Saturday, May 10, 2014

Still Life in Brunswick Stew, by Larissa Reinhart

I read a really good cozy mystery recently, y'all — Still Life in Brunswick Stew, by Larissa Reinhart. Let me tell you a little about it.

Cherry Tucker’s in a stew. Art commissions dried up after her nemesis became president of the County Arts Council. Desperate and broke, Cherry and her friend, Eloise, spend a sultry summer weekend hawking their art at the Sidewinder Annual Brunswick Stew Cook-Off. When a bad case of food poisoning breaks out and Eloise dies, the police brush off her death as accidental. However, Cherry suspects someone spiked the stew and killed her friend. As Cherry calls on cook-off competitors, bitter rivals, and crooked judges, the police get steamed while the killer prepares to cook Cherry’s goose.
from Goodreads

Still Life in Brunswick Stew, the second book in the Cherry Tucker Mysteries, opens with, "They should've kept the mud pit." Author Larissa Reinhart hooked me with that sentence. She kept reeling me in, as she put Cherry through one hilarious adventure after another, until the very last sentence, and left me eager to read her third book, Hijack in Abstract.

The events in Still Life in Brunswick Stew take place a few months after those in Portrait of a Dead Guy (read my Five-Kitty review here) and are, at times, of a more serious nature. The first murder victim in Portrait was a high school nemesis of Cherry, and his death didn't really upset her personally.  In contrast, the first victim in Brunswick Stew, Eloise Parker, was Cherry's lifelong friend, ever since they were both in third grade together. (There's a funny story about how they met, involving theft and a unicorn. Read the book, for the details!) Eloise's death really hits Cherry hard.

Another more serious tone in the book comes from Crohn's Disease. Reinhart dedicates this book to her own sister-in-law, "for putting up with Crohn's." Her character Eloise has suffered from Crohn's for years. The reader learns a little, through Eloise, about how the lives of Crohn's sufferers are affected by their disease. Crohn's Disease even plays a part in Eloise's death. (Read the book for the details.)

On a lighter note....  Eloise is a fellow artist. As our story begins, Eloise and Cherry are sharing a booth at an art festival. Eloise is selling exquisite Japanese-style black and white Raku pottery. Cherry has "quality art" for sale - her "Cherry Tucker still life oil paintings." But no one's buying Cherry's paintings of beach scenes, bowls of peaches, and bulldogs — in fact, no one's bought anything in several months — and so she's broke. Could "paintbrush leprosy" be the reason?  (Find out what that is, and if it's the cause of her lack of sales, when you read the book.)

I enjoyed reading Still Life in Brunswick Stew (twice!) for many reasons.  One reason why I like Brunswick Stew (as well as the other Cherry Tucker Mysteries) so much is that I like Cherry herself so much. Why? Here are some examples.

  • Cherry is generous with her friends.  If she has only enough money to buy one take-out meal at a restaurant, she'll take that meal to a friend.  (As a bribe, in return for information or other help, but that's irrelevant.)
  • Cherry is such a good friend to those she cares about, that she would probably even give you the shirt off her back — and it would most likely be a shirt Cherry had fancied up in some way.
  • That's another thing I like about Cherry.  She seems to be constitutionally unable to wear clothing that she hasn't embellished in some way.  Some examples given in Brunswick Stew are the Georgia Bulldogs tank that she adorned with tiny bulldog buttons (and added bulldog buttons to her flip-flops "for continuity"), and her church ensemble of a white sundress with large black polka dots, to which she hot-glued crimson flower heads (along with more flowers on her black flip-flops "for extra pizzazz to look her best at church").  Also, there's the funeral dress she decorated as a tribute to Eloise, with black and white sequins glued on — in the shape of a Raku pot, but everyone at the funeral thinks it looks like [spoiler] (a highly entertaining story - read the book).      

Another reason I like Still Life with Brunswick Stew so much is that Author Larissa Reinhart has written some great laugh-out-loud lines for, and about, Cherry.  Here are just a few examples.
"Good Lord, stop that jumping," I yelled.  "You're going to hurt yourself." (said to a man in a Speedo)
Sometimes it takes a person a few minutes to adjust to my creative ingenuity.
"You're no bigger than a flea and you keep biting pit bulls." (said to Cherry)
"You're looking real pretty in that dress. It's nice to see you in something normal-looking." (said by someone who clearly doesn't appreciate Cherry's efforts at embellishment)
"You're a commitment-phobic, relationship self-sabotager. Which, oddly enough, attracts men like sugar ants to peanut butter." (said to Cherry)
[???]: "You call yourself a detective? Can't you put two and two together?"  
Cherry: "I call myself an artist".... 
 Cherry: "I'm not trashy," I said, "I'm colorful." 

I have still more reasons why I like Cherry and the Cherry Tucker Mysteries so much, but I am saving them for my next review.  Stay tuned for my Hijack in Abstract blog post, coming soon! 

I wholeheartedly recommend Larissa Reinhart's Still Life in Brunswick Stew, part of her Cherry Tucker Mysteries, to all cozy mystery lovers, and rate it a full Five out of Five Kitties!