Fresh Meat: Kill ’Em with Cayenne by Gail Oust

Kill 'Em with Cayenne by Gail Oust is the second cozy in the Spice Shop Mystery Series featuring Piper Prescott in the aftermath of the murder of a barbecue competition contestant (available December 16, 2014).

Kill ‘Em with Cayenne, the second in Gail Oust’s flavorful Spice Shop Mystery Series, finds the small town of Brandywine Creek, Georgia, gearing up for an upcoming barbecue festival. Piper Prescott is busy running Spice It Up! and looking forward to advising barbecue fans on how to best make their meal sizzle, while also juggling two potential love interests and a teenage daughter starting to explore her independence. Her delight comes to a halt when she finds one of the festival contestants, Becca Dapkins, dead in the street during a jog.

When Becca’s rival in love and barbecue (and friend of Piper), Maybelle Humphries, is fingered as the main suspect, Piper is sure the police have the wrong target…or is she? When Maybelle gives even her friends reason to question her, Piper can’t be completely certain.

Buzz resettled his cap, a worried look on his cubby face. “Ever since we broke up, I’ve taken to driving past Maybelle’s place at night—just to make sure she’s all right. Never get up enough nerve to stop. Don’t think she’d want to see me anyways, but I feel better knowing she’s safe. Funny thing is, she’s never home Tuesday nights.”

Generally I subscribe to the philosophy that if you don’t want an answer, don’t ask the questions. But I just couldn’t help myself. “What about the night Becca was killed?”

“Nope.” He shook his head. “No lights on in her house. “No car in the carport.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Positive.”

Women’s intuition and small town life are major themes here, with Piper’s hunches pitted against traditional police work, such as when she and her friend Reba Mae, upon snooping in Becca’s house, find what they consider a tell-tale clue:

Reba Mae poked her finger into the pot, then came away with a small, shiny object. “Look what I found. What do you s’pose it is? A shell of some sort?”

I took it from her hand and placed it in my palm. “Neither,” I murmured, nudging it gently. “It’s a broken fingernail. A tip torn from a manicure-polished Pucker Up Pink.”

“Becca would never venture out in public unless her nails were perfect.”

“No,” I echoed. “Becca was much too vain. Unless…”

Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine Becca as I’d last seen her, sprawled on her side, one arm outstretched as if to break her fall. I willed myself to visualize that arm.

And that hand.

McBride always preached that memory was a funny thing. “Funny” isn’t exactly the term I’d use. In this instance, it was downright weird. Becca Dapkins’s perfect manicure had been less than perfect. The nail on her middle finger had been broken down to the quick.

This clue nags at Piper, even when one of the men who makes her heart flutter, the aforementioned police chief Wyatt McBride, utterly discounts her suspicions. Piper has a quiet yet steely determination to make sure no one else is in danger, especially after Maybelle’s wallet is stolen and her shop is vandalized. There’s a charming and proudly amateur flavor to her sleuthing; she doesn’t want to become an expert at solving murders, but can’t help but add up the inconsistencies and coincidences that keep appearing.

Piper is a reluctant detective, who’d rather focus on her budding business than get tangled in another crime, but she can’t help poking her head farther and farther into the web of lies and possibilities. Oust offers a perfect blend of crime solving and personal drama, as Piper balances the comfort of her relationship with veterinarian Doug Winters, who’s also a barbecue festival contestant, with those aforementioned flutters as she tries to impress and outsmart McBride.

That Brandywine Creek is a town where seemingly everyone knows one another to some degree gives this cozy an authentic feel and allows long-simmering tensions between characters to add to the plot. It’s also nice to see a divorced single mom getting her dating mojo back, but not letting her emotions get in the way of her pursuit of the truth.

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Rachel Kramer Bussel is a freelance and erotica writer, and editor of over 50 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms69 Sexy StoriesOnly You: Erotic Romance for Women; Serving Him: Sexy Stories of Submission and others. She tweets @raquelita and blogs at Lusty Lady.

Read all of Rachel Kramer Bussel's posts for Criminal Element.

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