If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance
Publisher: Penguin Group
Release Date: Oct 2, 2012
Retail Price: 7.99
At Gram’s Country Cooking School in Broken Rope, Missouri, Isabelle “Betts” Winston and her grandmother share the secrets of delicious home-style recipes. But there’s one secret they keep from their classes—their ability to talk to ghosts from the town’s colorful past…
Betts and Gram agree to help their friend Jake at Broken Rope’s Historical Society by accommodating some foodie tourists for the night and occupying them with cooking lessons. It couldn’t be worse timing when the pair encounter the ax-wielding ghost of Sally Swarthmore, one of Broken Rope’s legendary murderers, who pleads with Betts to help find her diary--a diary that could prove that Sally was really a victim, not a villain.
But they soon have a modern-day murder on their hands when one of the tourists turns up dead with a noose around his neck and two other tourists are nowhere to be found. Now Betts needs to put the cooking classes on the back burner to untangle two knotty mysteries and rope in a cold-blooded killer.
Isabelle “Betts” Winston and her grandmother run a cooking school in the tiny town of Broken Rope, Missouri. Or, at least, they do when they’re not busy being pestered by the town’s ghosts. You see, Broken Rope has a troubled past, and as such, it has no shortage of restless spirits. And since Gram and Betts are apparently the only two folks around who can see and communicate with said spirits, they’re always being tapped to help solve old mysteries and right old wrongs.
This time around, the specter in question is Sally Swarthmore, Broken Rope’s most notorious ax murderess. Sally’s memories of her life are a tad hazy, but she’s pretty sure she’s innocent of the crime for which she did her time. What’s more, she thinks she left behind proof of her innocence – she just doesn’t know what that proof is, or where she might have left it. Betts isn’t all that eager to embark on a wild goose chase – especially since she’s also managed to get herself mixed up in a present-day mystery involving the kidnapping of two tourists and the murder of another – but Sally refuses to take no for an answer. If Betts divides her attentions, can she conquer both mysteries, or is she simply setting herself up for double the failure?
If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance is the second installment in Paige Shelton’s Country Cooking School Mystery series, and honestly, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I love the parts of the tale that relate to the Lizzie-Borden-esque Sally and the mystery surrounding her past. Sally is hands-down the most compelling character in the entire book; the more you get to know her, the more you like her, and the more invested you become in her story. The fact that she, herself, can’t remember whether she actually killed her parents is awesomely tragic, and you find yourself desperately rooting for Betts to uncover evidence that will exonerate the poor girl. The resolution of this storyline is a little predictable, but is no less compelling for it, and if the focus of the book had been entirely on Sally and her quest for the truth, I likely would have rated this book at least a 4, if not a 4.5.
Unfortunately, however, If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance has a second storyline – one that takes place in the present day – and that storyline is so preposterous, it threatens to sink the entire book. The setup – that a busload of retired foodies finds themselves without hotel accommodations, and therefore decides to participate in an all-night cooking class at Gram’s school – is ridiculously convoluted. None of the characters featured in this part of the tale is developed past the cardboard cutout stage, and as a result you find yourself not really caring whether any of them lives, dies, or is ever heard from again. And the mystery involving this part of the cast is not only poorly constructed, but thanks to a total lack of clues and viable suspects, it’s utterly impossible for the reader to solve on his or her own.
As for the series’ core cast members, Betts is a likable enough character, but her I didn’t finish law school, so I’m not a lawyer, but I’m so totally LIKE a lawyer! shtick is insufferable. Betts’ best friend Jake is ineffectual and annoying. And while I find Gram amusing, she plays far too minor a role in this particular story.
I’m not saying you should skip this book; Sally’s tale alone is worth the price of admission. But if you do buy yourself a copy of If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance, be prepared for a bumpy and uneven ride.
Reviewed by Kat