Category Archives: Beck, Jessica

Jessica Beck. Deadly Donuts. United States : CreateSpace, 2013.

Deadly DonutsThanks to the summer heat, Suzanne Hart’s donut sales are lagging. Turns out nobody in April Springs craves a freshly fried donut and a piping hot cup of coffee with sky-rocketing temperatures and soupy humidity that keep them just as shiny as Suzanne’s glazed donuts. So her shop, Donut Hearts, has been quiet, verging on deserted. Suzanne doesn’t mind the lack of foot traffic. She is glad to have her college-aged assistant Emma out of classes and in the shop and she maintains high spirits despite the disappointing turn in business. Unfortunately, her most recent customer delivers a nasty little treat. The mystery man alleges to have proof that Suzanne’s father was a cold-blooded killer. After a bit of initial contempt, Suzanne arranges to meet the mystery man beneath the town clock at one in the morning to see his supposed evidence and decide if his half-baked claim is truer than she would like to believe. If it is true, then it might just cost Suzanne more than she can afford.

Unfortunately, when Suzanne meets the mystery man under the clock at the designated time, she finds him – very dead. Minutes after Suzanne arrives on the scene and stumbles upon the unlucky corpse, the cops show up. At first things don’t look good for Suzanne, but then they look even worse for her mother who was suspiciously absent prior to the murder. Yet again, Suzanne and her closest friend, Grace Gauge, start examining the case. Suzanne is determined to find out who murdered the mystery man and if, in turn, his allegations about her father were accurate. As Suzanne and Grace sniff out all the possible leads, they discover that Suzanne was not the only person the mystery man tried to blackmail.

Meanwhile, Suzanne’s philandering ex-husband, Max, begs for her help. Max claims he is a changed man. The changes, he insists, are all due to his love for Emily Hargraves, the owner of Two Cows and a Moose, the local newsstand. Emily is a peculiar character with a whimsical penchant for dressing up her stuffed animals (two cows and a moose, of course) in costumes. Max has resolved to abandon his slick charm if can get a chance with Emily. He waxes poetic about his newfound love and sincerity. But since his odds seem weak, he is hoping for reinforcement. More specifically, Suzanne. Unwittingly, Suzanne is pulled into playing matchmaker for the very odd pairing. She has no qualms about lending Max a hand, but she is surprised that another woman could truly reform her chronically charming ex-husband.

This is the tenth installment in Jessica Beck’s Donut Shop Mystery series. If you’re new to the series, jump back to this blog post that covers the first book, Glazed Murder. Beck wields self-reflective humor by referencing the cozy mystery sub-genre on a few occasions throughout the novel. In one particularly navel-gazing instance, Suzanne quips that her mother had “even read a series based on a donut-shop, of all things.”

Beck offers four enticing donut recipes: two traditional recipes from scratch and two recipes relying on some prepackaged ingredients, which should satisfy readers of all cooking levels. She integrates the recipes within the text of the story. If you’re based in the Triangle area and don’t feel in the mood to slave over a deep fryer, then you could always enjoy this book over some Monuts or Rise donuts and coffee!

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Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Jessica Beck. Illegally Iced. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013.

James Settle was a newcomer to April Springs but with his easy going style he fit right in.  He was a blacksmith and many people, including Suzanne Hart, were delighted to have the lovely things that he made.  Everyone in town knew that Suzanne and James were friends, but that doesn’t prevent Gaby Williams from fingering Suzanne as the murderer when James is stabbed in the city park across from Suzanne’s donut shop. Yes, Suzanne and James did have a public argument the morning that he died, but a little bit of smoke wafting into the donut shop wouldn’t have spoiled their friendship.

Suzanne has an alibi for the time of the murder, but she knows that she will be under a cloud of suspicion until the murderer is found.  As in similar situations in the past, Suzanne turns to her friend Grace to help with the sleuthing. The friends discover that James was estranged from the other members of his very wealthy family, so greed could been the motive for his murder. But we all know that the other common motive for murder is that nasty mix of love/jealousy/revenge. Which is it in this case? As Suzanne and Grace add to and subtract from their list of suspects, it is fun to see how their minds work and how they navigate Suzanne’s delicate relationship with April Springs Police Chief Martin who is still courting Suzanne’s mother.

Readers will also enjoy the scene in which Suzanne’s book group discusses The Killer’s Last Bite, a book in a long running series of mysteries. The women ask some of the same questions that readers might ask about this series. Can we assume that the answers are the author’s?

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Jessica Beck. Powdered Peril. New York: St. Martin’s, 2012.

Suzanne Hart has never much liked Peter Morgan, the boyfriend of her good friend Grace.  She can’t quite put her finger on what it is about Peter that makes her so uneasy–is it that he reminds Suzanne of her charming, philandering ex-husband Max? When Grace shows up at Suzanne’s house in tears one night, Suzanne learns that her instincts about Peter were right.  Peter had more than a little something on the side; his phone (which Grace found in a sofa cushion) showed he was dallying with a handful of women.  Busy man.

But in short order, Peter is a dead man.  The night of the breakup with Grace, Peter drowned his sorrows at the Box Car Grill.  After Trish threw him out of the grill, Peter took revenge on Grace by vandalizing Suzanne’s donut shop; then someone battered Peter to death.  Initially Suzanne and Grace are suspects, but Chief Martin knows them well enough to rule them out–and to warn them not to investigate the crime on their own.  But of course they do.  They find that Peter played fast and loose with the truth and with other people’s money.  Their suspect list includes Peter’s brother, his business partner, his landlady, and several women in April Springs and a nearby town.  Even Suzanne’s new assistant, Nan Winter, seems to have had some kind of relationship with Peter.

Many of the characters in earlier books such as George, Emma, and Jake, make just token appearances in Powdered Peril which is more of a straight-up whodunit than some other books in this series. But like all the previous books, this one includes recipes for those tasty donuts.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Jessica Beck. Drop Dead Chocolate. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2012.

Matters of the heart are front-and-center in this latest addition to the Donut Shop Mystery series.  Suzanne’s mother, Dorothy, is so outraged by Mayor Cam Hamilton’s latest sleazy business venture that she decides on the spur of the moment to run against him in the upcoming election.  Dorothy doesn’t feel the need to consult with anyone about this, not even April Springs’ sheriff, Phillip Martin.  As readers of the series know, Sheriff Martin has carried a torch for Dorothy for decades and since his divorce he has been courting her.  Suzanne has come to peace with that even though she and Sheriff Martin have had run-ins over Suzanne’s habit of sticking her nose into police business. Someone who can’t accept the sheriff’s budding romance is his ex-wife, Evelyn.  When she hears that Dorothy is going to run for mayor, Evelyn decides that she will enter the race too.

April Springs is abuzz at the thought of a three-way race, but that gleeful excitement is short-lived because soon after Dorothy and Evelyn submit their filing papers,  Mayor Hamilton is found bludgeoned to death–in the building that was to be Dorothy’s campaign headquarters. Suddenly, Suzanne’s mother is Suspect #1.  Chief Martin quickly realizes that his romantic entanglement with Dorothy make it inappropriate for him to investigate the case.  The state sends in an outsider (sort of)–state police investigator Jake Bishop. Jake is Suzanne’s boyfriend, but he is all-business once he takes over the case.  Suzanne promises to stay away from Jake while he leads the investigation and not to poke around in case herself.  Chief Martin also agrees not to freelance on the case.  But Mayor Hamilton double crossed, intimidated, and exploited a lot of people and when Suzanne and the chief  hear their stories, they soon forget their promises to Jake.

Was Hamilton killed for love, or money?  And who will be the next mayor of April Springs?  This seventh book in the Donut Shop Mystery series saves its best surprise for the end.

 

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Jessica Beck. Killer Crullers. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2012.

