A Cookie Before Dying
Virginia Lowell

ISBN-13: 978-0425245019
Publisher: Penguin Group
Line: Berkley
Release Date: Dec 6, 2011
Pages: 304
Retail Price: 7.99

Genre: Mystery

Olivia Greyson is the proud owner of The Gingerbread House—a quaint shop that specialized in all things cookie—and her best friend, Maddie, is her sidekick, baking up scrumptious treats for their cookie-themed parties. But there's no sugarcoating a fellow shop owner's terrible temper...

One morning Livie's lawn is covered with what looks like a penerous sprinkling of confectioners' sugar, but in fact are balled-up flyers reading SUGAR KILLS. She assumes they were distributed by Charlene Critch, the uptight owner owner of The Vegetable Plate. When Livie heads to Charlene's store, she finds the place trashed and catches sight of a man running out the back door.

Charlene refuses to believe Livie's story about the intruder, and the feud between the two escalates when Maddie celebrates the harvest with cookies shaped like fruits and vegetables, setting Charlene off again. Could Charlene be hiding a secret serious enough to kill for? Responding to a dog howling on a stormy night, Livie and her Yorkie, Spunky, discover the body of a man who was stabbed to death—and looks suspiciously like the one who fled Charlene's store. Perhaps sugar is not all that kills...

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For fans of:  Joanne Fluke, Jessica Beck

When Gingerbread House proprietress Olivia Greyson wakes one morning to find the front lawn littered with leaflets proclaiming “SUGAR KILLS,” she’s certain ornery health nut and Vegetable Plate owner Charlene Critch is to blame.  When Olivia goes to Charlene’s store to confront her, however, she discovers that Charlene has yet to arrive – and that an intruder is in the process of ransacking the place.  Olivia calls the police, but the perpetrator flees the scene before she can do anything but get a look at the back of his retreating figure.

Charlene has an odd reaction to the break-in, and Olivia’s convinced she’s hiding something – but why would Charlene keep information from the police if it could lead to the capture of a criminal?  Then Charlene turns up with a black eye, and a man is found dead in the park – a man who bears a striking resemblance to the person Olivia saw running away from The Vegetable Plate.  Olivia’s thinks Charlene may have something to do with the murder, but then Olivia’s brother, Jason – who just happens to be dating Charlene – confesses to the crime.  Olivia knows her brother’s innocent, but the police don’t seem inclined to look for any other suspects.  Can Olivia force the truth out of Charlene and ID the real killer before Jason is sent up the river for a crime he didn’t commit?

A Cookie Before Dying is the third in Virginia Lowell’s Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery Series, and to be honest, my feelings about it are kind of mixed.  The mystery is nicely structured and fairly clever, but at nearly 300 pages, A Cookie Before Dying feels about a third too long.  The plot’s overly complicated, causing the pace to lag.  There’s little to no action at the outset, and the dead body doesn’t even make an appearance until around page 100.  And the story as a whole relies on a few too many coincidences for it to be entirely plausible.

Also – and I realize this is a minor complaint, but – for a book ostensibly about cookies, Lowell doesn’t show that most cherished of baked goods a whole lotta love.  Cookie-cutters, sure.  And she talks a lot about cookie decorating.  But one of the great things about culinary mysteries is the way a good one can make your mouth water when you read it, and A Cookie Before Dying doesn’t do that.  Olivia spends half the book wooing people with her cookies.  I want to know what those cookies taste like; I want to understand what it is about them that turns people to putty in Olivia’s hands.  Don’t just tell me about their color and shape – I need more. Otherwise, why make it the theme for your entire series?

All of that said, there’s a decent amount like about this book.  Olivia makes for an affable enough heroine, and her flaky mom and loyal sidekick Maddie lend humor and heart to the tale.  Former high school rival Constance makes a great addition to the cast, as well, and I hope readers will get to see more of her in the future.  But the characters here don’t shine nearly so brightly as do their relationships.  The way Lowell’s characters interact is really quite marvelous, and her romances, in particular, are realistic, well-drawn, and wonderfully nuanced.  Olivia and her boyfriend Del, Maddie and her boyfriend Lucas – even Charlene and Jason:  it’s their relationships that help anchor Lowell’s story and give it dimension, and they are ultimately the book’s strongest selling point. 

Reviewed by Kat