The Chocolate Jewel Case Hardcover – Large Print, Dec 2007
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About the Author
JoAnna Carl is the pseudonym of a multipublished mystery writer. She spent more than twenty-five years in the newspaper business, working as a reporter, feature writer, editor and columnist. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and also studied in the OU Professional Writing Program. She lives in Oklahoma but spends much of her summer at a cottage on Lake Michigan near several communities similar to the fictional town of Warner Pier. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Just when I finally found fifteen minutes for myself, the dead man came to the door.
Not that he looked dead.
In fact, he was lively-looking, tall and thin, with dark hair shot with gray. He was nicely dressed in khakis and a blue polo shirt. Only the scar on his cheek kept him from looking distinguished. Instead it made him look rakish – like a James Bond wannabe who might be a good guy to have on your side in a bar fight. And he was smiling widely enough to display canine teeth, which gave him a wolfish look.
A blue Ford pickup truck was parked behind him in our sandy lane. It was pointed toward Lake Shore Drive, which showed he’d come around from Eighty-eighth Street, driving into our semirural neighborhood by the back road and coming past our neighbor’s house. Despite this hint that he knew the territory, the man had proved he was a stranger by coming to the front door; all our friends and relations come in through the kitchen.
He showed up around eleven o’clock on a miserably hot Monday in the second week of July. I wasn’t at all happy to hear a knock. For once our five house-guests were all occupied elsewhere at the same time, and I wasn’t due at TenHuis Chocolade – where a major chocolate crisis was underway – until one. I had been enjoying having a moment alone.
I peeked through the screen door cautiously. We rarely get salesmen, but I didn’t know of anyone else who might come by without phoning ahead. “Yes?”
The man’s grin seemed familiar, though I was sure I didn’t know him. “Hi. Are you Mrs. Woodyard? Mrs. Joe Woodyard?”
“Yes,” I answered confidently, though I’d had that title for less than three months.
“I don’t suppose your husband is home.”
“I expect him shortly.” By that I meant in an hour, but I wasn’t going to tell a stranger too much.
“Oh? Should I wait? Or I can come back.”
“Is schedule is indelicate.” Yikes! I’d twisted my tongue in a knot. As usual. “I mean indefinite!” I said. “His schedule is indefinite. Can I give him a message?”
“Well…” The stranger sighed deeply, then smiled again, showing those wolfish eyeteeth. “I guess you could tell him his father came by,” he said.
I remember staring at him for at least thirty seconds before I answered.
“I’ll tell him,” I said.
Then I slammed the door. The real, solid door, not the screen door. And I turned the dead bolt above the handle.
I moved away from the door, but the man on the porch was still clearly visible through the window. I knew he could see me too, if he glanced inside. I didn’t like that idea, so I went around the fireplace and stood at the bottom of the stairs. This seemed more subtle than slamming our antique casement window shut and yanking the curtains closed.
Now the stranger couldn’t see me lurking behind the fireplace, but I couldn’t see him either. And I found that I wanted to keep an eye on him. Where could I hide and watch him?
Hide? Why did I have the impulse to hide? The idea was absurd. Why should the idea of someone claiming to be Joe’s father make me look for a closet do duck into?
So I moved out into the living room. I didn’t hide, but I did stay near the fireplace, away from the windows, where a person walking casually through the yard wouldn’t be able to easily see me. If the man looked in through a window, I decided, I’d call the police.
Of course, if he wanted to get into the house, I had no way of stopping him short of hitting him with the fireplace poker. I had locked the front door, but our house – built in 1904 – has no air conditioning. With the temperature and the humidity both in the nineties, all the windows and doors were open. I might lock the front door, but an intruder could come in any other door or any window without trouble.
The man didn’t look into the house. I heard his footsteps leaving the porch, and I heard the door of the pickup open. He was going away. I wondered what Joe would make of the visit when I told him about it.
He might know who the man was, I realized. He might even want to contact the guy.
I grabbed a pen and a piece of junk mail that happened to be lying on the coffee table, rushed to the front door, unlocked it, and ran outside. The truck was just pulling away, and I waved the man down. He opened the right-hand window and leaned across the truck’s seat.
