Book Review: Murder at the Church Picnic by Denise Jaden

Murder at the Church Picnic by Denise JadenTitle: Murder at the Church Picnic (#2 in the Mallory Beck Cozy Culinary Caper series)
Author: Denise Jaden
Publisher: Self-published
Publication date: November 18, 2020
Genre: Cozy Mystery
One Sentence Summary: Mallory expected to have a fun time at the church picnic with her young friend Amber, but a wedding was scheduled at the park at the same time as the picnic, making for one very unhappy bride and the perfect opportunity for murder.

I adored the first book in this series, Murder at Mile Marker 18, so was thrilled when Denise Jaden immediately offered the second book for me to review. I love a good cozy, and, seriously, extra points for culinary cozies that also provide recipes. The first book was so much fun, the characters so great together, and the grumpy cat so cute that I couldn’t jump on this one fast enough. For as short as these mysteries seem to be (or maybe I just devour them so fast they seem short), there’s really a ton packed on, and, boy, do they deliver!

A Great Follow-Up to the First Book

Murder at the Church Picnic picks up right where Murder at Mile Marker 18 left off. At the end of the first book, Amber had invited Mallory to attend a church picnic with her, along with a casserole. Of course, Mallory is still mourning her husband’s death, so going out is a little nerve wracking for her, so it’s a good thing Amber has enough spunk for the both of them.

But things quickly get out of hand when it turns out a wedding was scheduled for the same time and place as the picnic. The pastor tries his best to soothe the angry bride, but she’s young, wealthy, and spoiled, so demands things go her way. Which also leaves open a huge opportunity for an angry someone to carry out a seemingly perfect murder with everyone watching.

As the faithful and loving widow of a popular mystery writer, Mallory can’t seem but get herself involved, especially since her teenage friend Amber, her cop (and childhood crush) friend Alex, and her late husband’s stubborn and hostile cat Hunch all seem ready to pull her in.

There’s nothing I didn’t love about this next installment in the series. Well, okay, I wish it had been longer and I wish Alex had been given more page time, but, other than that, the story, the mystery, was perfect. The thing about this series is that it seems to happen very quickly. Mallory unexpectedly finds herself falling into a crime and her cat makes her solve it (really, he does, and it’s so much fun to read about his exchanges with Mallory) and then the case spirals from there like a whirlpool. Absolutely no scene is superfluous and neither does the story seem to slow down and take a deep breath. A shallow breather is given now and then so Mallory, and the reader, can process everything with the cat and sometimes a human, and then it’s a headlong dive back into it. It makes this a very quick read, but also leaves me feeling quite satisfied that I got a full mystery with plenty of red herrings and just enough leads.

In this second installment of the series, Mallory is mostly on her own while Amber starts school and Alex is working hard on making detective. I liked how it incorporated the things she would know as the widow of a mystery writer to help her solve it and made her rely more on herself and her knowledge. The case was a lot of fun with a lot of threads tied around it tugging in so many different directions. Like with the first book, I never felt like I was a step ahead of Mallory and loved coming to realizations alongside her, which was probably due in part to the quick pace. Similar to the first book, it was relatively easy to figure out who did it, but there was just enough, if not a little more, danger to keep things interesting.

More Focused on Mallory

With Amber starting school and Alex busy trying to make detective, Mallory is mostly on her own, so it was nice to spend more time with her. Though she’s still grieving her husband’s death, she’s trying harder to get out more, mostly thanks to Amber, but also because she seems cautiously nosy and has a hard time stopping it. I got the feeling she genuinely wanted to be helpful and to have a task to keep her going, but she did have a lot of good questions and a need to know what really happened.

I did miss Amber and Alex in Murder at the Church Picnic, though I was delighted they were still just as charming and Amber was still very much a take charge kind of personality. With them off page most of the time, it gave Hunch the cat more to do. I adored all of Mallory’s conversations with the cat. There’s a cute, albeit begrudging, affection between the two, but only when Hunch gets a whiff of a mystery. He’s definitely aptly named and the perfect sidekick for Mallory, especially in this novel.

Expanded the Town Just Enough

As in the first book, Murder at the Church Picnic is set in the same town in West Virginia and I really felt like the town opened up a little more. Mallory spent more time out and about trying to solve the mystery and so found herself in rather interesting parts of town. There were all the usual kinds of places, the church, the park, even a community college. But a more rural area was also introduced where a family high on Mallory’s suspect list lives very simply. It was fun to read about all the different parts of the town and get to know it a little better. It was also nice to see Mallory getting out more and going further afield without Amber.

A Delightful Cozy with Just Enough Danger

Murder at the Church Picnic was just as much fun as the first book. I especially loved that the danger was really front and center, making it feel a little more dangerous than the first book where the murder had already taken place. I loved getting to know Mallory better, though I wish there had been more food, but Hunch’s scenes are not to be missed and kept me happy. This was a fun, quick cozy read with a mystery that had just enough threads to keep things interesting without tipping over into unmanageable. Overall, it’s artfully done and I can’t wait to see what the next book has in store for Mallory, Amber, and Alex.

How many cups of tea will you need?

5 cups

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Thank you to Denise Jaden for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Murder at the Church Picnic by Denise Jaden is a culinary cozy mystery

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