Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: A Taste of Murder by Virginia Smith

Dear Ms. Smith,

This is the first Love Inspired Suspense book I’ve tried. Frankly, I wasn’t certain how a Christian themed book crossed with deadly suspense was going to work. What I found is that it worked surprisingly well and is an area I’ll check monthly when the new Harlequin books are released.

The book is filled with large and small details and descriptions that give a great feel for the setting, namely a small town overtaken by a large yearly festival and a wedding. I knew the Southeast is known for pork barbecue and the Midwest for beef barbecue but honestly I had no idea Kentucky is known for mutton barbecue. I loved the telling touches like the thin towels at the aging hotel, the mud on the rear wheel well of Derrick’s truck and the fact that just about everybody has some trash on the floorboards of their vehicles.

What was Jazzy thinking to get herself roped into judging a kiddy beauty pageant? She must not have ever watched “Little Miss Sunshine.” I have to agree that makeup and high heels on young girls is ridiculous. Brava to Heidi for finally voicing her desires and sticking to her guns. Liz and I are of one mind since I also like children singly and preferably sleeping! Some of these girls need to do a better job with their answers during the question part of the competition.

"And another reason I want to be a doctor is because I think it would be good to go to places where the people are poor, like France. I’d like to go to France." The beribboned girl on the stage dimpled first at the three judges and then at the audience. Her smile wilted, and she stammered, "Uh, I mean like Africa. Or, or, uh, Kansas City."

Fighting hard to school her smile, Jazzy glanced into the audience in time to see a stern-faced woman in the second row give a slight nod of approval. The girl’s dimples returned, and she executed a Shirley Temple curtsy before parading back down the runway to the rear of the stage.

I think the people of France and Kansas City would be surprised to learn that they’re poor and in need of dire assistance!

I laughed out loud at the description of Kentucky burgoo.

Liz wrinkled her nose as she, too, pushed into the room. "What is burgoo?"

Jazzy grinned at her. "Your Oregon roots are showing. Every good Kentuckian knows what burgoo is."

"It’s sort of a stew," Caitlin explained. "It’s made with several different kinds of meat and vegetables and spices. People in Kentucky, especially in mountains and small towns like Waynesboro, are as proud of their secret burgoo recipes as Texans are of their chili recipes."

"I like chili." Liz tossed her suitcase on a bed. "What kind of meat’s in burgoo?"

Jazzy followed them inside, past the closed bathroom door. "Well, here’s what an old guy from eastern Kentucky told me when I asked that question." She affected a hillbilly drawl. "Hit’s got whatever roadkill we pick up ’at day. Coon. Squirrel. Possum burgoo makes good eatin’, long as it ain’t bin layin’ there more’n a day or two."

Liz’s mouth twisted. "That is disgusting."

Jazzy laughed and bumped Liz with her violin case. "I’m kidding, girl. Don’t be so gullible. It’s made from lamb, chicken and pork."

The book is a vindication for all the dog lovers out there. Old Sue proves her worth and maybe, one day, Jazzy won’t flinch when Sue licks her hand. I adore the classical pieces that the Jazzy’s trio played for the wedding, especially from Handel’s “Water Music Suite.” This is one of the first classical pieces I fell in love with. Derrick’s Aunt Myrtle has that right even if her relatives run in fear of her cane.

When it comes to the murder investigation, poor Sheriff Maguire gets a bad rep but he’s a competent man doing the best he can under difficult circumstances. He shows his professionalism by keeping his cool when the worst is happening and working the problem instead of making it worse. And he’d also rather keep his investigation local rather than calling in the State boys.

Jazzy and her friends aren’t cops or investigators so the story worked for me in that they don’t try to turn into pros and solve the case. Derrick would just as soon leave everything to the police and simply enjoy the festival, Jazzy’s company and the fact that he isn’t trapped in his mother’s house smelling nail polish and hair spray as his sister and her bridesmaids get ready for the ceremony. As many of their guesses are wrong as right and in the end, it’s common sense that saves the day. You tell us Jazzy is smart and we see that as she uses the technology at hand and her intelligence to contact help and point them in the right direction. We also know that she isn’t the type to collapse under stress which helps her in the end.

Jazzy is independent and doesn’t listen as much as she should to the voices of authority but at least she’s consistent in this and it is part of the character background you’ve given her instead of just being stubborn because the plot demands she do certain things. Derrick is protective but it’s because it’s been bred into him by his father and honed by taking care of his widowed mother and younger sister. He’s a great alpha hero in that he takes care of those weaker than himself, watches out for others, honors his commitments and has a subtle sense of humor such as when he tells Jazzy that his sister wants a memorable wedding but not because the accompanists hurl due to stage fright. She does do things that get her in trouble but she feels she has a legitimate reason, is in no danger because she is surrounded by tons of people or is close enough to call for help if needed. She doesn’t just wander out into a dark area, alone, knowing a murderer is waiting for her because she wants a breath of fresh air.

The narrative isn’t too “in your face” about characters’ Christian beliefs and since no one needed to be “saved,” I didn’t feel that I was being preached at. Just that characters were expressing their beliefs and living their lives in a quietly Christian way. This is not so much a whodunnit as an “it was done” like the film “Gosford Park.” I had no idea who the killer was and most of the clues were red herrings. In fact, I can’t recall anything that specifically pointed my attention in the direction of the killer but I didn’t care as I was enjoying the rest of the story. There’s no POV from the killer. In fact, I don’t think there are PsOV from anyone but Jazzy and Derrick.

