Bran New Death


Expert muffin baker Merry Wynter is finally ready to turn her passion into a career. But when a dead body is found on her property, she’s more worried about cooking up an alibi…

Merry is making a fresh start in small-town Autumn Vale, New York, in the mansion she’s inherited from her late uncle, Melvin. The house is run-down and someone has been digging giant holes on the grounds, but with its restaurant-quality kitchen, the place has potential for her new baking business. She even has her first client—the local retirement home.

Unfortunately, Merry soon finds that quite a few townsfolk didn’t like Uncle Mel, and she has inherited their enmity as well as his home. Local baker Binny Turner and her crazy brother, Tom, blame Melvin for their father’s death, and Tom may be the one vandalizing her land. But when Tom turns up dead in one of the holes in her yard, Merry needs to prove she had nothing to do with his death—or her new muffin-making career may crumble before it starts...


Includes delicious recipes!

Series: A Merry Muffin Mystery (Book 1)


Having been driven out of the fashion industry by her lying former employer, Merry Wynter has no choice but to retreat upstate to the tiny village of Autumn Vale and the castle she recently inherited from her eccentric uncle Melvyn.  It’s Merry’s intent to make enough improvements to the property that she can sell it and use the proceeds to move back to NYC and start anew, but first, she must figure out who’s been digging giant holes all over the grounds and put a stop to the activity. 

After a few days in town, Merry identifies the culprit as Tom Turner, a local whose father used to be Melvyn’s business partner, and makes a very public demand that that he cease and desist his excavation – or else. She’s satisfied the problem’s been dealt with, but then a few nights later, Merry’s awakened by the sound of heavy machinery. She storms outside to confront Tom – only to find him dead at the bottom of a freshly dug pit. Merry, of course, is innocent of Tom’s murder, but thanks to their recent altercation and the location of the body, the police aren’t so sure. Who really killed Tom, and why? What was Tom searching for on her property? And does any of this have anything to do with her uncle’s demise? Merry must solve these mysteries and quickly, or the only way she’ll be leaving Autumn Vale is in a prison jumpsuit or a body bag…

Bran New Death is the first installment in Victoria Hamilton’s new Merry Muffin Mystery series, and my feelings with regard to it are decidedly mixed. There’s a lot to like about this book. The story has no small measure of heart. Wynter Castle and Autumn Vale are charming set pieces, and Hamilton does a wonderful job bringing them to life on the page. I really like a number of Hamilton’s cast members; Merry’s eccentric best friend Shilo brings a breath of fresh air to every scene in which she appears, and high school student Lizzie is nuanced, likable, and authentically realized – rare for a teenaged character in a traditional mystery.

That said, Bran New Death isn’t without its flaws. While the narrative voice is engaging overall, it occasionally strays into melodrama, which throws you out of the flow of the story. The setup is so convoluted as to be absurd. (A muffin-making 39-year-old widow who’s also a retired plus-sized model squanders the payout from her husband’s life insurance, gets a job as a stylist, gets fired for a theft she didn’t commit, and then inherits a castle in Upstate New York? Seriously?) Half the characters have names more appropriate to a Wodehouse-ian manor home than a poverty-stricken town in Upstate New York (Binny, Gogi, Pish, and the list goes on). Hamilton doesn’t really earn any of her character’s relationships. There’s at least one factual mistake that her copyeditor should be mortified to have missed. (I’m fairly certain the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t monitor bank deposits.) And while the bones of the mystery are solid, the conclusion is so far-fetched it retroactively makes the whole thing seem far less impressive.

Hamilton uses the end of her tale to set the stage for the next in the series, and I’m intrigued enough by where she leaves things that I’ll likely read book two; I just hope the next Merry Muffin Mystery contains fewer lumps.

Reviewed by Kat