Friday, February 10, 2017

A Little Blood in Your Sweet Tea? A Review of Gayle Leeson's The Calamity Café

Lou Lou Holman, a bitter, chain-smoking, miserly café owner keels over in her own office. Many who knew her think the world is better off without her. But the police suspect foul play, and one of the suspects is Amy Flowers, a soon-to-be ex-employee and competitor of Lou Lou. If she is ever going to get on with her life, she’ll have to find the real killer herself.

The first book in the new Down South Café series of cozy mysteries by Gayle Leeson, The Calamity Café (New American Library, 2016, $7.99 paperback) sets the stage for the series with a murder right on the premises. Leeson is also the author of seven Embroidery Series mysteries under the name Amanda Lee. 

Amy Flowers is a culinary school graduate hoping to make her mark in her home town of Winter Garden, Virginia. Ready at last to open her own restaurant, she is leaving her waitressing job at Lou’s Joint, and boldly offers to buy it from the owner, Lou Lou Holman. Lou Lou sends her packing, but when Lou Lou’s son Pete offers to meet Amy with his “momma” to discuss the sale again, Amy finds her old boss dead.  While trying to put her business plans on track, Amy sets out to find the real killer and finds that Lou Lou’s life is more complicated than it had seemed. It involves an overprotective knife-wielding father, a couple of drug addicts, a love triangle, and an eighty-year-old unsolved bank robbery. Amy gets help from dreamy deputy sheriff Ryan, her circle of lifelong hometown friends, and a slew of local gossips, while feeding the whole town a variety of good ole home cooked delicacies.

Gayle Leeson, a native of Virginia, writes with a genuine Southern voice that gives this novel a decidedly down-home flavor. Her generous sprinkling of simile (“as pretty as a pat of butter on a stack of hot pancakes”) adds another thick folksy layer. The Southern reader will identify not only with the language, but with the small-town attitudes about societal roles, what’s right, and what’s wrong. I look forward to reading more of this series.