Saturday, September 17, 2022

Review: Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron

by Ellen Byron
Release Date: June 7, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593437612
Audiobook: B09J9ZJWJ1
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Twenty-eight-year-old widow Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid internet stunt. The Big Easy is where she was born and adopted by the NICU nurse who cared for her after Ricki's teen mother disappeared from the hospital.

Ricki's dream comes true when she joins the quirky staff of Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, the spectacular former Garden District home of late bon vivant Genevieve "Vee" Charbonnet, the city's legendary restauranteur. Ricki is excited about turning her avocation - collecting vintage cookbooks - into a vocation by launching the museum's gift shop, Miss Vee's Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware. Then she discovers that a box of donated vintage cookbooks contains the body of a cantankerous Bon Vee employee who was fired after being exposed as a book thief.
My Thoughts
Bayou Book Thief is the first book in a new series set in New Orleans, featuring a woman who is interested in collecting vintage cookbooks and using them to develop thematic cooking parties and celebrations as well as open her own store with other vintage items on display.  The setting is always a a huge draw for me, but the story was shock full of interesting tidbits about the city, had many twists and turns, and was fun, with a host of quirky characters.  

Ricki James, recently moved from L.A. to escape the spotlight of her husband who died while filming himself doing a stunt, finds herself as the new owner of a vintage bookstore in one of the spectacular museum houses in New Orleans.  She had always been a fan of the former owner, Genevieve Charbonnet, a legendary restauranteur, and is excited to join the staff celebrating her life and family legacy.  I thought she made a great investigator because she was discrete and didn't do anything stupid. And the revelations, with Ricki being in the right spot at the right time, made sense. No silly coincidences or absurd stuff happening.  The focus was more on Ricki than on some of the other characters, but being the first book in a series, that is to be expected. The secondary characters were not neglected however, it's just that there wasn't enough time to really allow their personalities and quirks to really shine, something that I expect will be done in future books.

I thought the actual mystery was quite intriguing, and it did take me a little while to figure it out as the person I thought it was didn't turn out to be the culprit so I had to re-evaluate.  The red herrings were nicely laid out and there were a couple of times when I paused, simply to reflect on how easy it is to judge someone without knowing the full truth of something.  I was also mesmerized by the setting and the details around the new bookshop, so perhaps I missed a couple of things while focusing on those details. I did have one quibble about the name of the place as Ricki mentioned a couple of times that Le Bon Vee was named after the French expression to have a good life and then proceeded to call it "Le bon vie", but being French, it is actually "La bonne vie". This nagged at me just a little bit.and I couldn't let it go.  Other than that, I thought the twists and turns were great, loved the descriptions of the food (I would love a Po'boy right now), and enjoyed Ricki's shopping expeditions. So much fun!

Bayou Book Thief was a great first book in a new series set in New Orleans.  With some good twists and turns and lovely descriptions of New Orleans combined with a writing style that keeps you interested in the characters and the setting, it had everything you would want in a cozy mystery.  Luckily, just as I was finishing this one, I was gifted an ARC of Wined and Died in New Orleans, the next book in this series which releases February 2023.  If you are an avid cozy mystery reader, I  highly recommend this book.