“One Taste Too Many: A Sarah Blair Mystery”
Author: Debra H. Goldstein
Publisher: Kensington Books
Price: $7.99 (Paper)
Debra Goldstein, an administrative law judge in Birmingham can, at this point, also be considered a veteran mystery writer.
Goldstein attended The University of Michigan and set her 2011 debut novel, “Maze in Blue” on that campus. “Maze in Blue” was a relatively hard-edged murder mystery. Since that time, she has published “Should Have Played Poker” in the Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players mystery series.
“One Taste Too Many” is the first of the Sarah Blair series. Newly launched and cozier than “Maze” or “Poker,” it reminds one strongly of the novels of Anne George, beloved Birmingham writer who died much too soon. Anne George wrote what were called the Southern Sisters novels. Patricia Anne was sensible and happily married, and her sister, Mary Alice, was much married, loud, flamboyant and gregarious. Together they solved mysteries, mainly around Birmingham but all over Alabama, even at Gulf Shores.
Goldstein has created not just a pair of sisters, but twins.
Sarah Blair and Emily were born ten minutes apart. Sarah is senior, taller and heavier than Emily, but we are told they both “inherited their mother’s size six triple A foot.”
Bits like that make it clear the intended reader is female. Men have no idea about shoe sizes.
Sarah married, we might say recklessly, at 18 and now at about thirty has gone through an unpleasant divorce from Bill Blair. Sarah lives in a tiny apartment and works as a secretary for Harlan, an attorney.
Harlan is described as diminutive, and Sarah wonders if, seated, his feet would touch the floor. Harlan even has neat but “miniature” handwriting.
Emily is a cook, a good one, promoted to sous chef during the novel. Emily works for Chef Marcus, a culinary rising star. Chef Marcus is described in different places as a “mountain” and “massive,” and wears balloon pants.
Sarah is not clear what the relationship between Emily and Marcus is. They had worked together in San Francisco and have returned together to Alabama where Marcus is the head chef at Southwinds, a restaurant in Wheaton, Alabama.
Wheaton figures large in this novel. It is a small, pleasant community some 15 minutes from downtown Birmingham, which is a problem for Southwinds. People are reluctant to make the drive, however short.
But Wheaton is on the rise, with a lot to offer. Harlan argues: “With a little more development and marketing, we could easily entice folks from Birmingham and some of the other surrounding communities to make us their destination for a day of shopping or evening of entertainment.”
To this end, there is a big food expo at the civic center and there Sarah’s ex-husband Bill dies while eating a rhubarb crisp. Emily’s fingerprints are on the fork.
Later there is another killing with Emily’s fingerprints on the knife. This is a culinary mystery, after all.
It looks at first as if this is a feud among chefs, then a large, potentially lucrative real estate deal is uncovered and, of course, a cozy needs a cat. Bill’s mother, in her will, left her cat, RahRah, a half million dollars and it is unclear who gets the bequest, Bill’s latest girlfriend, unpleasant Jane, or Sarah, Bill’s ex, who is at present giving RahRah, a loving home.
The cat is a major character, a fussy eater, and spoiled rotten. The women cuddle him, talk with him, and you know they would, if they had to, kill for him.
It is almost impossible to resist punning on the title. Here it is: this cozy, complete with recipes and cat is not for everyone. You know your own taste. If this appeals, go for it. Enjoy. And, there are more to come.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.