Customers trust Lilah Drake to keep her mouthwatering meals under wraps, but when a millionaire meets his untimely end, some sinister secrets become the main course. . . .
Spring is right around the corner, and with the warmer temperatures come plenty of food requests from Lilah Drake's covered-dish clients. Lilah pulls out all the stops with a sweet new casserole for the birthday party of Marcus Cantwell, a wealthy curmudgeon who has some angry ex-wives and more than a few enemies.
When he's found facedown in Lilah's casserole, it's anyone's guess as to who might have wanted the old man dead. A possible new heir to Marcus’s fortune adds some unexpected spice to the investigation, but Lilah fears that the old adage is true, and "the proof is in the pudding."
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A warm breeze wafted in through my car window as I drove down Breville Road. My companion, Mick the dog, sniffed the layers of air, sorting them with his exceptional and complicated nose. “You like that smell, huh, buddy?” I asked him, reaching out with my right hand to ruffle the fur on his large brown head. “I think we’ve both had enough of winter.”
The snow seemed mostly melted away on the streets and parkways, and on this bright and sunny Saturday, the twentieth of March, spring flowers were poking shyly out of flower beds, promising that a new season was upon us. Along with the earthy smell of spring was the delicious cinnamon-sugar aroma of my latest concoction, a rice pudding casserole of my own invention. I had become accustomed to not getting credit for some of my best dishes, dependent as I was on the regular money I earned from letting other people get the applause for my work. In fact, it was the credit they received for my dishes that made my cooking so valuable to these clients—and I had developed quite a list of them over the last couple years.
Mick and I, accustomed delivery companions, were heading to an event to which we were, for once, actually invited, although the dish we were bringing was officially going to be attributed to my friend Ellie Parker. As I squinted against the surprisingly bright sun, I reflected on the serendipitous events that had led me to Ellie—and to her son. Ellie lived in North Pine Haven in a sweet two-story home with a large and lush garden behind it. She and I had met once at a Tupperware party, and although she was old enough to be my mother, we had formed an instant bond and had continued to meet—for coffee, for book chats, for Saturday lunches. Somewhere along the line Ellie had decided that I would be perfect for her son Jay, a Pine Haven police detective, but instead of telling me that, she arranged for Jay and me to meet at her house one day. That had occurred what seemed like a year ago but had actually been in October. Jay and I did hit it off, but then we fought and separated. We had reconciled at Christmas, although we found that our schedules were surprisingly incompatible. Still, we’d had some lovely times together, my favorite of which had been a winter visit to the zoo, where we’d shared hot chocolate and learned that we both loved tapirs and outrageously expensive but weirdly delicious zoo hot dogs, and I’d had many opportunities to gaze into Parker’s blue eyes at close proximity.
Then, just as things were at their most romantic, Parker was sent away to some sort of training event in New York, and he had been gone for a dismal two weeks. I had never been overly fond of texting, but I had probably sent Parker about a thousand texts in the time he had been gone. He wasn’t as prolific, but he assured me that he liked mine, and would respond when he could. He texted complete sentences in his careful Parker way, so it was like getting a beautiful letter when I did hear from him.
Today I had not received anything, and my eyes flicked restlessly to my phone every few minutes, willing it to ping and tell me that Parker was thinking of me.
Mick rustled in his seat and sighed, seemingly with pure happiness. Mick loved spring because there was so much to dig out of the dirt and sniff at length. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. We had been through a great deal together, Mick and I. “You’re the best, Mick,” I said.
Mick nodded. I had never trained Mick to do this as a puppy; he had taught himself this way of responding to what I said to him. His special ability to gesture this way made our relationship seem even closer—as though Mick truly understood the things I said and wanted to offer me his affirmation.
“You know, it’s quite an honor for you, being invited to this party. It’s because Ellie loves you so much, and I guess her neighbor is a huge dog lover. It’s his birthday, and he wants to see you nod. Make sure you do it, now. Don’t make liars of Ellie and me.”
Mick seemed to be thinking about this. I tapped my hands on the steering wheel. I always had a song in my head; I hadn’t decided if this were a blessing or a curse. In today’s tune, Green Day asked me when September would end. I wondered why my brain didn’t stay in season.
