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The Chocolate Mouse Trap: A Chocoholic Mystery Mass Market Paperback – Sep 6 2005
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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.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
“I’m sick and tired of killing this stupid inspirational junk,” I said. “If Julie Singletree doesn’t stop sending it, I’m going to kill her, as well as her messages.”
I’d been talking to myself, but when I raised my eyes from the computer screen, I realized I was also snarling at Aunt Nettie. She had nothing to do with the e-mail that had been driving me crazy, but she had innocently walked into my office, making herself a handy target for a glare.
Aunt Nettie smiled placidly; she’d understood that I was mad about my e-mail, not her. “Are you talking about that silly girl who’s trying to be a party planner?”
“Yes. I know she got us that big order for the chocolate mice, but I’m beginning to think the business she could throw our way can’t be worth the nausea brought on by these daily does of Victorian sentiment.”
Aunt Nettie settled her solid Dutch figure into a chair and adjusted the white food-service hairnet that covered her hair – blond, streaked with gray. I don’t know how she works with chocolate all day and keeps her white tunic and pants so sparkling clean.
“Victorian sentiment isn’t your style, Lee,” she said.
“Julie is sending six of us half a dozen messages every day, and I am not interested in her childish view of life. She alternates between ain’t-life-grand and ain’t-life-a-bitch, but both versions are coated with silly sugar. She never has anything clever or witty. Just dumb.”
“Why haven’t you asked to be taken off her lists?”
I sighed and reached into my top desk drawer to raid my stash for a Bailey’s Irish Cream bonbon (“Classic cream liqueur interior in a dark chocolate”). I’d worked for TenHuis Chocolade for more than two years, but I wasn’t at all tired of our products, described on our stationary as “Handmade chocolates in the Dutch tradition.” When you’re hassled by minor annoyances, such as e-mail, nothing soothes the troubled mind like a dose of chocolate.
Aunt Nettie was waiting for an answer, and I was hard put to find one. “I suppose I kept thinking if I didn’t respond she’d simply drop me from the her jokes and junk list.” I said.
“You didn’t even want to tell her you don’t want to receive any more spam?”
“Oh, it’s not spam. She’s made up a little list of us – it’s all west Michigan people connected with the fine foods and parties trade. Lindy’s on it, thanks to her new job in catering. There’s Jason Foster – you know, he’s got the contract for the new restaurant at Warner Point. There’s Carolyn Rose, at House of Roses – she carries a line of gourmet items. Margaret Van Myer from Holland – the cake decorating gal. And the Denhams, at Hideaway Inn. We’re all on the list. And since we all deal with fancy foods, Julie has named us the “Seventh Major Food Group.” You know – grains, dairy, vegetables, fruit, meat, fats, and party food.”
“It is a funny name.”
“It’s the only witty idea Julie ever had.” I gestured toward the screen. “This message is typical. ‘A Prayer for the Working Woman.’ I haven’t read it, but I already know what it says.”
“What?” Aunt Nettie smiled. “Since I’ve worked all my life, I might benefit from a little prayer.”
“I can make you a printout, if you can stand the grossly lush roses Julie uses as a border.” I punched the appropriate keys as I talked. “I predict it will be about how downtrodden women are today because most of us work.”
“Since I own my own business, I guess I’m one of the downtrodders, not the downtrodden.”
“Exactly!” I spoke before I thought, but luckily my reaction bemused Aunt Nettie. We both laughed. Then I began to backpedal. “You’re a dream to work for, Aunt Nettie. You’re definitely not a downtrodder. And you’re not downtrodden, because you enjoy your job. But Julie can’t seem to make up her mind. If she isn’t sending stuff claiming today’s women are put-upon because we have to work, she’s sending stuff saying we don’t get a chance at the good jobs. I can understand both views, but she wraps them up in enough syrup to make a hundred maple cream truffles.
“You’ll have to assert yourself, Lee. Tell her you don’t like her e-mails.”
