Ricki James-Diaz has been through some hard times of late, going from riches to rags some might say. She was married to a man who made a living doing crazy stunts for social media, until a stunt went fatally wrong and he died. She worked as a book curator for billionaire with an astonishing collection of first editions, but then it turned out his financial advice was more Ponzi scheme than true investments.
Hoping to make a fresh start, Ricki has come back to New Orleans, the city of her birth—although right after her birth she was abandoned by her teenaged mother. A nurse at the hospital took the baby (dubbed Miracle) in and gave her a good and loving home, moving to California.
New Orleans, Ricki is finding out, is a whole new world but she’s excited about her employment opportunity: operating a gift shop at the Bon Vee Culinary House Museum. Using her book background and her love of cookbooks (but not cooking), she plans to stock the shop with vintage cookbooks and accessories.
Her arrival is met with some acclaim and some consternation. Not everyone is happy to see her and even less happy when the shop begins to succeed. She catches a popular tour guide pilfering and calls him out on it, much to the annoyance of Theo, one of the museum’s directors and nephew of the owner. Other staff members whisper that the guide was not the most trust-worthy person, but that doesn’t help Ricki when she opens a trunk of donated books to find the guide’s body inside—and the murder weapon looks very much like a can opener from Ricki’s stock.
This was my first book by Ellen Byron, though I have read several in the Catering Hall Mysteries, a series she writes under the name Maria di Rico. I enjoyed the humor, so I thought I’d give this series a try.
As with many first in series books, this one has to spend time in setting up the characters and location. I loved the description of New Orleans and the culture. California bred Ricki has a little trouble acclimating at first, both literally (her air conditioner goes out) and figuratively. The characters are well drawn, and Ricki is both sympathetic and believable. I also enjoyed the bits about the cookbooks, especially those that draw from the 50s and 60s, when Jell-o was an important ingredient in a lot of dishes and nobody spared the butter—or the Crisco. I also liked the “behind the scenes” look at how such museums operate, having toured a few private ones such as Hemingway House.
While not as funny as the Catering Hall series, this is a solid cozy with a strong setting and well done characters. The second title is Winedand Died in New Orleans, and is due out February 7, 2023—just a couple of weeks before Mardi Gras. Let the good times roll!
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