Just as in real life, food plays an important role in the lives of fictional characters. Some novels describe food; some actually provide recipes. In LDS fiction circles, Josi Kilpack is probably the most acclaimed author to build an entire series of twelve books around food, including recipes, and finally produce a cookbook with all of the recipes she features in her Sadie Hoffmiller books. Like Kilpack, Marlene Bateman includes recipes in the back of her Crooked House. I’ve never quite figured out the connection between mysteries and cookbooks in the fiction world, but it’s a combination that seems popular with a lot of readers. I had just finished Crooked House and noted it’s recipe section when I began reading Kisses in the Rain by Krista Lynne Jensen. This book features a sous chef at a top seafood restaurant and a restaurant expediter. There are searches for new recipes, visits to other restaurants, mouth watering descriptions of fabulous foods, but no recipes.

Crooked House by Marlene Bateman

"Crooked House" by Marlene Bateman

“Crooked House” by Marlene Bateman

Erica Coleman is the most annoying heroine I’ve ever run across. Crooked House is the latest volume in Marlene Bateman’s series starring the young woman with an over-sized case of OCD. Other than her obsession with making sure everything around her is perfectly clean, tidy, and in perfect order, Erica is an interesting and likable character. The mystery is intriguing and I’ll admit I didn’t guess the identity of the murderer until five minutes before the author revealed it.

Erica Coleman, who has solved a number of murder mysteries, has a trip planned to visit her best friend, but just before departing she gets a call from her friend’s daughter begging for help. Erica changes her flight plans and travels to Dover, Delaware, to help Megan and her roommates, Beth and Liz, discover who is behind a series of life threatening “accidents” that have befallen Liz, the owner of the house. Erica learns Liz’s aunt and cousin stand to inherit the house should anything happen to Liz. Liz’s next door neighbor is a cranky man who doesn’t think she deserves to own an historic house she doesn’t care for properly. A strange handyman works on the yard and does maintenance projects, not for money, but because he has a crush on Liz. Megan is dating two young men, one of whom is a former boyfriend of Liz’s. There are plenty of suspects, but their presence in the story as innocent bystanders is perfectly plausible too.

The mystery heats up when Erica accompanies the girls to a party where Beth, wearing a sweater loaned to her by Liz, is shot. With the death of Beth, the police become involved, complicating at times Erica’s efforts to “untangle a web of love, money, and greed.”

The characters in this story are distinctive individuals. Perhaps Megan’s teasing of Erica for her obsessive OCD, goes a little too far, but I couldn’t help feeling in sympathy with the girl. Erica’s contact with her husband and children through telephone and skype added to a sense of real life, but was limited enough not to intrude on the story. Dialog is handled well. The setting in the historic district of a college town feels realistic. An old derelict house in need of a great deal of upkeep provides both an interesting backdrop for the story, but also serves as a possible factor in a motive for the attempts on Liz’s life. The romantic relationships of the girls is also handled well, enough to be realistic for college age girls without taking over the story. In the back of the book is a section of recipes.

Marlene Bateman has written several nonfiction books and Crooked House is her fourth novel and the third in her Erica Coleman mystery series. A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, she grew up in Sandy and graduated from the University of Utah. She and her husband currently live in North Salt.

Kisses in the Rain by Krista Lynne Jensen 

KitR image2Georgie Tate survived an abusive relationship and a horrible car crash that took the life of her former controlling fiancé. Needing to get away from her memories and regain her self-confidence, she goes to live with an aunt and uncle on a tiny island outside of Seattle. As she begins to heal, she applies for a job at a local restaurant and is hired as an expediter. Her first week is a nightmare as she learns her job and to work at a fast, confusing pace. Making matters worse the sous chef is cranky, dour, and intimidating.

Jace Lowe left home to return to the general area where he served his mission following a major disagreement with his father over his father’s insistence that Jace take over the family restaurant, using the precise and exact recipes and menu the restaurant has always used. Jace is a creative, culinary artist who likes to try new things and resents his father’s insistence on keeping everything the same. He also just learned the woman he’d fallen in love with had only been using him to regain her ex-boyfriend’s attention. Stunned by the announcement of their engagement, he takes out his frustration and hurt on the new girl hired at the seafood restaurant where he now works as the sous chef. When he realizes what he has done, he tries to make amends. Gradually as he accepts an assignment to create four new menu items for the restaurant their attempts at tolerance for each other blossoms into friendship and they share numerous adventures as they zip around the island on his motorcycle, often in the rain, to check out other restaurants, experiment with recipes, and visit the tulip festival.

Jensen has created one of the best character driven novels I’ve read in some time. As George and Jace struggle to overcome their personal doubts and insecurities, they learn to overcome obstacles and relate better to other people and to understand themselves. Their faith in God grows too.

The setting is vivid and real, the dialog realistic, and excellent use is made of the lush growth and steady rain of the northwest. Though this is a story of growth following abuse and humiliation with its attendant loss of self esteem and undeserved guilt, the plot is absorbing and includes a great deal of action. Sadly, no recipes are included.

Krista Lynne Jensen lived in the Pacific Northwest as a child and has explored much of Puget Sound.

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CROOKED HOUSE, AN ERICA COLEMAN MYSTERY by Marlene Bateman, published by Covenant Communications, 243 pages, soft cover $16.99 Available on CD and for E-readers.

KISSES IN THE RAIN by Krist Lynne Jensen, published by Covenant Communications, 284 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available for e-readers.