Publication Date: April 4, 2015
Chef Maurice has a problem. Ollie Meadows has been the mushroom supplier for Chef Maurice’s little restaurant in the Cotswolds for some time but Ollie has disappeared! When Chef Maurice visits Ollie’s home, he finds that his trusted vendor has been holding out and hoarding rare white Alba truffles. With the help of his newly adopted pig, friend Arthur, sous chef Patrick and P.C. Lucy Galveston (why not involve the police), Chef Maurice has a mission. He will solve the mystery of where Ollie found the delightful truffles and perhaps where Ollie has gone.
The author, J. A. Lang gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
Readers of this blog may know that I love a good Cotswold cozy but little did I know the delight that waited in the pages of Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle. Everything there is to love about English cozy is embodied in this 240-page work. The characters are quirky, the setting is serene and the mystery is deadly. Spoiler alert, immediately after finishing the novel, I clicked over to Amazon and pre-ordered the next book in the series. J.A. Lang is now on my “buy first day and never miss” list of authors.
Lang brings readers to the Cotswolds through its people. The descriptions are entertaining and vivid. The town is small and the people may be eager to one-up each other but there’s a respect and protection inherent in their character. Ollie Meadows is not the most stand-up guy but he’s one of their own and they will work with the police to find him and discover what happened. When Lucy searches Ollie’s cabin she’s kind of finds clues in spite of the helpful folks of the area who perhaps watch a bit too much police procedural television and have all of the helpful answers.
Chef Maurice is quite the well-drawn character. Lang’s brilliance in writing characters is that most of what we know is conveyed in a conversational tone. This is fits with Chef Maurice’s character in that his interests are this or that conveyed in vignette. We get to know Chef Maurice fairly quickly so that when Patrick tells Lucy that Chef can be quite unobtrusive, we can predict that the answer to how frequently he’s unobtrusive is never. As a character he could be quite annoying, as he is so focused, but Lang imbues him with depth that the character himself doesn’t realize and makes the reader to smile with affection. In giving us the frame of Maurice’s psyche, she characterizes him as someone whose favorite animal is beef and whose abiding concern is food. When Maurice acquires the desired and valuable truffle, his mind is as much on the experience of having such a delicacy as well as the enjoyment it will derive.
Unlike many cozy sleuths he is not driven with an obsession to solve the puzzle of the mystery; his true concern for much of the novel is acquisition of mushrooms and a quite humorous obsession with truffles. To that end, he adopts the books best character—a miniature pig named Hamilton. When Maurice goes to the shelter from which he adopted Hamilton, in search of Ollie’s truffle sniffing dog, Hamilton makes no secret of his disapproval of the plan in loud squeals from the backseat. Chef Maurice belongs to Hamilton and the affectionate but not belabored bond they build left this reader smiling ear to ear.
Chef Maurice’s byplay with the police never ceased to bring a smile. P.C. Allistair is perhaps a little talky with the public, which is a delight to the Chef, but the bane of Chef Lucy’s existence. There is a charming Arly-Hanks-quality (Joan Hess’ Maggody series) to Lucy in that it’s the world of the quirky characters and she’s playing the straight man for everyone. The ever helpful P.C. Allistair isn’t helping matters by opening up on command at crime scenes to anyone asking a question. The star of the show could easily have been PC Lucy and the novel would still have been very good but having Maurice as the focus was a stroke of brilliance that makes Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle a delight to read.
The romance in Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle is done with a light-handed seasoning that works for the story and doesn’t distract the reader. Lang’s craft is honed and the work flows well to make the read quick but satisfying. Though readers get a complete story, there is a sense of disappointment at the end as our time with those characters has finished. I would have loved to have come into Lang’s series with 10 books in the bank and just gorged on the delightful characters in the idyllic setting for days.
Normally, I’d be talking about how the first novel in a series is weaker than what is to come or how we must make allowances as an author gets to know the characters. No need, in this case. Lang’s writing is flawless and I cannot imagine any character tweaks that should be made. Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle was fun, light and left this reader with a huge smile on her face.
Clever readers will surmise that I adored this book. I cannot adequately convey how well Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle was and how much I adored the story. If you like cozies—specifically Cotswold cozies, pick this one up today. You will not be disappointed.
Read an excerpt and pick up Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle by J.A. Lang on:
You can download the short story Chef Maurice and the Rather Fishy Tale: A Chef Maurice Mystery Short Story by J.A. Lang for free on: