The Tell-Tale Tarte – Maya Corrigan

This wasn’t awful. It wasn’t great, either, but it was entertaining, and a basically easy read. It’s the fourth in a cozy series, and it does a good job at it: I pretty much got the gist of what I needed to know about the characters and the setting and so on pretty painlessly (though there were some issues of painful infodump), and I don’t think the previous books were overly spoiled for me if I ever want to go back to them. (Spoiler: I probably won’t.)

The only thing I can really complain about, writing-wise, is the dialogue. People don’t talk like this. I’m a weirdo who can’t stop using the fifty-cent words in my arsenal (see?), used to getting the glazed look, and even I don’t talk like this: “I can’t imagine Granddad as docile as a Stepford wife.” Or this: “‘The next time you go out with Gunnar, wear something clingy and edgy in a bright color. It might add a spark to your stalled romance.'” (That one should be from an article in a bad women’s magazine.)

What happens is that heroine Val runs a café in a fitness club, and her grandfather is trying to create a career as an investigator (a “problem solver”). One afternoon, shopping with her (fat) friend, Val sees a man collapse in a parking lot, and he looks just like how her grandfather looked that morning, after a rather drastic makeover. (I specify that her friend is fat, because it was strongly stressed in the telling. Did I say I only had that one thing to complain about in the writing? My mistake.) It turns out that there is some deception going on, with Grandpa and, apparently, at least one other man impersonating a local big-time author called Rick Usher, who, unsurprisingly given his name, has a Poe fixation that probably could have used a good dose of some counter-obsessional medication. The other man, of course, is that fellow who collapsed – and, in fact, died. Was he murdered? Of course he was. The police don’t think so, but Val is certain, and before you can say “cozy mystery” she’s going undercover-like into Usher’s house to see what she can find out. The fact that under the circumstances it seems extremely unlikely that the people who make up the Usher ménage would even consider bringing in an outsider, no matter how tired they were of frozen dinners.

I probably shouldn’t get as hung up as I do about things like the fact that this café Val runs inside a gym is supposed to offer logically healthy breakfasts and snacks and whatnot. And smoothies do get a mention – but, seriously, so do brownies, pecan muffins, cheddar cheese cookies, bread puddings, and a whole bunch of other baked goods that would instantaneously undo any good people might get out of their exercise. There are recipes at the back of the book, of course; I can’t say I was overwhelmed with a desire to make any of them. I don’t know; I was never convinced by Val as a professional cook, and it was never entirely believable that she did the cooking for the café.

Or like the weird whiffs of misogyny that came up here and there: “Val would have run or yelled for help instead of swinging back, as most women would.” Really? The other one I made a note of is Granddad’s expressed opinion, but it was still like cookie crumbs in the bed: annoying.

Or like the annoying repetitions of annoying things like “she dashed” (Val dashes about quite a bit) or “gobbled” (which might have only been used twice, but in my opinion that’s two times too many) or Val pretending to tip a pretend hat in a peculiar little salute to her grandfather. I mean – try it. Go stand in front of a mirror and pretend to tip a hat which you’re not actually wearing. Does it look like you’re tipping a hat? Or does it just look like you’re having a small seizure? Val does that at least twice, too.

The story was … fine; the rest of the writing I’m not complaining about was … fine… I sighed over the extreme focus on Poe (a young man named Raven? Really? Help), but such is the way of the cozy. I only rather hope the rest of the books don’t have Themes like this. The B-plot of Val trying to save her café in the face of the fitness club manager’s plans to replace it with a clothing shop was not bad; I liked how she handled the opportunity to blackmail the manager. And I liked how the situation was resolved. The woman Val hires to help her is a refreshing change from the usual sort of character, with an interesting back story. I’m not sorry I read it; it entertained me while I was reading it (in between grumbles). I won’t cross the street to avoid more in the series, but I also won’t go out of my way to obtain them.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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