As we neared Ellie’s house, I worried over logistics. I needed to get the casserole to her without anyone next door seeing the transfer. Her neighbor Marcus Cantwell was a retired businessman of some sort with a house twice the size of Ellie’s and a rumored fortune. He had been married three times and had five children, all of whom, Ellie assured me, would be at this birthday party—his sixty-fifth. Ellie had also told me that Marcus had a gruff exterior and people misunderstood him, thinking him rude and unfriendly.
I interpreted this to mean that he was rude and unfriendly, but had been won over by Ellie’s many charms. Ellie had spoken to Cantwell about Mick because Cantwell had four dogs of his own, and he had been “enchanted” by her stories of my dog and his ability to converse with people in his silent way.
This had earned Mick and me an invitation to the birthday party of a rich man we had never met. One of Cantwell’s children had young children of her own, and Ellie had wanted to make something special that the little ones would enjoy. That’s where I came in, with my new and wonderful rice pudding casserole. I’d made it with very kid-friendly ingredients, with raisins in only half of it in case some little tyke found them repulsive. My favorite child, a boy named Henry whom I had unofficially adopted as my own nephew, had taste tested the casserole and proclaimed it “pretty yummy,” so I felt confident that Ellie would receive her due praise.
I pulled into Ellie’s driveway, centered between two flower beds that were mostly raked earth; I saw a few tulips and crocuses, though, showing their yellow and orange noses to the world. I drove the car as close to her door as I could, then got out with Mick and retrieved the casserole, hidden inside a large, sturdy canvas tote. Mick and I ran to the door, where Ellie stood waiting.
She looked pretty, and I wondered if the thrice-divorced Cantwell had designs on the widowed Ellie. Her white hair was pulled back in an elegant twist, and her makeup, expertly applied, made her look ten years younger than she was. She wore a pair of gray slacks and a white blouse, over which she’d donned a light gray cardigan and some long silver necklaces. It looked terrific.
“Uh-oh,” I said, hugging her. “I think I may have dressed down more than I should have.” I had been in a hurry, so I’d grabbed a pair of khaki pants and a yellow T-shirt with appliqued roses at the neckline.
“You look beautiful—like a little buttercup,” Ellie said, studying me. “Oh, what I would give for that long blond hair.”
“Your hair is perfect.”
A necessary and rewarding component of my friendship with Ellie was our willingness to validate each other—sometimes at great length.
Ellie smiled her thanks, eyeing my bag. “Is this my contribution to the party?”
“Yes. Rice pudding casserole, tested by Sir Henry of Weston.”
“Your little friend Henry? Your friend’s nephew?”
“Yes. He loved it.”
“Good. There are three little ones, I’m told, and I want to be their favorite person.”
“You will. Plus you’re bringing Mick, and kids love him.”
“Oh my, yes!” she said, stooping to pet Mick, who had been waiting for some attention. “You are a special boy, aren’t you?” said Ellie affectionately. “Marcus can’t wait to meet you.” She turned to me. “He just loves dogs.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Is that the only thing that Marcus loves?”
Ellie made a scoffing sound. “Don’t be ridiculous. We’ve lived side by side for years, but we always keep our neighborly distance. Just some nice chats over the garden fence now and then.”
“Huh.” I slipped a hand into my pocket and ran it over my cell phone, willing it to make its familiar buzzing sound. “Have you heard from Jay?”
Ellie had been putting her nose against Mick’s, but she lifted her head sharply. “No, why?” She studied me with a wise expression. “Is someone feeling twinges of lovesickness?”
“It’s a little early for lovesickness,” I said briskly, setting the bag down on her table. “But yes.”
Ellie laughed. “Oh, I am so glad you two are finally together. I really had a vision of it ever since I met you. But I couldn’t quite figure out how to best introduce you. Jay is so—Well, you know Jay.”
I did know him—or at least I was getting to know him. He was wonderful: smart, handsome, hardworking, but perhaps a bit antisocial. He had made an exception for me, and now I was his girlfriend. This was still so new that sometimes Parker and I just sat and grinned at each other, glad, as Ellie was, that we had ended up together.
Ellie gave Mick one final pat and stood up. “Ugh—my knees,” she said. “They’re pretty creaky.”
“You should sit in a chair and pet him. He’ll be happy to come to you.”
She shrugged and nodded. I pointed at the casserole. “There it is. Do you want to carry it in the pan or leave it in the bag?”
“The pan, I think. Looks very homemade. Oh, I do feel guilty taking credit for your work. But I also love the looks on people’s faces when they eat it—and in the past, it was always my own food they were eating.” Ellie’s arthritis had grown painful enough to prevent her from creating anything too complicated in the kitchen.
