Title: Murder at the Town Hall (Mallory Beck Cozy Culinary Caper #3)
Author: Denise Jaden
Publication date: January 20, 2021
Genre: Cozy Mystery
One Sentence Summary: When a man falls to his death at a town hall meeting, Mallory isn’t sure it was an accident.
Murder at the Town Hall is the third book in the Mallory Beck Cozy Culinary Caper series. It features a fast-paced murder mystery and a cast of fun characters, including a cat that’s probably a better detective than all of them. I really liked that this book hinted at darker things under the surface of the town, but something felt off between Mallory and Amber, which was hopefully intentional, but somewhat distracting. Overall, though, the characters were perfectly consistent, the mystery quick yet offering a deeper look beneath the surface, and a town that isn’t quite as idyllic as it first appeared.
Almost a year ago, Mallory Beck’s husband tragically died, but, thanks to a teen girl and an attractive police officer, she’s started expanding her circle beyond herself and her cat. In this third installment of the Mallory Beck Cozy Culinary Caper series, Mallory is attending a town hall meeting alongside a teacher who once taught her regarding the possible closure of the local library. But murder has a way of following her.
When a man falls from the top of the town hall, Mallory isn’t so sure it was an accident or suicide. With her grumpy cat detective Hunch and her teen friend Amber, Mallory is intent on helping her cop friend, Alex, who was recently promoted to detective, shine in the eyes of his chief, who has it out for Alex. In the process, though, they uncover something far deeper going on in town.
I love the Mallory Beck books for so many reasons, and Murder at the Town Hall just keeps the mysteries going the way I love them. It’s fast-paced and a quick read, but it’s full of details further sharpening the small West Virginia town in my mind. It also has plenty of food, a cat who chooses to tolerate Mallory (he was her late husband’s cat), and a slowly developing romance.
I love books with food and cats, so this series is always a winner in my eyes. Mallory used to work in the food industry and is now teaching her young friend Amber to cook, so she never goes anywhere without a food offering and there’s plenty of other food scenes to make me hungry. I kind of wish there had been more food in this particular book, but it takes place over just two days, so it was fast and there wasn’t much time to cook. But there was plenty of Hunch. I adore Mallory’s cat. He’s practically a detective on his own, nosing around and finding unlikely clues. He was such a big part of solving this mystery and I really love how he’s developing his own human-like personality. The way he communicates with the humans around him is so much fun.
Despite the story being really fast and the murder solved in almost no time, it was surprisingly layered. It hints at deeper problems under the surface, painting Honeysuckle Grove with a darker light. It was actually great to see it as less than idyllic and I enjoyed being introduced to problems that lie deep in the fabric of the town. That said, while I enjoyed how quickly the story went, it did also feel a little unrealistically fast. Mallory and Amber really packed in a lot in one day, but I was disappointed Amber wasn’t putting the same time into her school studies. It felt irresponsible to me, but I’m also hoping something really positive comes out of it for Amber one day.
I think the only thing that really felt off about Murder at the Town Hall was the way Mallory and Amber interacted. It was noticeably different, though I still liked Amber’s take charge approach and her fast thinking. She’s quick on her feet and Mallory is just stuck racing to catch up. Sometimes Mallory felt little more than a chaperone, but she’s also an integral part of the series as something of a conduit between the professionals and the readers, explaining processes and theories without having to take the reader out to dumb it down. I just wish Mallory and Amber’s interactions had felt as friendly and warm as they did in the first two books, but I also think Jaden is hinting at something to come and I’m intrigued by what it will all mean for Mallory, Amber, and Alex.
There’s a very slowly blooming romance in this series. Mallory, understandably, isn’t ready to date. I really liked how Jaden handled her grief and her process. It’s present without being overwhelming and still leaves a door open for something between Mallory and Alex. Seriously, there’s a scene at the end between them that I absolutely swooned over!
Lastly, I wanted to mention the Christian aspect of this series. Mallory is part of a church and God is mentioned several times, but I never felt religion was pushed on the reader. Christianity is clearly a big part of the characters’ lives. But it’s handled very delicately and, as a non-religious individual, I found it never distracted or bothered me. It was just there. I really appreciated how it was presented.
Murder at the Town Hall was a fun cozy mystery that hints at something darker going on in Honeysuckle Grove. The characters were all just as I love them and the story fast-paced. There was something about Amber that bothered me throughout the whole book, but I’m hoping it was intentional. Overall, a great third book in the series that still manages to hit all the right notes.
How many cups of tea will you need?
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Thank you to Denise Jaden for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.