By: J.A. Lang
With the snow lacing his mansion, acclaimed wine aficionado and collector Sir William Burton-Trent prepares his hearth fire and his home for guests. Snowed in and ready to wine out, the frolicsome party soon hits a sour note when the host is discovered among his valuable collection with his skull smashed in. Now, stranded among a group of quarrelsome guests, all with potential motives and a stake in the late collector’s will, only Chef Maurice and his laconic helper, Arthur, seem incapable of murder most foul. As the snow piles up and the situation ferments, tempers run high and suspicions even higher. Will Chef Maurice, with one successful sleuthing event under his belt, be able to resist another dangerous jaunt into the fractured mind of a killer, and will Arthur be able to control his incorrigible friend along the way?
Second in the Chef Maurice series, Chef Maurice and the Wrath of Grapes opens with all the charm of the first narrative, fitting exceptionally well into this oddly temperate November and the buzz of anticipation for the first snows and wrapped presents. Bringing the Cotswolds to life, the characters we have come to love are at home in their vivid settings, and the aura of cozy instantly captivates readers, letting us know that we are in for another wonderful jaunt through this crazy, dangerous world of killers and canapes.
The language contains that old world charm (similar to the distinctive elements of a Poirot tale) while also employing a modern verve for storytelling, dialogue, and humor. The combination works well, and readers will soak up the atmosphere and the lively characters, especially the inimitable (and always snacking) Maurice with his grand moustaches and micro-pig (that’s right, we get a brief bit of Hamilton!)
However, the mystery itself isn’t quite as engaging as our first foray with Maurice. Of course, because the cozy here truly delivers, readers are engaged from a character prospective, making the mystery a distinct second. We’ve come to know and love Maurice and his host of kitchen staff and we’re all in for another adventure. Where the narrative loses some thrust is in the large, almost indistinguishable cast of potential murderers. Keeping individuals and motives separate was slightly tricky (probably not helped by my habit of reading multiple books at the same time.)
The delivery shies away from the usual “sleuth in danger” motif and Maurice returns to his grand dinner and revelations methodology. This time, of course, we know what to expect when he gets all of the suspects together for a fancy nosh and some wine tasting. However, I didn’t find myself on the same page as Maurice and the conclusion and killer revelation left me a little stale. I didn’t see it coming and didn’t entirely understand all the ins-and-outs of the murderous scheme.
However, despite my qualms, I was thoroughly engaged emotionally, and to me that’s where it matters. Maurice and crew continue to be strong, well identified characters. The combination of cozy and crime establishes a delectable vibe, and the humorous side story with PC Lucy keeps this vibrant, snow bound world alive and intriguing. I will certainly be gathering the next book in the series for some more reading. Recommended.
– Frances Carden