One of the benefits of getting picked up by a new publisher is that you’re welcomed into the family pretty quickly. Just shortly after signing with Dundurn Press back in May, I was invited to attend the launch for Mary Jackman’s debut mystery novel Spoiled Rotten, which they’ve also published. I hadn’t read a mystery in more than 15 years, but I picked up hers at the launch and decided to give it a whirl.
What fun! Jackman is a natural storyteller and she puts together her tale of murder in Toronto’s dining scene with a good structure and strong, serviceable prose. Spoiled Rotten tells the story of Liz Walker, a restaurateur whose star chef is accused of the brutal killing a meat supplier in Kensington Market. Liz, plucky and self deprecating, takes it upon herself to clear her chef and her restaurant’s name by investigating the crime herself. Along the way, she strikes up a cheeky romance with Detective Winn, the police officer in charge of solving the case.
What ensues is a fun – albeit sometimes grisly – romp through dismemberments, food poisoning, runaway gentrification in Kensington Market, thwarted love, municipal politics, and nasty blows to the head. Jackman provides a loving and diverse picture of the restaurant business as well as her native Toronto. Her descriptions of the city in all its frenetic charm are well done, as are her descriptions of Liz’s cramped office, popular-but-struggling restaurant, and less-than-perfect personal life.
But the real strength here is the story. Jackman ramps up the tension without giving up too much plausibility as Liz becomes the real killer’s next target. The ending is satisfying and leaves the door open for more Liz Walker Mysteries, one of which I hear is already on the way. Spoiled Rotten is a great book to check out if you’re a mystery fan, or just in need of a fun, fast read.