5 stars out of 5
A "throzy," perhaps? See what I did there? Coined a new term for this kind of book: Easy, breezy reading that's a hallmark of a cozy, but enough sex, mayhem and moving-right-along excitement to qualify as a thriller.
There's another hallmark of a cozy at play here as well: A heroine who is (a) independent, headstrong and professionally successful, (b) fiercely loyal except when it doesn't serve her purpose, (c) hung up on past issues she can't resolve and (d) incapable of heeding anyone else's advice even when it puts her and those she loves in danger.
And there you have Sydney Richardson, owner of two very different restaurants in Madison, Wisconsin and the star of this, the first book in a new series. One, the Ten-Ten, primarily is a bar that caters to first-responders (her late father was a cop). The other, Hush Money (like the book title) is a hoity-toity sit-down restaurant targeting the upper-crust in this up-and-coming city. She's determined to make both restaurants a success, aided and abetted by her very capable, loving (if a bit overprotective and overbearing) mother, Nancy. Sydney is interesting and likable, except perhaps when she's in (c) or (d) mode - I identify more with the strong woman with a can-do attitude part. When she refuses to listen, or selectively blows off only one of the many who tell her to mind her own business, it's not so much; but then without those moments, I guess there wouldn't be much of a story.
And make no mistake, it's a solid one. One of the servers, a woman named Wanda (a.k.a., Windy), fails to show up for work at Hush Money. That evening, Sydney has a run-in with the very drunk wife of the town's hard-driving - some would say ruthless - mayor, who claims she was waiting for her no-show husband. Turns out he had a good reason; back at their home, hizzoner has met an untimely end. And who is the prime suspect? None other than Windy, who is at the home and covered in the mayor's blood.
No matter how convinced the cops are that Windy is guilty - including Sydney's father's old police partner Horst Welke, who's been assigned to the case - Sydney simply can't believe that this mother of a young daughter did the deed. So, Sydney hires hot-shot attorney Andrew Conyer who will, hopefully, get her off. As the evidence against Windy mounts, so does Sydney's determination that the woman is innocent; but will Sydney's constant push-backs against the police and Windy's lawyer do more harm than good?
Throughout it all, Sydney must keep the restaurants running (which involves, not insignificantly, riding herd on a talented but impossibly egotistical chef). Apparently she doesn't need much sleep, since many nights after her fancy restaurant closes, she heads for the Low Down, a blues bar, to kick back to the music and bask in the company of the handsome, witty, wife-free (of course) guy who owns it.
Everything builds up to a surprising conclusion, when just about everything is resolved except those pesky details of Sydney's long-ago past. Now, she's free once again to build up business at her restaurants, possibly find a love life and, almost certainly, tackle another murder - all of which, I assume, will be fodder for the next book. I'll be waiting!
Thanks very much to the publisher, via NetGalley, for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Hush Money by T.E. Woods (Alibi, August 2017). Page count not listed.