The Chocolate Cat Caper was the first in a by now long-running series of American detective novels featuring ex-Texas trophy wife Lee McKinney – and chocolate.
The book is a light and pleasant treat – much like a good nougat chocolate from a selection box. It’s Murder She Wrote or Agatha Christie with added chocolate. Though crimes are committed it’s not a dark book, there are deaths and moments of tension, it’s more about the plot than the prose and there is a large range of characters most of whom had a motive (just fancy that). Yet it is all done with enough panache that fundamental implausibility doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the book.
Two features of the series do intrude rather more though. First, the author, Joanna Carl, scatters “chocolate facts” through the text. They are not related to the plot but are there as a brief distraction. A bit like a TV show with adverts. Second, the main character – Lee McKinney – has a speech impediment which means she sometimes says completely the wrong word. This happens often enough to be amusing but infrequently enough to avoid annoyance.
The basic plot premise and structure – gather together a group of suspects, commit a murder – are standard fare, however done with a twist or two along the way. It’s not giving away any secrets to reveal that the first suspect isn’t the end of the story, but the way the in which the police investigation seemingly concludes two-thirds of the way through does leave genuine doubt as to how the plot is going to develop. The final denouement has to be enjoyed for the slapstick scene that is intended. Directed well and put to a jaunty tune, it could make for a fantastic TV adaptation in the style of the best (i.e. earliest) episodes of Moonlighting.
Overall, an enjoyable read that does better at entertaining than at sticking in the memory for years to come.