Back when I shared my 2010 Whitney Awards ballot, I mentioned the possibility of also doing a post-awards review of the Mystery/Suspense category. It looks like that probably won’t happen, but I do want to mention the one novel in that category that I did read: Josi S. Kilpack’s Lemon Tart: A Culinary Mystery ( Amazon ).
Lemon Tart is a Miss Marple-style mystery (what the marketing copy calls a “cozie”) — that is, it feature an older woman who gets drawn in to a murder case (here, it’s the murder of a neighbor) and uses her pluck, life experience, natural curiosity, and local connections to help solve the case. What I liked about the novel is that it succeeds as a cozie, but that it also brings some character and plot elements in that have a real impact on the protagonist Sadie Hoffmiller. The emotional, physical and family/community/romantic repercussions from not just the murder, but also solving the murder are not glossed over at all. There’s just enough grit to it to make it work for a reader like me. And, in particular, the climactic sequences are fairly thrilling. The danger is real.
I do find it somewhat amusing, though, that Sadie is not-LDS, but lives LDS values. Not that there are Christian women of faith that don’t fit the profile. And certainly I understand that having a non-LDS heroine allows Kilpack to write certain settings and details and storylines that it would be much harder to deal with a Mormon context. It’s just that it sometimes creates reading moments where the fact that it’s a non-LDS-themed-book-written-by-an-active-LDS becomes a little too present.
On the whole, though, it’s the most entertaining and best crafted of the non-David-Farland, non-indie-press (Gravity vs. the Girl, No Going Back), non-national publisher speculative fiction (except it’s much better than Wings) Whitney Awards finalists. It’s also the first time I’ve been almost convinced by the mantra that LDS genre authors are catching up with their national counterparts.