Curses, Boiled Again! by Shari Randall welcomes you to the seaside hamlet of Mystic Bay, where the fish is always fresh, the folks are ever-friendly, and murder is on a roll (available January 30, 2018).
First-time novelist Shari Randall may be new to crime fiction, but she’s no novice when it comes to books, having enjoyed a career as a librarian before turning her attention to writing. Her debut, Curses, Boiled Again!, is the inaugural title in her cozy Lobster Shack Mystery series—and she dutifully researched her topic by commencing a tour of such eateries throughout New England. (The ironic takeaway? She’s allergic to lobster.)
As the story opens, readers are introduced to Allie Larkin, who had been living her dream as a dancer with the New England Ballet Theater until a broken ankle felled her. To help pass the time until she’s fully recovered, Allie has moved in with her Aunt Gully—a recent widow who’s found new purpose in owning and operating the Lazy Mermaid, an up-and-coming lobster shack located in the fictitious coastal town of Mystic Bay, Connecticut. Despite being the proverbial new kid on the block, the Lazy Mermaid has already earned an enthusiastic following by virtue of its delectable dishes (and eccentric décor)—so much so that Aunt Gully has been invited to participate in the Best Lobster Roll competition.
This year’s contest, held during the town’s annual Memorial Day weekend food festival, is especially illustrious given that the popular YUM Network is covering the event—and that two of its stars, Rio and Rick Lopez, are sitting on the judges’ panel; they are joined by beloved hometown actress Contessa Wells and Mayor Keats Packer. Paul Pond (of Pond’s in Maine), Chick Costa (of Chick’s World Famous Lobsters in Chatham, Massachusetts), and locals Ernie & Megan Moss (of Kahuna’s) round out Aunt Gully’s competition. But what begins as high-spirited fun quickly turns somber as the judges keel over one by one after sampling their first lobster roll: Kahuna’s “Godlobster.” And things go from bad to worse when elderly Contessa Wells is pronounced dead.
But is it a case of unintentional food poisoning? Or is Contessa the victim of something more sinister? (I bet you know the answer to that.) Either way, it’s a public relations nightmare—though Allie’s older sister, promotions guru Lorel, is determined not to let it interfere with business as usual at the Lazy Mermaid. Unfortunately, the confirmation of foul play coupled with the discovery of a battered body on the shack’s grounds forces a temporary closure.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Aunt Gully falls under suspicion; not only was she alone with the lobster rolls before they were presented to the judges but, theoretically, she would have something to gain in the aftermath of Kahuna’s downfall. Nobody who knows Aunt Gully seriously believes that she’s guilty of any wrongdoing, but the state police have been called in to investigate, and they have no such reservations.
With time on her hands and fear in her heart, Allie decides to do some detective work of her own—and quickly discovers that, for all its charm, Mystic Bay has some ominous undercurrents. Was Contessa—who returned home as caretaker to her mentally unbalanced sister—even the intended target? Fellow judges Rio Lopez and Keats Packer have their own secrets to keep, and there’s a stealthy group of “Lobster Libbers” who have been sending threatening letters and defacing property. Another possibility is that the judges were collateral damage in a scheme to tarnish the reputation of one or more of the cooks participating in the contest. With more questions than answers, Allie finds herself navigating dangerous territory. Good thing she’s light on her feet!
Randall has achieved a trifecta of triumph here: engaging characters, a welcoming backdrop, and a compelling plot—all of which coexist harmoniously (beyond the requisite homicide). Allie is a fun and fiercely protective protagonist whose personality is amplified by the quirky company she keeps. Of course, it’s Aunt Gully—with her incessant singing, perpetual optimism, and scrumptious seafood—that really hooks readers. (Be forewarned: You will find yourself jonesing for a lobster roll. Or a cup of clam chowder. Or both. Alas, there are no recipes.) The Cabot Cove-esque setting is fitting of such flavorful, if occasionally felonious, festivities—and the myriad red herrings, whether townies or transients, are as colorful as boiled lobsters under a klieg light.
Curses, Boiled Again! is an accomplished debut that, like one of Aunt Gully’s famous lobster rolls, is fresh-tasting yet familiar—and entirely guaranteed to satisfy. Just know that you’ll be back for seconds…
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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.