Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Chocolate Cat Caper

The Chocolate Cat Caper
Author: JoAnna Carl
Signet Books, 2002
232 pages

In my Gypsy Roots blog last week, I wrote about my latest obsession: Paperback Swap. I'm embarrassed to admit how many books I've traded since I've discovered this wonderful web site. Most of the books have been cozy mysteries, as this seems to be another trend in my life right now. I received The Chocolate Cat Caper from a reader in Kansas City. It's the first book in JoAnna Carl's Chocoholic Mystery series.

Lee McKinney is a former Texas beauty queen. As a teenager, she spent a few summers in Michigan with her aunt and uncle, who owned the TenHuis Chocolade, a chocolate shop in a Lake Michigan tourist town. Lee is 28 now, a recent divorcee, and graduate of a college accounting program. She's living with her aunt (uncle is now deceased - see below) and keeping the books for the chocolate shop while she studies for the CPA exam.

One day Lee delivers a huge order to the town's seasonal resident, "celebrity" defense attorney Clementine Ripley. "Clem" is having a big party and has requested several special cat-shaped chocolates in honor of her award-winning Birman cat. The attorney is not exactly a nice person, and has made many enemies over the years. Lee witnesses an "incident" between Clem and Clem's ex-husband Joe while she is making the delivery. That evening as the party is getting started, Clem falls over dead, and a half-eaten chocolate cat rolls out of her hand. Turns out someone poisoned the chocolates with cyanide, and Lee and her Aunt Nettie fall under scrutiny.

They're innocent, of course . . . despite the fact that Aunt Nettie has a good reason to dislike Clem. But so do several other people. Like Joe, Clem's ex-husband; and the town's police chief, whom Clem had embarrassed years earlier when he was on the police force in Cincinnati. And what about Marion, Clem's freak of an assistant?

The characters are colorful, and the book is a very easy read. I learned quite a bit about the chocolate making process, and quite a few things about the history of chocolate. Every few chapters, the author inserts some interesting facts about chocolate. For example, did you know that chocolate is native to the western hemisphere? I didn't know this. (For some reason, I thought it was from Africa.) According to Carl, it was brought back to Europe by the Spaniards, who were introduced to it by the Aztecs. The Spanish managed to keep chocolate a secret for a hundred years or so, when it was finally leaked to the French via the Spanish royal family.

That doesn't explain why most "great" chocolate today comes from Belgium and Switzerland, but maybe it does explain why when I was in Barcelona last year, my Eastern European and Middle Eastern colleagues considered it such a big deal when we were all given some Spanish chocolate. (It was yummy, too!)

I enjoyed The Chocolate Cat Caper and I can't wait to read the other books in this series. I already have Book 2. I'm sure I'll be writing about it someday soon.