A Batter of Life and Death by Ellie Alexander is the second book in the Bakeshop Mystery series featuring baker Jules Capshaw in her hometown of Ashland, Oregon (available June 30, 2015).
Reality TV meets cozy mystery, with a little bit of murder thrown in. The town of Ashland is known for its Oregon Shakespeare Festival, but the last of the plays are being performed and the theater company is about to go into hiatus for the fall. The town is experiencing cooler weather and a slowdown in tourist traffic. What better time for a television crew to set up shop to film a reality show for the Pastry Channel? Juliet Montague Capshaw aka Jules, has recently moved back to her hometown to help her mother run Torte, a family owned bakery and coffee shop. She is roped into being a contestant on the show and soon finds out that there is as much drama behind the scenes as there is on camera. Specifically, Chef Marco is causing a lot of problems on set as he finds it hard to remain sober for filming.
Four people stood, including Chef Marco. Philip took a moment to introduce each of them. He started with Marco. “I’m sure you’re all familiar with the celebrity chef. We’re thrilled that he’s signed on to do this year’s show.”
Marco gave a little bow as Philip went through a lengthy list of his accolades. I noticed Marco decline Andy’s offer of coffee. He kept one pudgy hand on his notebook and glared at Andy like he was trying to steal it or something.
Andy refilled mugs around the room as Philip spoke. After he’d refreshed everyone’s drink he stopped by my table and knelt down.
“Hey, boss, Chef Marco is asking for something stronger. What do you want me to do?”
“Stronger—as in a drink?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
I glanced at the clock on the wall—it read 2 p.m.
The only reason Jules even considers entering the contest is that the winner gets $25,000 and their own show on the network. That money would be the answer to their prayers, as the bakery is in need of new ovens and other upgrades. Of course, that sort of prize money can make it a very tight competition, and emotions can run high, and things take a turn towards deadly early on in the competition when Jules discovers the lifeless body of Marco. She decides to stay on, but can’t help herself and decides to poke around and investigate a bit on her own. Her mother and her good friend, Thomas, who is also a policeman, attempt to stop her snooping, but she still finds herself drawn to detecting.
“Uh-oh.” Thomas gave Mom a knowing look. “Here we go again.”
“You tell her, Thomas.” Mom waved her finger at me. “I don’t want her involved in this at all. We both know what a close call she had.”
“I’ve already told her that.” Thomas addressed Mom like I wasn’t even in the room.
“Knock it off, you guys. I’m right here, and for the record I’m not inserting myself into the investigation, I’m simply sharing my thoughts as a witness to this vandalism.”
“Right.” Thomas scowled and looked at Mom. “She’s not going to stay out of this, is she?”
Mom sighed. “Doesn’t look like it.”
Thomas placed his iPad on the counter. He reached behind him and held a pair of handcuffs up. “I thought so. I came prepared.” He turned to Mom. “Where should we keep her?”
“That front booth might be nice.” Mom grinned. “She’ll have a good view from there.”
Thomas stepped toward me, dangling the cuffs. “Let’s go, Jules. Get moving.”
Jules is a character torn by her past and her present. She misses her previous life with her husband where she worked as a chef on a cruise ship, but at the same time she feels happy to be back home with her Mom, helping to run the bakery. Her feelings for her estranged husband conflict with her feelings toward Thomas, her old high school flame. The men are extremely different and each provides a different reason for her to be drawn to them.
I’ve never visited Ashland, Oregon, but it sounds like an idyllic small town. The author’s description transported me and I could picture the cafes lining the main street, the mom and pop shops, and the locals meeting up and chatting in the streets. It is small town America at its best, and the bakery fits into the scene perfectly:
Downtown Ashland is like a little village with a collection of shops, restaurants, and the famed OSF theater complex an easy walk up the hill. Lithia Park, the jewel of town, flanks one end of the downtown. Its meandering pathways, ancient trees, and natural streams make it one of my favorite places on the planet, which is saying a lot. A decade of working on a cruise ship allowed me to visit ports of call all over the world. Other places might be more exotic or boast a more happening night life scene, but Ashland’s sophisticated charm and quaint beauty was unparalleled.
Most books transport the reader to a different time or place, and some manage to do both. The cozy mystery is aptly named because in addition to transporting the reader physically, it also provides a certain emotional transport. A cozy is meant to make the reader want to visit a town, meet the residents, or even move there if the town were to exist. I found that this book did just that, made me want to visit Ashland, have a pastry and coffee at the bakery, and buy tickets to a play. If an author manages to tempt the reader to that extent, I think it’s safe to say that the book is a complete success.
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Kerry Hammond has been an avid mystery reader ever since she discovered Nancy Drew at the age of 8. She enjoys all types of stories, from thrillers to cozies to historical mysteries.