Simon Henson has left an unpaid, custom order of his favorite crullers (extra icing) on Suzanne Hart’s hands for the last time. When a stranger comes in at the end of the day and asks for whatever donuts she has left, the proprietor of Donut Hearts is more than happy to sell him the dripping confections. She is less than happy, however, when the gentleman walks next door and starts throwing the donuts at her friend Gabby’s thrift shop.

Desmond Ray claims that Gabby Williams stole a priceless diamond brooch and $10,000 in cash mistakenly left in the pocket of a coat that formerly belonged to his elderly Aunt Jean. When Gabby denies the accusation and Suzanne reclaims her crullers, Desmond threatens to settle with them both. He makes good on his threat, in a way–the next day, he is found, murdered, directly between Suzanne’s and Gabby’s shops. What could be worse for a small business owner? Gabby is the prime suspect for both theft and murder, but swears she’s been wrongly accused on both counts. With her state police investigator boyfriend out of town, what else can Suzanne do but find the real killer and prove her friend is innocent?

All the familiar faces, including Suzanne’s friends Grace and George, her assistant Emma, and her lovely mother, are back in this sixth book in Beck’s cozy mystery series. The author handles difficult topics such as adultery and abuse of the elderly with a light hand, spending equal time on the crime solving and our heroine’s relationships. Readers will be interested to know that there could even be wedding bells for someone!

Check the availability of this  title in the UNC-Chapel Hill library’s catalog.

 

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Jessica Beck. Tragic Toppings. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011.

What are the chances that two people would go missing on the same day in little April Springs, North Carolina?  When Emily Hargraves disappears from her newsstand, series heroine Suzanne Hart fears for the safety of the lovely, naive young woman.  Suzanne’s fear proves unwarranted–pretty much.  Emily left her shop with no notice for a quick tryst with Suzanne’s randy, charming ex-husband, Max.  Suzanne regrets not warning Emily about Max, but she trusts that in the end Emily will see him for what he is.

But there is nothing close to a happy ending for the other missing person, Tim Leander.  Suzanne and her friend Grace find Tim’s body hanging from an historic tree in the town park.  Who could have wanted to kill the popular local handyman, and who had the strength to hoist his body up into the Patriot’s Tree?  In part because she found the body, and in part because this kind of snooping is getting to be a habit, Suzanne begins to look into Tim’s life.  What she finds shocks her–it seems that Max is not the only playboy in April Springs.  Suddenly, Suzanne has lots of suspects.  Readers can follow her as she questions Tim’s buddies and lady friends and checks out their alibis with help from Grace, their friend George, and Suzanne’s beau, Jake.  Police Chief Martin is officially on the case, but he has to walk a fine line with Suzanne now that he is dating her mother.  As with earlier novels in this series, the development of Suzanne’s relationship with Jake, and her mother’s with Chief Martin, add to the charm of the book.

This is the fifth novel in the Donut Shop Mysteries series.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Jessica Beck Evil Éclairs New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2011.

Suzanne Hart was mighty angry when local talk show host Lester Moorefield spouted off about how donuts and similar baked goods contribute to the nation’s obesity epidemic.  Moorefield even went so far as to urge his listeners to boycott Suzanne’s donut shop for a week.  As mad as Suzanne was, she did not choke Moorefield by forcing an éclair down his throat.  But when Moorefield appears to experience death by éclair, Suzanne is Suspect #1.

In fact, Moorefield was strangled and the éclair added after the fact.  But Suzanne is still the most likely suspect in the eyes of many people, so Suzanne, her best friend Grace, and George, a regular customer who is a retired cop, begin to investigate the crime.  They know that Moorefield angered many people with his incendiary on-air attacks.  When they start to dig they find a whole lot more–an estranged wife in the next town, a prison record, and financial shenanigans that includes embezzling $2.7 million.  Just when Suzanne thinks she is making progress on the case, Cupid complicates everything–Jake Bishop, a state police investigator and Suzanne’s boyfriend, is assigned to the case, and the local chief of police’s divorce has become final and he has his sights set on an old flame–Suzanne’s mom.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Jessica Beck. Sinister Sprinkles. New York: St. Martin’s, 2010.

