Wined and Died in New Orleans
Vintage Cookbook Mystery #2
By Ellen Byron
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
The second in a fantastic new cozy mystery series with a vintage flair from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Ellen Byron.
It’s hurricane season in New Orleans and vintage cookbook fan Ricki James-Diaz is trying to shelve her weather-related fears and focus on her business, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbook and Kitchenware Shop, housed in the magnificent Bon Vee Culinary House Museum.
Repairs on the property unearth crates of very old, very valuable French wine, buried by the home’s builder, Jean-Louis Charbonnet. Ricki, who’s been struggling to attract more customers to Miss Vee’s, is thrilled when her post about the discovery of this long-buried treasure goes viral. She’s less thrilled when the post brings distant Charbonnet family members out of the woodwork, all clamoring for a cut of the wine’s sale.
When a dead body turns up in Bon Vee’s cheery fall decorations, the NOPD zeroes in on Eugenia Charbonnet Felice as the prime suspect, figuring that as head of the Charbonnet family, she has the most to gain. Ricki is determined to uncover the real culprit, but she can’t help noticing that Eugenia is acting strangely. Ricki wonders what kind of secret her mentor has bottled up, and fears what might happen if she uncorks it.
In the second Vintage Cookbook Mystery, Ricki has to help solve a murder, untangle family secrets, and grow her business, all while living under the threat of a hurricane that could wipe out everything from her home to Bon Vee. (From Goodreads)
This was a fast-paced, fun, and intriguing mystery! My lack of culinary know-how didn’t matter a bit; it is a delightful “foodie” and vintage recipe focused series. I enjoyed many of the characters; they were described with excellent word pictures and conversations. Reading about hurricane “season” was eye-opening as far as the length of the season.
Ricki was born in New Orleans and abandoned by her teen mother in the hospital. Her adoptive mother, Josepha, was a NICU nurse who had helped care for her. When Josepha married Luis, a man in the film industry, he adopted Ricki and they moved to California where she grew up. She has only been back in New Orleans for a few weeks and has made several friends. Her proposal to open her dream vintage cookbook and kitchen gadgets shop had been accepted at Bon Vee.
Vee Charbonnet had owned Bon Vee for many years and was a legendary restauranteur in New Orleans. Having had no children, she left the property to her beloved niece, Eugenia Charbonnet Felice. Eugenia, who is also Ricki’s mentor, turned the gorgeous old home into a house museum dedicated to culinary arts. Her cousins, Ralph and Hugo, own the historic Charbonnet’s restaurant, and her nephew, Theo, is the director of community relations of Bon Vee.
Eugenia’s granddaughter Olivia, a phone and social media obsessed college student, is an unpaid intern at Bon Vee for the semester. Eugenia asked Lyla, Ricki’s boss, and Ricki, to take Olivia under their wings in their respective areas and oversee her internship. Olivia would rather be anywhere except the museum and shops. Ricki needs to become social media savvy to increase sales for her walk-in and online shop. While Olivia learned about the shops, she showed Ricki how to make attention-getting posts.
A staff member found ten long-hidden cases of an 1853 Madeira wine that was still sealed with the original wax! Badly in need of cash for the house museum and Charbonnet’s Restaurant, a master sommelier/ auctioneer was found who knew he could easily start bids at $1,000 per bottle. Ricki used her new skills to post the find with news of the upcoming auction. The first Charbonnet cousin, Jean-Louis, came from France after seeing her post. He was the descendant of the man who had hidden it over 170 years ago, returned to France, and never returned. Jean-Louis came to get his share of the proceeds.
Two more cousins arrived, both of whom had questionable pasts. Within days, Jean-Louis is found dead after filing a lawsuit against Eugenia to get his portion of the wine and the entire property. Ricki has already helped solve a murder and hopes to help find another before her mentor is taken away in handcuffs. Then a major clue is found that may seal Eugenia’s fate.
I felt I knew Ricki and several of her co-workers within a short time. I was introduced to and quickly invited to join the gang for anything from lunch, to preparing for the auction, then a road trip to some of the worst dive bars in Florida. Ricki is one of the most “normal” people, along with Eugenia and Virgil. I liked them and Zellah and grew to really like Olivia. Iris, continually popping out of bushes, was quite the card, and the cousins who arrived for anything they could get – it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they went to prison, but not killed.
Plot twists escalated the pace of the story even as Ricki continued to seek clues. The laugh-out-loud humor calmed more than one tense scene, and friendships among Ricki and the Bon Vee crew were wonderful to see. Doors of understanding were opened about how justice is different for different people. It was enlightening to see how many businesses are currently operating on a shoestring, especially from the pandemic and past hurricanes. It was heartwarming to see the staff working together to find the real killer, and how family is more than those we are related to by blood. I was somewhat surprised at the real killer, very pleased with the ending, and I highly recommend it!