Footprints in the Sand is the third book in the Piper Donovan, wedding cake decorator mystery series by Mary Jane Clark (available January 8, 2013).
Wouldn’t you love taking a leisurely stroll along a Sarasota, Florida, beach in the dead of winter? Warm sand squishing between your toes as a gentle breeze tousles your hair. Maybe you could collect some sand dollars, driftwood, or even a body or two.
Mary Jane Clark’s, Piper Donovan takes it all in stride. She’s in town to attend her cousin Kathy’s wedding. Piper made it her mission to bake Kathy the ultimate wedding cake. When Kathy’s friend, Shelley turns up dead, Piper has this reaction:
The dead woman’s eyes were closed. Her skin was gray, and her matted, dark hair hung long and loose. She was dressed in a short skirt and a yellow cotton sweater that stretched tightly across her chest. Her feet were bare and her arms were stiff.
Piper took out her phone and snapped a picture. Distasteful as it was, a photo of a crime scene would get lots of comments from her Facebook friends.
This seems like a cold response from the story’s protagonist, but Clark has a reason for every word and action her characters use. In that small passage alone there are several clues.
No one describes her books better than the author herself. “My aim is lay out all the clues in such a way that you don’t even realize that you’ve been given the answer to the mystery until you get to the end... and then realize ‘Aha... it was there all the time but I just didn’t see it,’” she says.
Clark writes in the style of a short story. Her chapters are tight and she doesn’t waste words. I like those qualities in a novel. Brevity keeps this story moving at a fast pace. I soon realized that I should be taking notes because the clues (and red herrings) came fast and I kept thinking I’d miss something. In reality, there is just enough repose to catch your breath.
The scenes and point of view change from chapter to chapter but each character gets his or her turn at center stage. This technique can really keep you guessing at who done it. That’s not a bad thing. Personally I love a good challenge in solving a mystery. Clark offers the right number of suspects, too. Each possibility is developed just enough to make you say, “Maybe he DID do it.”
Here’s a lineup of potential suspects:
- An ex-con who had a score to settle,“...he was going to make Shelley cry when he saw her again.”
- A jealous co-worker in need of attention, “...without Shelley, he could stay right here at the Whispering Sands Inn. Life would be so much easier.”
- A neglectful boss losing control of his business,“Shelley might have went too far. I had no idea she was trying to force anyone to sell...”
- A wealthy doctor primed for blackmail, “We have no choice. It’s too dangerous to stay.”
- An ex-boyfriend aka the bridegroom, “There was something uncomfortable about having a former girlfriend stand at the altar as you promise to love, honor, and cherish someone else.”
Just when I thought I was on the right track, hmm, then again, maybe not.
These thoughts of uncertainty also enter Piper’s head as she tries to piece it all together. Clark’s inquisitive baker and part-time actress uses her people skills to read and comment on the others’ facial expressions and body language, which are huge clues in and of themselves.
This crime and aftermath didn’t go unnoticed. Clark skillfully adds a few prospective witnesses as subplots to move the story along. Even each of these minor characters plays a part in this not-so-cozy mystery like the story is written for them. This is where Clark’s short story style writing especially shines.
He wished he could turn back the clock. He wished he had never gone out that night, that he hadn't had those beers at the bar in Siesta Village, that he hadn’t gone for that walk on the beach to sober himself up.
That night he’d been struggling with his decision about his future in the Amish world. Tonight Levi was struggling with something far more dangerous, far more sinister. He hoped coming to the place where it had happened would help him decide what to do.
Levi knelt beside the grave. As he prayed, his tears began to flow, building into racking sobs.
As part of The Wedding Cake Mysteries series, this book wouldn’t be complete without a look inside the makings of a tiered wedding cake. Clark artfully describes the process of baking, sizing, and decorating such an enormous responsibility as this wedding centerpiece with ease. This might come naturally to Clark since her mother baked cakes for neighborhood events. She also includes a recipe at the end for her version of a Key Lime Pie.
No matter how you slice it, Clark’s Wedding Cake Series will have you asking for another piece, please!
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Cindy Kerschner is an avid mystery fan, freelance writer, and professional cook. You can learn about her through her website at http://www.cindysrecipesandwritings.com.
See all posts by Cindy Kerschner for Criminal Element.