The Calamity Cafe
Down South Cafe Mystery, Book #1
By Gayle Leeson
Author’s website: www.gayleleeson.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
First in a new cozy mystery series featuring Southern cooking that is to die for.
Aspiring chef and small-town Virginia native Amy Flowers is ready to open her own café offering old-fashioned Southern food. But her dream may go up in smoke when someone kills the competition…
Tired of waiting tables at Lou’s Joint, Amy Flowers doesn’t just quit—she offers to buy the place from her bully of a boss, so she can finally open the café of her dreams. Amy can’t wait to serve the kind of Southern, down-home treats and dishes that her grandmother always loved to the kooky cast of regulars at the restaurant. She knows her comfort food will be the talk of the sweet, small town of Winter Garden, Virginia.
At first Lou Lou refuses to sell, but when she seems ready to make a deal, she tells Amy to come see her. Showing up at the eatery ready to negotiate, Amy is shocked to find her former employer murdered. As the prime suspect, Amy will have to clear her name by serving up the real killer—and with Lou Lou’s stack of enemies, that’s a tall order.
This is an absolutely great first offering in the new Down South Cafe Mystery series! Gayle Leeson has hit a home run with The Calamity Cafe. Amy, an aspiring chef and cafe owner moved back to her hometown about a year ago so she could be near her grandmother in her final days. She worked as a waitress with her cousin Jackie at Lou’s Joint, an established cafe now managed by Lou Lou, granddaughter of the original owner, Lou. Lou Lou and her son Pete did all the cooking, and the grumpy owner refused to let Amy try her hand at cooking or adding a few healthier foods to the menu.
When Amy decided to move on and pursue her dream, she turned in her notice, then offered to purchase Lou’s Joint – it would be more cost efficient to purchase a building already outfitted than to start fresh and purchase land and build to order. The older woman was not ready to sell Lou’s, so Amy was going to have to begin the time-consuming task of looking for a decent piece of land that would be the perfect place to purchase and build the Down South Cafe. Before the day was over with, however, Lou Lou’s son Pete called Amy after he and his mother had talked the situation over, and wanted Amy to meet the two of them and their attorney to meet with her after the restaurant closed. When Amy arrived, the front door was unlocked, and she found her boss dead in her office. Who was on the fast track to the top of the suspect list? Amy. While there could be any number of people who had been upset with Lou Lou, Amy was the one who had an appointment to meet her (even though Pete, who set up the meeting, wasn’t there) and Amy was the one who found her.
The author has given us an eclectic cast of characters, from the very likable to the very … less likable. Amy is the best-defined character, a hard-working young woman who knows what she wants and is diligent in her pursuit of it. Most people are attracted to her as a positive, loyal friend. At times, she tends to leap before she looks, especially when trying to find the right suspect. Some of her impulsive choices left me shaking my head while her thought-out plans for the restaurant were amazing.
We learn just enough about Jackie, BFF Sarah, and family members to meet their current roles primarily through their actions and dialogue. Lou Lou’s son Pete, his lady friend, and various potential suspects were also revealed only as – and when – necessary. Along with Amy, Jackie and Sarah, I think I liked the everyday sausage biscuit customer Homer. He brought a depth to the customers beyond being ‘the person at counter seat’. What gave him that added depth was how Amy learned so much more of his personality by asking one simple question each day.
The plot was very well carried through, with intriguing twists and a red herring or two. Being someone who has to check out every option before making a choice, I did follow each potential suspect until exhausted and settled on the right one barely a step or two ahead of Amy. The bad guy / gal was not obvious, and the search went from suspenseful to an edge-of-the-seat nail biter in a very good way. And if having a murderer on the loose and a unique find during the remodeling weren’t enough, being challenged by the community resource during the buildout then learning about some of the dirty laundry in Lou Lou’s family tree added layer upon layer. The restaurant plans and menus sounded like the kind of place where I would enjoy eating and meeting the community. If I were still working as a wait staff person, it would be ideal with Amy at the helm. The potential for more than one romance added a layer of sweet mystery. This is a novel that grabs one at the very beginning and doesn’t let it go until long after turning the last page. Foodies will enjoy the recipes. I highly recommend The Calamity Cafe to everyone who enjoys cafe or restaurant cozy mysteries that are well-written and a challenge to solve. This series is sure to be a hit!
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*