Toasting Up Trouble
Linda Wiken     

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Series: Dinner Club Mystery
Book: 1

A delicious new cozy mystery series featuring the Culinary Capers Dinner Club—who are fearless when it comes to cooking up new dishes and putting the lid on crime...

Event planner Jennifer “J.J.” Tanner has a full plate, but that’s the way she likes it. First, it’s her turn to choose the recipe for the next meeting of the Culinary Capers Dinner Club, a gathering of foodie friends who experiment with entrées for their creative and gastronomical pleasure. Second, she’s organizing an Italian princess party for the twenty-one-year-old daughter of a high-tech millionaire.
But one thing J.J. didn’t plan on is that the caterer for the event—hotshot chef Antonio Marcotti—would end up murdered the night of the party. Or that she’d end up being a prime suspect after having had a heated argument with the unscrupulous chef. Now it’s up to J.J.—with help from her fellow Club members and a handsome if mysterious private eye—to turn the tables on the real killer...

J.J. Tanner enjoys working as an event planner at her friend Skye Drake’s business called, “Make it Happen.” J.J. is also happy to be a member of the “Culinary Capers Dinner Club”, although she is a little nervous this month since it’s her turn to choose the recipe and prepare the entrée for the club. She also has an upcoming event with an important client. She has hired Chef Antonio Marcotti to cater the party, a decision she soon regrets. Chef Marcotti is temperamental, overpriced, and hard to deal with, but J.J. has confidence things will turn out okay - until the chef is murdered the night of the party and she winds up the number one suspect. J.J. enlists her friends from the supper club, as well as an attractive private detective, to find the real murderer and clear her name.

Author Linda Wiken also writes the writes the Ashton Corners Book Club mysteries under the name Erika Chase, but this is the first book in the new Dinner Club Mystery Series. I adore the book club series, but didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much. I love the premise of an event planning business and the scenes in which J.J. is meeting with her clients and planning the perfect party for them are definite highlights of the book. Having J.J. also participate in a dinner club gives her a large circle of friends and fellow investigators when a murderer strikes and a unique bonus to the book since a real cookbook is referenced and discussed in the club meeting. I think this is a clever and fun thing to do and makes the book unique.

Unfortunately, it takes quite a while to figure out who all the characters are and the pace of investigation is slow. Although I liked J.J. and Skye from the beginning, I didn’t easily connect with their friends since I was still trying to keep the various characters straight. I couldn’t figure out if Connor was J.J.’s friend or boyfriend, but we do finally learn they are casually dating, but J.J. doesn’t feel a spark. The investigation would be so much better if the story unfolded at a quicker pace. Eventually, the story does get better, but it wasn’t a book that I couldn’t wait to get back to when I had to put it aside. The dialogue sometimes felt awkward and choppy, which also kept me from getting into the story as much as I would have.

The premise and the likeable main characters give this series potential, so I would give the next book a try, with hopes for more natural dialogue and a faster-paced mystery to support the well-written event planning and the supper club scenes.

~ Christine