The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox is an ambitious, first novel in a cozy mystery series. The author tries so hard to take popular, cozy characteristics that have been written about to death and put a unique spin on them, but the execution is not always successful.
Released: August 2016
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When Marley McKinney’s aging cousin, Jimmy, is hospitalized with pneumonia, she agrees to help run his pancake house while he recovers. With its rustic interior and syrupy scent, the Flip Side Pancake House is just as she pictured it—and the surly chef is a wizard with crêpes. Marley expects to spend a leisurely week or two in Wildwood Cove, the quaint, coastal community where she used to spend her summers, but then Cousin Jimmy is found murdered, sprawled on the rocks beneath a nearby cliff.
After she stumbles across evidence of stolen goods in Jimmy’s workshop, Marley is determined to find out what’s really going on in the not-so-quiet town of Wildwood Cove. With help from her childhood crush and her adopted cat, Flapjack, Marley sinks her teeth into the investigation. But if she’s not careful, she’s going to get burned by a killer who’s only interested in serving up trouble.
At some point in their life, the murder victim probably screwed over other characters in the story. Maybe they manipulated business deals to gain a large sum of money while leaving their business partner in financial ruin. Maybe they planned to demolish a beloved park to build a gas station. Or, maybe they were just a social pariah. Whatever the reason, it’s not like anyone is particularly sad that the person died, and it allows for several compelling motives.
In the Crepes of Wrath, the murder victim is a beloved member of the Wildwood Cove community and our main character, Marley’s, Uncle Jimmy. I was intrigued by this gutsy move at first, but then my interest waned as the story progressed. Uncle Jimmy’s death was meant to be emotional, and Marley spent the first half of the book morose and weepy. But, I was unmoved because I didn’t really get to know him. I didn’t get to see his involvement with the community or his relationship with Marley, so I didn’t get the opportunity to care about this character.
In the cozy mystery novels I’ve read so far, the main character is getting a chance at a fresh start. Usually they’re moving to a new city after a failed relationship or failed career. They’re discovering new friends, new favorite hangout spots, and new facets of themselves. Marley isn’t running away from a failed anything thouhg. She actually has a very stable job back in Seattle working as a legal assistant at a law firm; she just happens to be stepping in at her uncle’s restaurant while he’s in the hospital recovering from Pneumonia. I felt like this was another thing that made it hard to relate to Marley because nobody’s boss is that cool– most people can’t just take a month-long sabbatical to go work for your sick uncle. Aside from that, I just really missed reading about a character healing or trying to carve out a niche in their new hometown.
The slow burning romance tends to be a key element of cozy mystery series. Not that it’s ever R-rated like a Harlequin romance. Heck, I’m not sure I wouldn’t even consider it PG-13. Regardless, the main character tends to fall for one of their male companions (usually a cop or fellow sleuth) over the course of the series. Marley jumps right in to a romance with someone she had a crush on a decade earlier. It felt rushed. It felt forced.
I could have accepted the deviations from cozy mystery tropes, but Marley did not have a strong enough voice. Her personality did not shine through the narrative, so I had a hard time relating to her or sympathizing for her. She felt kind of generic.
Between midnight break-ins at the pancake house and scary car chases, Fox succeeds in making my heart race. Writing suspense instead of sob stories seems to be her expertise. She also manages to piece together a compelling mystery surrounding the murder of a well-loved member of the community. Where other authors may struggle to create believable motives for murdering an otherwise benign person, Fox does so with ease. She even adds in some very clever red herrings to really throw readers for a loop.
Overall, I thought Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox was okay. I can appreciate Fox’s series starter for trying to be different. Cozy mysteries are absolutely formulaic, and it’s nice to read something experimental for a change. But because Marley lacked a unique and compelling voice, I struggled to really immerse myself in the story.