A Half-Baked Murder
Emily George’s debut novel A Half-Baked Murder has all the right stuff for a good cozy: a female main character who returns home after five years and a broken heart, a dead body, a falsely accused favorite aunt, a helpful buddy, a new romantic figure, and a background cop character.
Written in the first person, A Half-Baked Murder puts the reader right into Chloe Barnes’ head and emotions. Chloe. a professional chef who spent the past five years in Paris, has returned to Azalea Bay, CA, to be closer to her grandmother and aunt. The fact that her French fiancé and her chef reputation have both collapsed around her gives her added incentive to come home.
Aunt Dawn, the middle-aged hippie of the family, is helping Chloe to reestablish herself by using her cooking skills and setting up a café, complete with cannabis recipes designed to calm the clientele as well as help her grandmother with her cancer pain.
George sets the story up within the early chapters when Brendan Chalmers, a high school acquaintance and the town bully accosts her as she is looking at the possible café location. Unable to push past him as he detains her, Chloe is saved by Aunt Dawn, who forcefully pushes Brendan away.
The next day Brendan is found murdered in the local park—stabbed in the neck by a knife with the initials “DB” on the handle. This does not bode well for Dawn Barnes, Chloe’s aunt.
When it becomes apparent that Dawn is the primary suspect, it does not take Chloe long to come to her aunt’s aid in search for other suspects. After all, Brendan was the town bully and finding anyone who came even close to liking him would be a major challenge.
But Chloe takes on that challenge, and although the police remain undeterred and try, unsuccessfully, to take Chloe out of the investigation, other suspects begin to rise in numbers.
Matt Wilson and Ben Wong, Archie Schwartz and Erica Simms—all who have been bullied by Brendan appear on the suspects list. Erica especially has reason to hate Brendan since he got her fired from her job. Anthony, one of the staff at the local gym and Tate, a gym member, were both constantly bullied by Brendan.
And then there is Darius, Brendan’s neighbor, whose dog was poisoned by Brendan—certainly a motive there! And then Chloe runs into an acquaintance from her youth, Andrea Chalmers, who happens to be Brendan’s sister and another victim of Brendan’s poor behavior. Could she be a suspect in her own brother’s death? And she is engaged to Steve Boyd—would he defend his fiancé, putting him on Chloe’s list of growing suspects?
As Chloe continues to find suspects she believes are more plausible for the murder than Aunt Dawn, she continues to run into problems with Detective Alvarez, who is concerned about Chloe’s safety, not to mention her poking her nose in where it doesn’t belong.
And to remain in keeping with the typical cozy, George introduces Jake, a young man who lives next to Chloe’s Gramma Rose. He is attractive, polite, and caring, and a relationship soon begins to develop between Chloe and Jake. Well, that is until Jake blows it, and Chloe’s mind travels back to the failed romance in Paris. Could Jake be added to the list of suspects?
George does a good job building her story with only a few trips through extended backstory, but not enough to distract the reader.
The uncovering of the true suspect is well done, with the right amount of red herrings, foreshadowing, and solid clues to keep the reader interested and guessing.
The required climactic scene with the confrontation between Chloe and the true criminal is well written and will leave the reader nodding their head in satisfaction.
As seems to be the turn with many cozies, George has added several recipes at the end of the story—gifts for the reader to try. It should be noted that in keeping with the bakery theme, these recipes require an ingredient of cannabis, but if that ingredient can be obtained, the recipes should be worth a try.