It’s early December, time for the April Springs Winter Carnival.  Mother Nature has cooperated this year by providing an early snow.  The carnival is on track to be a big success–until a woman is murdered right in front of city hall.  The victim is Darlene Higgins, a local hairdresser and the woman who broke up Suzanne Hart’s marriage.  Suzanne is immediately considered a suspect, but her alibi is rock solid–half the town saw her tending the booth she set up outside of her donut shop.  With Suzanne in the clear, police suspicions turn to Suzanne’s ex-husband, Max, who has disappeared.  Suzanne’s feelings about Max are complex, but she has enough residual affection for him that she doesn’t want him railroaded for Darlene’s murder.

It turns out that Max is not the only local who is missing.  With help from her friend Grace, and George, a retired policeman, Suzanne searches for Max and the missing woman, while simultaneously investigating Darlene’s relationships.  A series of snow storms slow down their progress.  During the storms Grace stays with Suzanne, and some of the nicest scenes in the novel  are the dinners that Grace shares with Suzanne and her mom.  (As with the other novels in this series, Suzanne’s relationships get equal time with the mystery.)  Although Sinister Sprinkles deals with such troubling topics such as financial abuse of the elderly, blackmail, and internet scams, the tone is always light, and the book is an enjoyable read.

This is the third novel in the Donut Shop Mystery series.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Jessica Beck. The Donut Shop Mysteries.

April Springs, North Carolina is Suzanne Hart’s hometown, so she is not about to leave it when her marriage breaks up.  Suzanne moves back in with her mother and buys the donut shop in the heart of downtown.  There trouble finds her.  First, a body is left outside the shop early one morning, then someone dies after eating one of Suzanne’s donuts.  Even when Suzanne has no apparent connection to the murder, the local police chief suspects her.  Continually feeling that she has to clear her name, Suzanne wades into any number of mysteries in her town.  Along the way, readers get to know an endearing cast of characters, including Suzanne’s mother, ex-husband, Max, her best friend, Grace, and George, a retired policeman who helps Suzanne.  Even Suzanne’s nemesis, Police Chief Martin, is gently portrayed in this cozy mystery series.

As a bonus to readers, each book includes recipes for some of the baked goods mentioned in the novel.  Sweet!

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Jessica Beck. Fatally Frosted. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2010.

Things have settled down for Suzanne Hart.  State police investigator Jake Bishop, who readers met in the first book in this series, is now Suzanne’s boyfriend, and business at the donut shop has picked up.  Business is so good that Suzanne has received some hostile comments from the chief wedding cake creator in town; it seems some couples prefer trays of small baked goods to a traditional wedding cake.  But Suzanne has made friends too, and one of those friends, Marge Rankin, asks Suzanne to cook in her kitchen as part of the town’s Kitchen Extraordinaire Home Tour. Suzanne will make beignets–a new offering at her shop–and Marge will get to show off her newly renovated kitchen.

Suzanne is worried about using baking powder rather than yeast in the beignets and how the portable fryer will perform, but these turn out to be the least of her problems.  As the first group of visitors arrive, Peg Materson, tour organizer and town busybody, is found dead in Marge’s backyard–holding a lemon-filled donut from Suzanne’s shop. Just like that, the tour is canceled and Suzanne’s business is shutdown while police search the premises for the poison that killed Peg Masterson.  George Morris, an ex-cop who is one of Suzanne’s best customers, volunteers to do his own investigating.  Peg was a force to be reckoned with, but she was not well liked, except by a niece who she raised.  Friends, especially the other shop owners in downtown April Springs, rally to Suzanne’s side, and one of the pleasures of this novel is the way the author brings the town to life with a cast of interesting, likable characters.

Like the first book in this series, Glazed Murder, Fatally Frosted includes recipes and a charming map of the April Springs.

This is the second Donut Shop Mystery.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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