I sighed. “About the time I tell her that, she’ll actually land a big wedding, and the bride will want enough bonbons and truffles for four hundred people, and we’ll lose out on a couple of thousand dollars in business. Or Schrader Laboratories will plan another banquet and want an additional three hundred souvenir boxes of mice.”
I gestured toward the decorated gift box on the corner of my desk. Aunt Nettie had shipped of the order to weeks before, but I’d saved one as a sample. The box contained a dozen one-inch chocolate mice – six replicas of the laboratory mice in white chocolate and six tiny versions of a computer mouse, half in milk chocolate and half in dark.
Schrader Laboratories is a Grand Rapids firm that does product testing – sometimes using laboratory mice and sometimes computers. A special item like the souvenir made for their annual dinner means risk-free profit for TenHuis Chocolade; we know they’re sold before we order the boxes they’ll be packed in.
“That was a nice bit of business Julie threw our way, even if she did get the order from a relative,” I said. “I can put up with a certain amount of gooey sentiment for that amount of money.”
“It might be cheaper to give it up than to hire a psychiatrist. You’ve got plenty to do. Tell Julie your mean old boss has cracked down on the nonbusiness e-mail.”
Aunt Nettie smiled her usual sweet smile. “And I really am going to add to your chores. We need Amaretto.”
“I’ll get some on my way home.”
Amaretto is used to flavor a truffle that is extremely popular with TenHuis Chocolade customers. Our product list describes it as “Milk chocolate interior flavored with almond liqueur and coated in white chocolate.” The truffle is decorated with three milk chocolate stripes, but its mainly white color makes it an ideal accent for boxes of Valentine candy and at that moment we were just four weeks away from Valentine’s Day. I knew Aunt Nettie and the twenty-five ladies who actually make TenHuis chocolates had been using a lot of Amaretto as they got ready for the major chocolate holiday. But liqueurs go a long way when used only for flavoring; one bottle would probably see us through the rush.
I handed Aunt Nettie the printout of Julie’s dumb e-mail – all ten pages of it. Julie never cleans the previous messages off the bottom of e-mails she forwards or replies to. Then Aunt Nettie went back to her antiseptically clean workroom.
I wrote “Amaretto” on a Post-it and stuck the note to the side of my handbag before I turned back to my computer. I manipulated my mouse until the arrow was on REPLY ALL and clicked it. Then I stared at the screen, trying to figure our how to be tactful and still stop Julie’s daily drivel.
Dear Seventh Major Food Group,” I typed. Maybe Julie wouldn’t feel that I’d singled her out. “This is one of the busiest seasons for the chocolate business, and my aunt and I have decided that we simply have to crack down nonbusiness e-mail, so I spend a lot of time clearing it. As great as the jokes and inspirational material that we exchange on this list can be,” I lied, “I just can’t justify the time I spend reading them. So please drop me from the joke/inspiration list. But please continue to include me in the business tips!”
I sent the message to the whole list, feeling smug. I was genuinely hopeful that I’d managed to drop the cornball philosophy without dropping some valuable business associates along with it.
I wasn’t prepared the next day when I got a call from Lindy Herrera, my best friend and manager for Hererra Catering.
“Lee!” Lindy sounded frantic. “Have you had the television on?”
“I was watching the news on the Grand Rapids station. Oh, Lee, it’s awful!”
“It’s Julie Singletree! She’s been murdered!”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Lee fully intends to stay out of this investigation. After all, Julie lived in a neighboring town. But the morning after the funeral, several members of the group are hit by a computer virus. Another has her shop broken into and her computer's memory erased. As things continue to escalate, Lee can't keep her curiosity to herself and begins nosing around.
As if all this weren't enough, Joe and Lee are trying to work out the details of their upcoming wedding. Joe wants a big fancy affair and Lee just wants a few family members and close friends. Meanwhile, Aunt Nettie's sister-in-law contacts the shop hoping to find a job for her son, making Lee feel very insecure.
