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  • Caitlyn Lynch

Book Review: Southern Sass and Killer Cravings by Kate Young

Heading home with her tail between her legs after the final collapse of an abusive marriage, Marygene Brown just wants to settle back into partnership with her sister Jena Lynn, running the family diner on Peach Cove Island. The appearance of her mother’s ghost warning of an imminent murder puts paid to any thought of peace and quiet, though, and soon Marygene is up to her neck in trying to solve the mystery… and save her own neck.

This is a little bit grittier than your average cozy, with Marygene being a domestic abuse survivor and witness to deaths and violent assaults. She’s a great protagonist, though, full of determination to avoid repeating past mistakes and protect those she loves. Though there’s an old flame and a possible new one vying for her attention, the romance is laid on very lightly, which frankly feels realistic for the situation, just out of an ugly failed marriage as she is, Marygene makes it clear she’s not in the market for anything more right now.

There’s a delightful cast of supporting characters, my favorite being Betsy the waitress, who spends more time with Marygene than just about anyone else and indeed is the one who’s there for her when the chips are down. The drama of a small town (pop. 2,000 or so) where everyone knows everyone’s business is on full display, with affairs, gossip and mischief abounding. It’s a good-sized cast but not so big I couldn’t keep track of everyone reasonably well, and there were a few seeds sown for things I think are likely to bear fruit later in the series, although the mystery in this one was closed out nicely by the end.

Well-written with excellent pacing and some fantastic recipes included at the end, this is a good culinary cozy mystery…

… but.

I’d gotten all the way to the end of the book and was sitting trying to figure out what it was that bothered me about it before I started writing this review when I got it; it wasn’t what was in the book that was bothering me, it was what WASN’T.

And that was anyone diverse.

There wasn’t one single non-white character described (maybe the author intended some of them to be, but the rule of thumb is if they’re not explicitly described, they’re Default White) and not one single LGBTQI+ character. And frankly, that’s just not realistic. In fact, I think it was a massive missed opportunity. Having Marygene’s father Eddie be Black would have added a really interesting dimension to his messed-up relationship with her mother, and a racial element to Marygene’s fraught relationship with the investigating detective. There was no reason why one of Marygene’s siblings couldn’t be queer, or Betsy, or her friend Yvonne. There’s a GHOST as a primary supporting character, for heaven’s sake, but not ONE non-white or queer character? Pull the other one.

I was originally going to give this five stars for the storyline and the writing, but I’m knocking it down to three for this serious diversity failure and saying quite plainly to the author:

Do. Better.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

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