Tea with Jam and Dread by Tamar Myers (mystery novel, 2016).
This one’s the latest in a popular series of cozy murder mysteries set in the fictional village of Hernia, PA (population 2,200 or so) and narrated by Magdalena Yoder, owner of the PennDutch Inn and highly successful amateur sleuth. “Mags” is nominally a pious Mennonite lady, but blessed/cursed with a smart-mouthed intelligence and opinionated nature. They get her in trouble with others almost as much as helping her solve the crimes that pop up around her with alarming frequency. Like this book, all the volumes in the series have both culinary- and pun-based titles (Butter Safe Than Sorry, Grape Expectations, etc.) that perfectly reflect the blending of persistent (sometimes absurd, satirical or even outright slapstick) humor with generally gruesome murder scenes. Oh, and recipes–each book is sprinkled with about a half-dozen mini-chapters composed of homespun recipes for various edibles or beverages at least kind of related to the narrative.
Hernia is allegedly in Pennsylvania’s Bedford County, a real area that lies “just over the mountain” from Windber, PA., where I live. Like much of the surrounding region, it’s mostly rural and has a significant minority population of Amish and/or Mennonite people. These are the folks often (inaccurately) called the Pennsylvania-Dutch (actually mostly of German stock, but that’s a whole other story). That interesting subculture–with many customs and traditions guaranteed to conflict with the majority culture’s ideas–provide Myers with a very interesting and different background, which she has used to great effect throughout the one-of-a-kind series.
This time around, a family of English nobility arrive for a stay at Magdalena’s Bed & Breakfast. They’re frankly cartoon-level snobs and, in the grand tradition of mystery fiction, things involving them simply Are Not What They Seem. I won’t ruin the plot with spoilers, but I must admit that, in marked contrast to a couple earlier volumes of Magdalena’s adventures that I liked far more, this time it felt like Myers might be trying a bit too hard. It’s not that this book is bad, by any means. But our narrator/investigator’s constant chattiness and coy asides struck me as a bit much on this occasion.
Maybe I simply wasn’t in quite the best mood for the literary stew Myers cooked up for us this time. I normally enjoy her variety of sly and even mocking social/cultural commentary. This time I found it all just slightly too over-the-top. Worse, the big climactic reveal at the end didn’t quite convince me.
Though I found this particular example a less successful effort, I certainly recommend the series as a whole to anyone with a taste for the sub-genres of culinary and humorous cozies with out-of-the-ordinary settings.