This series always entertains, and this book was no exception. The plot was a study in contrast. Some things jumped out and were obvious before the characters saw them; others were smack-your-head-how-could-I-miss-that moments. By the end there were lots of clues pointing to the killer, so chances are the reader will miss some if not all of them. Lee's "tong tangles" are kept to a minimum, mostly sprinkled into a few tense scenes.
The chocolate chats this go around were quotes about chocolate. It might be about time to drop the trivia and focus on the mystery. While it was a fun gimmick, it won't be missed.
Like candy, you can't read just one. I'm already hungry for the next volume.
This particular book has a "mouse" theme, and therefore has a computer theme. In this book, there are real mice (yuk! but not too many, and only mentioned about 3 times, so don't let that stop you from reading the book), chocolate mice (Aunt Nettie's chocolate shop molds chocolate into different shapes), and computer mouses (and computers).
In this book, there are murder(s), computer attacks, and computer annoyances. Lee is one of the "members" of the informal "Seventh Major Food Group", which is a group of small area business people. Could one of these people be the killer? Could all of them be in danger? Lee is busy trying to help her aunt run the chocolate shop, but she still has to find time to be careful and possibly find clues to the killer. She and Lindy have some dangerous adventures.
I love the way Lee describes chocolates, truffles, bonbons, etc from her aunt's shop. She also describes other things such as comparisons to Texas and Michigan. I am also from north Texas, and everything she says is true, and hits home. I enjoy hearing about those things (especially since I know from personal experience that she speaks the truth!) I know how Lee feels; I've also lived other places.
Page 126, Lee speaks of iced tea, and it really hit home. It was very true. I've always heard that there is no (or very little) iced tea in the North. I also know that in Texas there is plenty of iced tea, and that sugar is optional (Lee was very correct in saying this!) When I drink iced tea, sometimes I drink it without sugar, and sometimes I drink it with a small amount of sugar (but never a large amount). Usually, I drink it without sugar. Lee also mentioned the deep South, in which the hot tea is poured over sugar to dissolve it thoroughly. I have lived in the deep South (due to job transfers, etc.), and from personal experience, I know that they drink very heavily sweetened iced tea - never a small amount of sugar, and never without any sugar at all. (I always said they like a little bit of tea in their sugar - that's how much sugar they prefer in their iced tea.) But I usually drink mine, like I said earlier, totally without sugar. I prefer the taste of the tea without the sugar. (But sometimes I do use a little bit, but not much, sugar in my iced tea.) My child used to live in Colorado (I guess Colorado would be considered "North", even though I like to refer to it as "West"), and she said that she could only find iced tea at one particular restaurant, but no where else.
Anyway, I love this series, and I can't wait to get started on the next book. Even though I don't think I'd ever be interested in living in Michigan (Lee is one brave Texas girl to be able to live in that cold Michigan ice and snow), I plan to "go" to Michigan again in the sixth book of the series.
It's time to kill the stupid "tongue tangling" gimmick already. It's annoying enough as it is, but now it's starting to seem forced, as if the author is trying too hard to throw them in there just for the sake of throwing them in. And if that's not bad enough, she calls even more attention to it by having Lee repeat the correct word/sentence several times afterwards, as well as over-exaggerating peoples' responses to it. And can we stop with the overuse of exclamation points? Not everything everyone says is an exclamation.
On local TV news is the report someone murdered Julie. Lee feels bad and a bit guilty that she recently badmouthed the woman, but goes on with her life. That changes when assaults on the fancy food group occurs. Julie wonders if one of the other five is a killer or could an outsider have a grudge against them. Julie plans to find out before she or her aunt become victims.
The latest chocolate animal amateur sleuth novel is a fine tale as Lee changes from detesting the victim to guilt and sorrow over her death to fear and courage for the safety of her aunt and her. The heroine's transformation happens quite smoothly as she hated the sugary emails, but never wished Julie dead nor willing to allow herself or her aunt to join the deceased by idly waiting for the cops to solve the caper. Once Lee knows that she has a different deadly rodent than the chocolate mice she made for a Shraeder Labs gala, she begins her investigation into who wants to murder the fancy food group.