Posted by Chris Redding
A Puree of Poison
By Claudia Bishop
Publisher, Berkley Prime Crime
December, 2003, 260 pgs.
This small-town cozy comes with two squabbling sisters, one a gourmand cook, the other an established painter. They collide in a little upstate New York town called Hemlock Falls. Aptly named. Together the sisters Sarah, called Quill, and Meg, own and operate an inn on a perfect plot of property overlooking the namesake falls. The novel comes with a list of the huge number of characters at the front and an unremarkable recipe at the back.
The 133rd anniversary of a minor Civil War skirmish is approaching and the town is planning big doings. Things get rapidly complicated. Re-enactors are arriving to stage the battle, a poisonous couple of independent film-makers appear, and Quill, who cannot manage a business to save her soul, is trying out various practices on the Inn’s employees she is picking up from a business course at Cornell. Cornell ought to sue.
Then people start dying. They are old and not exactly in the best of health, but they weren’t at death’s door, either. The one thing they had in common was the Inn. All three victims had had meals at the Inn on the same day. The town doctor, who’s in love with Meg, the aforementioned sister, is mightily distressed. He asks Meg’s sister, Quill, to investigate. This of course adds to the number of subjects over which the two sisters can disagree. As one might imagine, there’s a great amount of shouting, stomping about and door slamming.
Quill, of course, agrees to look into the deaths, if only to protect the reputation of the Inn and her sister. It isn’t like she hasn’t enough to occupy her. She has to deal with a twit of a receptionist who’s trying to finish a PhD and her own inept efforts to force worrisome new business practices on her employees without any preparation.
All of this is handled with a light touch and there are several clever scenes, helped by some imaginative and interesting characters, but it all never quite comes off. The sisters’ constant squabbling, the irritating front office receptionist who should have been fired for insubordination, and half a dozen other offenses, overshadow some strong writing and clever plotting.
Devils Island, Bloody Halls, Reunion, Red Sky
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