Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Dying for a Blue Plate Special," by Beth Kalikoff

My friend S. told me about enjoying a mystery novel by her colleague and friend Beth Kalikoff; it is titled “Dying for a Blue Plate Special” (Five Star, 2005). I like the occasional mystery, and I respect S.’s recommendations, so I found and read the book. It takes place in Tacoma, in Washington, a state I am partial to (I have had several relatives and friends there, and it is very close to one of my childhood homes, Vancouver, BC.) It is set mostly on and around a fictional campus there; campuses are also settings I -- as a long time college faculty member -- am familiar with and fond of. The portrayal of the campus and of the various faculty members is satirical and quite negative in some cases; this is part of a long tradition of the campus satire. The heroine, Jewel Feynman, is a descendant in another tradition: the tradition of feisty female detectives that began in the 1970s with such PIs as Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone, Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone. Jewel is not actually a detective, but rather a caterer (thus the title); however, when a much-disliked and manipulative college dean dies at a meal Jewel has catered, she turns detective in order to rescue her catering business’ reputation and future. Like the earlier detectives mentioned above, Jewel presents a (mostly) confident, no-nonsense, snappy front, although she is actually often insecure and vulnerable. When she is angry, as she is now about the imputations that her food caused the dean’s death, she becomes fearless and a bit reckless in her pursuit of the truth. There is plenty of humor and even some romance in this book, along with the catering and the detecting. Although this mystery does not have the complexity of a Dorothy Sayers or P. D. James novel (and how many do, after all?), it can compete with books such as Sue Grafton’s, is very entertaining, and kept my attention throughout.

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