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Cato, Joyce - 'Birthdays Can Be Murder'
Hardback: 224 pages (June 2010) Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd ISBN: 0709090730

BIRTHDAYS CAN BE MURDER is the first in a series of cooking cozies by Joyce Cato featuring travelling cook Jenny. Jenny has left her last engagement on a matter of cooking principle, and travelled to the small village of Rousham Green in Devon to cater for the 21st party of spoilt twins Justin and Alicia Greer, whose father is a wealthy businessman. Justin has recently taken over the family business, and Alicia is a lady of leisure, dependent on a generous allowance from her parents and handouts from Justin.

Jenny has arrived a tense time; the gardener's assistant has been found dead in a seeming accident that morning. But the party is still going ahead. Alicia and Justin both have troubled relationships; Alicia has tempted mechanic Keith, away from his wife and children, and his wife, Margie is taking this very badly, and Justin has a WAG type girlfriend, Babs, whom he has been leading on with hopes of marriage but who is soon to be disillusioned. Arrogant Justin has also made an enemy of former manager, Tom Banks, whom he fired. As Jenny carries out her preparations for the big party, she stumbles upon various tense moments amongst both the staff and family, and has a premonition of a party related disaster, which proves to be fulfilled when disaster strikes at midnight. After first being subject to suspicion due to a previous involvement in a murder investigation, Jenny, an acute observer in the mould of Miss Marple, soon proves able to assist the police investigating the crime.

BIRTHDAYS CAN BE MURDER is an enjoyable, competent and above all very readable cozy that doesn't overly labour the culinary aspect, so you won't find any recipes as part of the text in this book. Jenny is an attractive, intelligent Rubenesque heroine, and the cast of characters above and below stairs are captured affectionately and wittily for the most part. The author builds up tension and a gallery of potential suspects nicely in the first half. However at times the book doesn't quite manage to overcome the tendency that cozies have of seeming unsuited to a contemporary setting. The behaviour and motivation of characters, particularly in relation to the denouement, does feel a little implausible at times in the 21st century, and better suited to the morality of another era.

Laura Root, England
September 2010

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last updated 23/10/2010 16:03