The Pepper Peach Murder by Meg Benjamin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When the toxic head chef of a local restaurant meets his end, Roxy Constantine becomes suspect number one!
After a disastrous encounter with the head chef at the trendy Denver restaurant where she worked, new chef Roxanne “Roxy” Constantine fled home to her family’s farm in Shavano, Colorado. Over time and with the help of her Uncle Mike, she pulled herself up and started on an alternate career journey, creating a line of premium jams and preserves.
Although Luscious Delights was a big hit with locals and tourists alike, it was destined to remain a small home business unless Roxy took on some help. She was a one-woman operation, barely able to make enough product each week to stock her booth at Saturday’s farmers’ market. When news that a successful cooking show was coming to Shavano to feature the restaurants, farmers’ market, and other foodie enterprises, Roxy knew she could be on the brink of something bigger. With Uncle Mike’s encouragement, she began to look ahead and what it would take to expand.
However, the assault and subsequent cover-up had taken its toll on her heart, and Roxy wondered if she’d ever be whole again. The few dates she’d attempted since always fizzled out when she realized she wasn’t ready for a more intimate relationship, that is, at least until she met Nate Robicheaux. a chef at a family-owned restaurant in town.
Unfortunately, there was a constant reminder of what happened in Denver in the form of Brett Holmes, the head chef at the upscale High Country Restaurant. Brett had worked at the same restaurant and gleefully believed the head chef’s fabricated version of what had occurred after Roxy had departed. Despite her explicit refusals, he regularly pushed himself her way and hounded her to sleep with him.
One Saturday at the farmers market, Brett corralled Roxy at her booth to blackmail her into sex, threatening to tell the television producers the lies the head chef had spread after his foiled attempted rape, and get her bumped from consideration for the show. Not one to succumb to such tactics, Roxy’s refuses and their discussion became heated, and Brett grabbed Roxy. The argument and her protests attracted the attention of vendors and shoppers, and Nate jumped in to intervene, causing Brett to stumble to his knees in front of the crowd. A week later, when Brett’s body was discovered in High Country’s kitchen, Roxy became the new police chief’s main suspect in his murder!
The Pepper Peach Murder is an entertaining debut to Meg Benjamin’s new cozy mystery series, Luscious Delights. While having all the fun hallmarks of the cozy mystery genre front and center, the story also explores a darker theme: sexual assault/harassment.
The protagonist, Roxy Constantine, is a great character. She’s had her life disrupted, and her dreams smashed but is slowly coming back to life and taking a new direction with her career. What happened to her was horrible and unforgivable, but she refuses to let the assault and the betrayal which followed define the rest of her life.
Nate Robicheaux, Roxy’s delectable love interest, is healing as well but doing so in the kitchen of his family’s restaurant, now run by his brother, Bobby, and they don’t quite see eye to eye on their business. I was glad there was a glimmer of them coming together by the book’s end.
Susa is Roxy’s “ride or die” best friend and is a competent and capable partner in crime-solving rather than the comic relief sidekick, which I thought was terrific. And perhaps, there’s a little spark between Susa and the new police chief to fan in future books?
The plot builds when Roxy feels Chief Fowler isn’t looking hard enough at other possible suspects for Brett’s murder. There is little information forthcoming from that sector, so Roxy and Susa must create their own line of questioning based on who and what they know about the people in Shavano. I liked how Susa developed an online method for the two women to record and share with each other the results of their separate inquiries, and laughed over Susa’s later discussion of the proper way to fill it out! With Brett’s reputation as a jerk and a womanizer, there are quite a few avenues to pursue.
Since this is the first book in the series, many townspeople were introduced, and although many did not appear to have anything to do with the current murder, they were still easy to keep track of or follow as needed. When all was revealed, I thought the resolution made sense, and the case was wrapped up without going down a bunch of unnecessary rabbit holes. I am already looking forward to more of this series.
I enjoyed hearing about all the various jam flavors and enough of the jam-making process to know it was something I wouldn’t want to tackle myself. I’ll stick to trying out some of those amazing-sounding concoctions when I run across them at local farmers’ markets and craft shows. Pepper Peach is absolutely on my shopping list, too.
I highly recommend THE PEPPER PEACH MURDER to cozy mystery readers who enjoy culinary-themed stories.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Goddess Fish Promotions Book Tours.