom has appealed to Erin to come home and take over. Erin is ready and anxious to do so, but the first problem she encounters is her mother who, in spite of asking Erin to take over the business, has some trouble letting go of the command and control function.

Jewel Bay, loosely modeled after Bigfork, Montana, is known as a food lovers' village and Erin wants to reinvent the Merc into an artisan market for local and regional foods. Mom, though, wants to keep stacking boxes of gooey, huckleberry-filled chocolates, loaded with chemicals, preservatives and God-know-what-else, right by the register as a featured draw. She has difficulty accepting the fact that this sort of thing doesn't exactly mesh with Erin's new marketing plan.

Erin is determined to make a success of the store and of her vision for it. As a means to that end, she has convinced the Chamber of Commerce and a number of other local businesses to sponsor a new festival--Festa di Pasta--to kick off the summer season in Jewel Bay, which does a huge tourist business in the summer months.

The festival is poised to be a huge success until on the opening night, one of the Merc's former employees is found stabbed to death. Rumors abound that there was bad blood between the murdered employee and Erin's mother, and before the festival is even over, Fresca emerges as a prime suspect.

Worried that her mother has been targeted unjustly, Erin begins her own investigation of the events that occurred on the day of the murder. In the process, she turns up a jealous rival chef, a spurned wife, a really bad Elvis impersonator, and a host of other quirky characters who seem to populate small towns like Jewel Bay. Along the way, Erin must struggle to keep her business on an even keel and may even find herself a target of violence as she attempts to sniff out a killer and restore a sense of peace and calm to her family and to the village of Jewel Bay.

This is a book that will appeal to large number of people who enjoy an entertaining and well-written cozy mystery. In Jewel Bay, Budewitz has created a particularly well-drawn setting that would entice loads of visitors, and she has populated it with a cast of memorable characters, led by Erin Murphy who serves as a very appealing protagonist.

My only complaint about the book is that it probably caused me to gain about five pounds. It seems like every other page contains a reference to some mouth-watering gourmet treat, and reading it I was up and down every fifteen minutes, raiding the cupboards or the refrigerator. Tomorrow I may have to run all the way to Jewel Bay and back to burn off the calories.

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