As I said, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I had my doubts but ended up enjoying it a lot. Sharply drawn characters and setting lead to a story rich in detail and sense of place. It’s not preachy so I think that a wide variety of readers would like it. People who want more emphasis on solving the mystery might best look elsewhere but for me the book gets a strong B grade.

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Harlequin or ebook format.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

15 Comments

  1. Anne Douglas
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 15:57:24

    Mutton BBQ? I sense a trip to Kentucky in my future. Coming from NZ where lamb is a staple it becomes a bit of a craving when in the US :). Mutton it might be, but I’d be up for that :)

  2. DS
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 17:46:08

    I went to check out her web site and I’m thinking about buying one of her other books- Murder by Mushroom. It’s set in Versailles– that Ver-SALES, y’all, Kentucky, a place I’ve been through several times.

    (I love Kentucky place times, I almost never figured out that Katys was Cadiz.)

  3. Jayne
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 17:59:26

    Yep Anne, she said mutton bbq is the local favorite. Can’t say I’ve ever tried it myself…but then I can’t say I’ve ever had much lamb at all.

  4. Jayne
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 18:04:31

    OMG, Versailles! My family used to live in Lexington when I was a child and I remember the name – and the pronunciation – well.

  5. Elizabeth
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 18:11:04

    I had no idea Kentucky is known for mutton barbecue.

    Hell, that’s news to me too and I’ve lived in Kentucky for 22 years. Of course I also didn’t know what burgoo was until I came to college (though in all fairness it’s just as possible that I’d seen and had it before just never had it called burgoo) so maybe I grew up in the wrong part of Kentucky.

  6. Jayne
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 18:17:13

    The only place in KY I ever lived was Lexington and I don’t remember having burgoo. I’d certainly heard the term though. Is it more a regional thing? ::Off to google it.::

  7. Jayne
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 18:23:19

    http://www.kentuckyburgoo.com/ Wow, they even have a Burgoo Song. And it looks like we just missed this year’s Festival.

  8. C2
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 19:55:08

    If anyone decides to visit Kentucky to try mutton BBQ, plan to go to the western part of the state. That’s the only place you’ll find it. You can tie it in with visiting Mammoth Cave and the Corvette Museum. (Says the native of eastern Kentucky that has never even seen mutton barbecue.)

  9. LauraB
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 20:02:43

    On mutton bbq and Kentucky: http://bbq.about.com/cs/lamb/a/aa102000a.htm

    Apparently it’s a specialty of the Western side of the state. Down here in central Texas, mutton bbq is fairly easy to find, but it’s almost always from the shoulder or breast.

  10. Tae
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 20:14:00

    If you’re interested in romantic inspirational suspense, you should try Dee Henderson and her OMalley series. Start with Hiding in the Shadows. It won a RITA I think. She does get a little preachy about being Christian and every book has a convert (just warning you in case), but I think her writing is excellent and I can get over the preachyness of it.

  11. Virginia Smith
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 21:39:16

    Thanks for the TERRIFIC overview and review of my latest book, Jayne! That’s got to be one of the most thorough and in-depth reviews I’ve ever received. (Whew! I’m glad you liked it!)

    Okay, all y’all, Kentucky IS known for mutton barbeque — but only in certain regions. Owensboro is home to some of the best barbeque out there — mutton, chicken, and pork. If you’re ever in the area and it’s not festival time (which is Mother’s Day weekend every year), be sure to plan a meal at the Moonlight Inn. And yes, you really do need to try the burgoo.

    If you’ve only been to Lexington, you might have missed some Kentucky traditions like burgoo. I’m telling you, though, it’s really good. (As long as it isn’t made with real road kill.)

    Oh, and Murder by Mushroom is definitely set in Versailles. I was born and raised in Frankfort, just a few miles from Versailles, and I love that little town.

    Thanks for the lively discussion!

  12. SonomaLass
    Oct 28, 2008 @ 01:12:37

    Wow, Ver-sales bring back memories. Indiana has Milan (My-lan), Lima (Ly-ma) and, of course, Edinburgh (Ed-in-berg). But best of all was the street behind our first house in Indiana, “Champ Ulysses Drive” — named, I was assured, by a WWII veteran in honor of the Champs Élysées.

    It was sweet to live in an area where the great cities of Europe were honored, albeit without their original pronunciation.

    As for the book, it sounds like a sweet read, with the suspense plot to keep “sweet” from becoming “cloying.” Thanks, Jayne.

  13. Leah
    Oct 29, 2008 @ 16:12:16

    Wow, Ver-sales bring back memories. Indiana has Milan (My-lan), Lima (Ly-ma) and, of course, Edinburgh (Ed-in-berg). But best of all was the street behind our first house in Indiana, “Champ Ulysses Drive” -’ named, I was assured, by a WWII veteran in honor of the Champs Élysées.

    Don’t forget “Chili”–pronounced “Chai-lai.” I live in Indiana now, and when we first got married, we lived in Evansville and Newburgh. We could see Kentucky from our upstairs window. Of course, we made the trip to the Moonlight Barbeque, but I didn’t try burgoo. Sigh! I miss Evansville!

  14. ME2
    Oct 29, 2008 @ 21:28:06

    As someone born, rasied and still residing in the Mid-west, it is news to me that we are “known for” beef bbq. Have never had it, been offered it nor have I ever seen on at any restaurant menu. BBQ joint or not. Weird.

  15. Grace Willington
    Mar 05, 2009 @ 14:00:48

    This brings back many memories! Did I say it was making me hungry too!

%d bloggers like this: