Rating: 4.5 stars
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Mystery on the Menu is an anthology of three cozy mysteries taking place in the small town of Orca’s Slough, located on an island in Puget Sound. The stories all feature Chef Drew Allison and Deputy “Mac” Mackenzie as they meet and develop a relationship over the course of solving mysteries. These stories have a great small town vibe with lots of interesting side characters (particularly senior citizen lesbians Evelyn and Julie). Everyone seems to be connected to one another in some way, including Mac being from a family of law enforcement officers, so there are some fun twists that come from being mysteries set in a small community. Each mystery is a discrete case that is solved at the end of the story, but the relationship between Mac and Drew develops over the course of the anthology.
The mysteries are novella/short novel length and could stand alone as separate books, but it is really nice to have them here together to read back to back. This is definitely a book where you are going to want to read all three mysteries to get the full relationship development, as well as resolution to an overarching mystery affecting Mac’s family. And as a last note, the first story, “Entree to Murder,” was originally published as part of the Footsteps in the Dark anthology and has been re-released here as part of this anthology. You get all of Drew and Mac’s journey here in this book, but some folks may have caught that first story in the other anthology as well.
Entree to Murder
Drew came to Orca’s Slough to open the fine dining restaurant, Eelgrass Bistro, with his good friend, Samantha. However, things aren’t going well, as business isn’t great and Samantha’s drug habit and partying is sucking up what profits they manage to make. Things get even worse when Drew finds the body of their drug-dealing bartender, Dorian, murdered in the restaurant. And when Drew appears to be being set up as the prime murder suspect, he knows he is really in trouble. Fortunately, Mac Mackenzie seems to be the only competent member of law enforcement in town and he is on the case. However, that doesn’t stop Drew from asking questions around Orca’s Slough and trying to figure out who is really behind the murder before he ends up in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Mac isn’t thrilled that Drew won’t keep his nose out of things, but it does give the men a chance to get to know one another better. But with a killer on the loose and Drew in their sights, keeping safe is not going to be easy.
This story really nicely lays the foundation for both Orca’s Slough and its citizens, as well as the relationship between Mac and Drew. Mac is this huge guy, steady and solid, and with a taste for fine food that makes him a great fit for Drew. Mac is determined to find the killer, and adorably exasperated with Drew when he doesn’t stay out of trouble. Drew has a bit of a bad boy streak and he is having trouble keeping to the sidelines, especially when it is his future on the line. The guys make a nice connection here and there is definitely a hint of more to come, but the story ends before anything goes too far romantically. I might have been a little disappointed in where things ended for them if this was the end of their journey, but with two more stories in the anthology, I think the resolution works well. There is some nice intensity and excitement at the end of the story, and the mystery is interesting and gives us a chance to learn more about the various Orca’s Slough residents.
Recipe for Trouble
It is strawberry season in Orca’s Slough, which means it’s time for the annual festival that brings some big tourist traffic to the island. Drew is participating with a team this year in the strawberry cook-off and the outside judge is none other than his ex-boyfriend turned celebrity chef, Michael. Michael arrives with all his TV entourage, plus some very unexpected news about the Eelgrass Bistro. Fortunately, Drew and Michael get along pretty well, though Drew is definitely reminded why things didn’t work out between them. The bigger problem is a suspicious fire at the farm where the contest is to take place… and the dead body found in the burned out building. When there are more fires and other suspicious goings on, Mac is on the case (and Drew is amateur sleuthing right alongside). But when the investigation looks to have a connection to Mac’s past, it makes the situation even more intense for both men.
This second story jumps us ahead about eight months and Drew and Mac are solidly dating at this point, though still keeping things mostly a secret as Mac isn’t out publicly yet. The guys are definitely more serious about one another at this point and taking those steps into boyfriends in love territory. While the first case focused mostly on Drew’s orbit, this second one begins to involve Mac and his family, as there are connections to his father’s mysterious disappearance. Drew starts to get to know Mac’s siblings and we learn more about Mac’s past. It shows some nice progression for Drew, who came to the island pretty much just knowing Samantha and has slowly created a found family with Evelyn, Julie, and Lionel, and is now getting to be a part of a real family with the Mackenzies. I don’t think the mystery here is quite as strong as in the first story, though it is still engaging, particularly as it relates to Mac’s father. But the personal side of things really shines through well and the relationship end develops nicely.
Homicide and Hospitality
After months of dating, Drew and Mac have recently moved in together and are living in Mac’s family home. It is almost Christmas and guys are happily (and publicly) coupled up. Things are going well until a body is found in the water and it turns out to be someone they both know. As Mac and Drew dig into the mystery of who is behind the killing, the case also begins to reveal more about what happened to Mac’s dad so many years ago. It is an emotional subject for all the Mackenzie siblings and particularly stressful for Mac. At the same time, the men have a full house for the holidays, with Mac’s sisters both staying with them, plus Julie and Evelyn as holiday visitors. As they get closer to learning the truth about both the long ago disappearance and the modern day murder, it will take all Mac and Drew have to figure out who is behind it all — and stay one step ahead of the killer.
This last installment nicely rounds out the story on both the relationship and mystery fronts. We get closure on what happened with Mac’s father, which has been nicely developed over the course of the book, and it comes together really well. We also see how far Drew and Mac have come, now a solid couple who are happily settling into their lives together. Mac finds himself sort of frustratedly amused by Drew’s amateur sleuthing, but he has also come to rely on his boyfriend’s help and insight. I love the progression of their relationship and seeing them so happy together here. This story also once again highlights the found family connection, particularly with Julie and Evelyn, as well as with Lionel. We get a nice resolution and steps forward for the various characters and this last story is a great way to tie things all together.
Overall, I really found this an excellent anthology and I just fell in love with Mac and Drew. The mysteries are fun, there is a great small-town vibe, and the characters are really engaging. I particularly enjoyed how Julie and Evelyn become almost surrogate mothers for Drew along the way, and the octogenarians add some humor and fun to the stories. Mystery on the Menu is a wonderful anthology and I can highly recommend it. And if Kimberling ever decides to revisit Mac and Drew with more mysteries, I will be first in line.