"Recipes to make you dream of chocolate in this South Carolina mystery"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted December 1, 2017
Like many food-themed cosy mysteries, this Southern Chocolate
Shop Mystery is entertaining, full of character and
radiating enough flavours to make your mouth water. I think
it was the mention of the special Brazilian mountain village
coffee beans that worked best for me. The crime details in
ASKING FOR TRUFFLE might be a little harder to swallow.
Charity Penn is one of these 'don't you know who I am?'
heiresses we all find annoying. She has more cause than
most, as the infant Penn was dumped by her unwed mother on
her rich father and raised in Wisconsin by a succession of
relatives. Now Penn has a trust fund she doesn't intend to
use and a chip on her shoulder the size of a California
redwood. A letter informing her that she has won cooking
lessons in a South Carolina beach town looks like a scam.
People are always angling for her money, including
boyfriends. But a school friend, Skinny McGee, says he can
call in while in the area. He phones, recommends Penn comes
down to the chocolate shop, and is murdered before you can
The unlikeliest part of the whole tale, for me, is that Penn
heads off to the decaying town of Camellia Beach, stays at
its Pink Pelican Inn and takes lessons in chocolate cookery
at The Chocolate Box. Why would she, if random visitors get
killed and the police claim it was a drug deal gone bad?
This sounds like a Sue Grafton crime tale but our Penn is no
PI. Still, we accept that Penn has to be on the spot, where
she immediately starts asking everyone if they know what
happened to Skinny and doing the 'don't you know who I
am?' line. No, actually, most of them don't. And they
don't care. This being a small town, characters have to
double up, so the dedicated surfer is also the lawyer and
the daughter of one of the chocolate shop partners is also a
New Age crystal seller.
I love that a social conscience dominates the buying of the
shop's raw materials, by two admirable elderly ladies,
Bertie Mays and Miss Mabel Maybank. They're as different as
chalk and cheese, when so many small-town tales are bland in
population. I also like Stella, the lively and at times
ill-mannered Papillion puppy Penn brings as company and
guard dog. To tell you any more would spoil the scenic
story, so I'll just assure you that Dorothy St. James'
sumptuous ASKING FOR TRUFFLE is best enjoyed with
chocolates. And yes, there are recipes!
When Charity Penn receives a letter saying she won a trip
Camellia Beach, South Carolina complete with free cooking
lessons at the townâ€™s seaside chocolate shop, The
Box, sheâ€™s immediately skeptical. She never entered any
contest. Her former prep school friend offers to look
the phony prizeâ€”only to end up drowned in a vat of
Struck with guilt, Penn heads to the southern beach town
investigate why he was killed. But as wary as she is of
locals, she finds herself lured into their eccentric
letting her defenses melt away and even learning the art
crafting delicious chocolates. That is, until delight
bittersweet as she steps straight into the midst of a
plot to destroy the seaside town. Now, only Pennâ€™s quick
thinking and a mysterious cask of rare chocolate can save
the town sheâ€™s learning to love.
Rich and decadent, Asking for Truffle, the first
new cozy series by Dorothy St. James, is sure to be a
delectable read for fans of JoAnna Carl and Joanne Fluke.
ExcerptOn the screen was a newspaper headline:
Man Murdered in Vat of Chocolate.
â€śWhat in the world is this?â€ť I asked.
A consummate researcher, Granny Mae searching out
articles about chocolate and chocolate shops didnâ€™t
surprise me. Digging through information had been her way
of helping out after Iâ€™d received that phony prize to an
obscure chocolate shop on the beach.
I scrunched my brows and read the headline again. Murder
by chocolate? The articles that usually caught her fancy
were scientific discoveries, political opinion pieces,
and human rights violations. Not sensational murders.
â€śWhat is this? I donâ€™t have time to read an article about
some bizarre murder,â€ť I said and then checked my phone
for the call that still hadnâ€™t come.
Granny Mae had three PhDsâ€”one in biochemistry, one in
astrophysics, and the third in journalism. Strange or
sensational news simply wasnâ€™t her thing.
â€śItâ€™s Skinny,â€ť she whispered.
â€śWhat?â€ť I dropped like a heavy weight into the nearest
kitchen chair. A frigid cold that had nothing to do with
the outside air settled deep into my bones. I read the
entire article. Skinny?
â€śNo. It canâ€™t be. It canâ€™t be him,â€ť I said.
Granny Mae bent down and enveloped me in her warm
embrace. Together we cried loud, sloppy, hiccupy sobs,
the kind I loathed. But with her holding onto me, making
me feel safe and loved, I couldnâ€™t seem to hold back my
After Iâ€™d wrung myself dry, she handed me a tissue for my
nose and then blew hers as well. â€śAfter we met with your
friend, I subscribed to the digital edition of Camellia
Beachâ€™s local newspaper, The Camellia Current. I was
hoping the newspaper might help us learn more about the
town and the chocolate shop that sent the prize letter,â€ť
she explained. â€śItâ€™s a small-town paper. Most issues are
filled with things like arguments about new land
developments at the monthly town council meeting, surf
contest results, and this scone recipe. But this
morningâ€™s headlineâ€¦â€ť She tapped the iPad with the heavy
scone she still had in her hand.
â€śI canâ€™t believe it,â€ť I whispered. It couldnâ€™t be true.
But each time I read the article, the facts refused to
change. Last night Skinny McGee, my Skinny McGee, whoâ€™d
promised to call this morning to tell me his exciting
news, had been dipped headfirst into a huge vat of
semisweet chocolate in the back room of Camellia Beachâ€™s
local chocolate shop, the Chocolate Box.
The Chocolate Box: the same chocolate shop where Iâ€™d won
cooking lessonsâ€”cooking lessons Skinny had suggested I
I need to think.
I need to think.
But my mind, along with the rest of my body, had frozen
â€śCould you let Stella in? She must be a pupsicle by now,â€ť
Granny Mae sniffed back tears. She grumbled about the
little dog as she padded toward the back door and swung
it open, letting in a blast of frigid air.
I looked at the article again.
â€śStart packing your bags,â€ť Skinny had told me. â€śYou
really need to come down here and see this for yourself.â€ť
Why? I silently asked him. What did you find?
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