I tried to keep my voice noncommittal. “Can you leave a phone number?”
A faint smile crossed the man’s face. Again, he seemed familiar, and suddenly I knew why. That grin – the corners of his mouth went up just like Joe’s. And his eyes were the same bright blue.
I caught my breath, but didn’t speak.
The stranger put the truck in gear. “I’m not sure where I’ll be,” he said. “I’ll call later.”
He drove away, and I stood there gaping after him.
He simply couldn’t be Joe’s dad.
Only a few weeks earlier, I had laid a wreath of plastic carnations on Andrew Joseph Woodyard’s grave. Joe’s dad had been dead for nearly thirty years. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
But housing issues aren't the only thing on Lee's mind. There has been a string of robberies in town recently. Since it's the start of the summer season, many of the summer people are returning to find their cabins have been robbed. Jewels and antiques are the prime targets.
Lee's been pretty busy making sure her guests are provided for and running TenHuis Chocolade since Aunt Nettie is in Europe on her own honeymoon. But then fate takes over and Lee is forced to care about the robberies. And there's the strange man who shows up claiming to be Joe's dad, who died 30 years ago. And the body found floating in the lake. What is going on?
The books in this series have always been light and fun, but this book turns out to be too light. The plot seems to be meandering all over the place. While it does come together in the final third, the lack of focus early on hurt the book.
The story doesn't suffer from a lack of characters. Even so, I spotted the villain earlier then I should have. And the number of characters means that series regulars like Aunt Nettie and Lee's best friend are noticeably absent. The characters that are here are fun, however.
The chocolate chats this go around spotlight a few non-fiction books on chocolate. They sound tempting. Still, this is one "feature" that I wouldn't miss if they took them out.
This is one of the weaker entries in the series, yet it is still fun enough to please fans.
I will maybe try the next in the series, but if there are no real improvements, and the return of some of the core characters, I may have to rethink. I would recommned this book only to true fans of the series.
First, the author has got to get rid of the stupid tongue-tangling gimmick. It's been annoying since the beginning of the series, but it now seems so forced that it's ridiculous.
Lee has never been my favorite main character in a cozy series, but in this book, she was downright unbearable. It seemed like he was angry, annoyed and ticked off through the entire book. Every little thing that anyone did, there she was, stomping around, nosing into their business and determining how she would question them about something or other. She was downright unlikeable, and I couldn't help wondering why on earth Joe would've wanted to marry someone like her.
And speaking of marriage -- we get it, Lee married Joe. We got it in the first chapter. We didn't need to be beat over the head with that, or the fact that they're living in Lee's house, at least once a page.
Besides all this, the plot was very thin, with too many things going on that were too easy to figure out. And there were far too many characters that were brought in for this one story, forcing out the characters that we usually see who really do add something to the story.
All in all, a very big disappointment.
I really enjoy this series of little mystery books set in a little Lake Michigan resort town somewhere near Holland (I always think of a combination of Saugatuk, Douglas, and Grand Haven with a touch of Manistee thrown in). The stories are pretty enjoyable, and they are short enough to read in a couple of days, even when you are busy (I believe they are all under 250 pages).
The main character is Lee, a woman raised in Texas who moves to Michigan to live with her aunt and help her aunt run a gourmet chocolate shop, following Lee's divorce. So Lee is out getting a second chance at life, and tries to make the most of that chance. And - she solves mysteries when they arise at the shop or in the small town.
In this particular book, Lee has been married to her second husband for some three months. They are living in the long time family farm house, about 100 years old, old fashioned, and rather small.
And - most horribly for a pair of newlyweds - they have no privacy, because they have been inundated by long term house guests. There is an older aunt in one spare room, and two teenaged girls in the other. They have a guy staying on their porch. They have another guy staying in the yard in an old camper. Only one bathroom. They are having a bad heat wave, with very high humidity, and no air conditioning. The house has no soundproofing, so if anyone in the house moves or talks, everyone knows it. There is even only one television, and everyone wants to watch different things.
And then the mystery begins with a man who has been dead and buried for decades knocking on the front door. And then it goes on to include murder and jewel thieves! All sorts of crazy stuff happens - and most of it a lot of fun for the reader!