Sunday, July 12, 2015
Cozy Mystery Review: If Onions Could Spring Leeks by Paige Shelton
Yes, I am a cozy connoisseur. Cozies are my go-to books for recreational reading. I go through dozens of them every year, mostly from my local library and from the free kindle e-books.
And I'll be honest; al lot of cozies are crap. Plots are usually pretty predictable, characters are often so thin they could be suncatchers, and copy editing is non-existent. (For a full-length rant with examples on poor copy editing in cozies, check out this post and read item #8.)
But Paige Shelton's cozies are a cut above the average. Really. I've read every single one she's got out there, and I can tell you.
OK, they're not perfect. First of all, a cozy isn't meant to be fine literature. When I rate If Onions Could Spring Leeks with five stars, I'm comparing it to other cozies, not to Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman. Cozies aren't supposed to be Pulitzer Prize material, so I'm not judging them by the same standards.
And it's true, Shelton's copy editor is simply NOT catching the problems with compound nominative and objective case pronouns; they're wrongly used nearly every time in this book, and I want to green pen the things! (English teacher habits. What can I say?) And we won't even talk about the "...if we'd swam through the water..." on page 165. (Wait. Yes, we will. It's "swum," dangit! Use the past participle form with a helping verb!! Oh well. At least Shelton knows how to use the correct tense when a character is speaking in the past about something that has happened further in the past; so many, many writers don't.)
So what does stand out with Shelton's works? Characterization. She's a star at creating super-realistic characters (even when they're ghosts).
Let's talk about Onions specifically. Betts, Gram, Teddy, all the ghosts, Opie (Teddy's annoying girlfriend) are all separated and distinct from one another. The only boring character is Cliff, Betts' "nice-boy" cop boyfriend. He's dull beyond words, but I suspect he has to be that way so we can feel Betts tension with her love triangle. And I must add that Betts' other guy, Jerome, who is a ghost cowboy, is simply the hottest boyfriend character ever in a cozy! (Usually, I don't like paranormal cozies, but this one works for the most part. I'm willing to forgive Shelton's nebulous rules about ghosts because her plots work.)
Onions is the fifth book in Shelton's Country Cooking School series, the basic idea of which is that Betts Winston has come home from law school, back to Broken Rope, Missouri, where she now assists her grandmother teaching cooking classes. The catch is that the ability to see ghosts -- and sometimes travel to a parallel plane of past existence -- runs in the Winston family, at least while they're in Broken Rope. Thus, former inhabitants of the town get mixed into all Betts' mysteries.
In Onions, it's high tourist season, and Betts has volunteered to drive a motorized wagon to shuttle tourists around town during the days (as the cooking classes are on a summer night schedule). She finds the body of an annoying, unlikeable man in the barn which houses the wagons -- and then someone knocks her out. The trouble isn't finding suspects; the trouble is that far too many people had a reason to get rid of the man. But Shelton also works in a side plot involving ghosts-- one of whom was murdered and several of whom might have been murderers. The murder from the past is tied by various locations to the modern murder, so Betts is stuck in the middle of both.
And let's not forget that sexy Jerome! ;) Betts' ghostly boyfriend is so much more interesting that her live one!
I would recommend that readers take the whole series in order to make things less confusing, but I suppose one could just "drop in" and read this book and still enjoy it. (The problem would be that because Shelton is so much better than average cozy writers at developing characters, a reader who has not seen the growth of Betts, Gram, Teddy, Jake, and Jerome might lose quite a bit of the depth that's actually there.)
PS. Shelton gives recipes for nearly every food item mentioned in the book -- except for green bean casserole (but then everybody knows how to make that!)