Charity Penn - an attractive, thirty-something, marketing executive - is a skeptical kind of gal. Her parents, an itinerant fortune teller who briefly hooked up with the young heir to a fortune, abandoned her right after birth. So Charity (who calls herself Penn) was raised by her paternal grandmother Cristobel, who never had a kind word for her. Still, Penn has a hefty trust fund, and always fears people are after her money.
So when Penn, who lives in Wisconsin, gets a letter saying she won a trip to Camellia Beach, South Carolina - complete with cooking lessons at a chocolate shop - she's sure it's some kind of scam. Penn asks her friend, Skinny McGee, to look into the matter and - since he's going south anyway - Skinny stops by Camellia Beach to see what's what. Shortly afterward Skinny calls Penn and excitedly says she MUST come to Camellia Beach to see something for herself! Not long afterward Skinny is found dead in a vat of chocolate.
Consumed with guilt, Penn accepts her 'prize trip.' She packs up her ill-tempered pooch Stella - who never saw a toe she didn't want to bite - and heads for Camellia Beach. There, Penn stays in a small hotel, meets the local residents, takes cooking lessons at 'The Chocolate Box' confectionary shop, and looks into Skinny's murder.
In less than a week there's another death, things get very complicated, and Penn herself becomes the target of a killer. Not sure who to trust, Penn has to race against time to expose the miscreant before she becomes the next victim.
The book has an intriguing premise and a variety of interesting characters, including: Althea - a woman who runs a crystal shop and has mystical thoughts; Mabel and Bertie - two elderly ladies who run the 'The Chocolate Box' and teach Penn to make heavenly sweets; Harley Dalton - a handsome attorney; Cal Dalton - a surfer who looks like an action hero; Jody - a real estate agent who wants to develop Camellia beach; Troubadour - a hairless cat who looks like a giant rodent; and more.
My biggest problem with the book is Penn, who needs to go to 'detective school' if she's going to be a cozy mystery sleuth. For example, after arriving in Camellia Beach Penn takes cooking lessons for four full days before she looks into Skinny's death. A real detective (even an amateur) would never do this! And when someone hands Penn an important envelope, she ignores it, thinking she already knows what it contains (she's wrong, of course). How long does it take to look into an envelope? Even in cozies, the gumshoe should be clever and resourceful.
I was also a little put off by Penn's personality. She constantly whines about people being after her money..... and about her cold and distant relatives. These are legitimate issues - and I get it - but I don't need to hear it over and over again.
There are also too many cooking scenes in the story. I enjoyed them - but this is a mystery, not a cookbook. (I do like the recipes at the end of the book.....which sound scrumptious.)
All in all, this isn't a bad book, but it could be better (IMO).
Thanks to Netgalley, the author (Dorothy St. James), and the publisher (Crooked Lane Books) for a copy of the book.