“I know. And you pay for the right to see those looks on their faces. Enjoy it.”
“Which reminds me,” Ellie said. She walked across her kitchen to a cookie jar in the shape of a chubby monkey. My face grew hot looking at it, because the first time I had met Jay Parker was when I was taking money out of that jar and he had found me doing it. He had halfway suspected me of being a thief in his mother’s kitchen. It was still embarrassing to contemplate the memory.
“Here you go,” Ellie said, handing me a small stack of bills.
“This looks like too much,” I said.
“It’s not. Now tuck it away, and let’s go to a party.”
“I think I smell food from over there. And—is that music?”
“Oh yes. There’s a live band in his backyard. I truly think his children are competing for his attention, because each one has tried to outdo the others with birthday gifts. The oldest boy paid for the band, I think, and the second-oldest boy had bagpipers here this morning. Can you imagine? Bagpipes playing ‘Loch Lomond’ at ten in the morning.”
I giggled. “Sorry I missed that.”
“And the girls came marching up the walk with huge packages and baskets and boxes. I’m not one to gossip, but I do wonder if they all want special treatment in the will. Marcus has always joked to me that he’s richer than God but not as ostentatious.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“He doesn’t spend a lot. He has a big house, but not a mansion. He drives a nice car, but it’s not a Mercedes. He told me he’s always been a saver. Maybe his children are counting on that.”
“If he’s rich, then there’s enough for all of them.”
“You would think,” said Ellie, leading me toward the back of her kitchen and the door into her yard. “We can go in through his garden,” she said. “There’s a little arbor tucked into his fence, and it’s like a lovely, fragrant doorway to his yard.”
I followed her, and the sound of music strummed on multiple guitars, to the Cantwell backyard. It was perhaps four times the size of Ellie’s yard, and filled with activity. The musicians, three men with guitars and a woman with a mandolin, stood against a fence and played Beatles tunes. I had heard “I Will” from Ellie’s kitchen, and now they were playing “Hey Jude.” My father, a Beatles fan since way back, would have been in heaven listening to this group.
The yard was a chaos of milling bodies, running children, wandering dogs, barbecue smells, and white-smocked caterers. A photographer wandered here and there, snapping pictures of the crowd. I didn’t recognize any of the servers, which meant my employer, Haven of Pine Haven, had not handled this event. A young woman with a red perm and a stiff white apron came by with a tray of punch glasses; Ellie and I each took one, thanking her, and she moved on into the crowd. I held Mick’s leash with my free hand, and Ellie held the rice pudding with hers. Thus encumbered, we plowed ahead.
“Let’s find Marcus before things get too crazy,” Ellie said.
She led me into a spacious house dominated by dark polished wood. Here some more caterers moved surreptitiously in and out of rooms; I caught a glimpse of a large kitchen and a long, empty dining room before we entered a front room with a wall-mounted flat-screen TV that dominated the space like an electronic idol; everything else was centered around it.
The television was off, but a man in a large red armchair sat staring at it with a rather blank expression. He took occasional sips from a fancy-looking drink on a table beside him. There was no one else in the room.
“Marcus?” Ellie said. “Happy birthday!” She moved forward and touched his arm. “Thank you for inviting us to the party.”
“Of course,” he said in a gruff voice as though he hadn’t spoken for a while. “And who is your friend?”
“This is Lilah! She brought Mick, the dog I told you about.”
The man’s face grew slightly animated. “How are you, boy?” he asked, talking to Mick.
Mick obligingly moved forward and thrust his skull between the man’s knees. That earned a bark of laughter from Marcus Cantwell. He had a big lionlike head with a sheaf of white hair; I realized in a flash of insight that he reminded me of Andrew Jackson.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 stars Pudding Up with Murder finds Lilah Drake and her friend Ellie Parker, who happens to her boyfriend’s mother, in a familiar situation. Lilah has a little secret business where she cooks dishes for people and then allows them to pass off the dishes as their own. This time around, Ellie requests that Lilah make a rice pudding for her neighbor Marcus Cantwell’s birthday party. After happily reminiscing that the pudding tasted like childhood, Marcus collapses into the dish and later dies. Lilah and Ellie know they didn’t do anything wrong, and luckily this time around the police are there and know that they aren’t guilty. In recent years, Marcus became a difficult man to get along with. He was a wealthy man who seemed to love his dogs more than he loved his three ex-wives, five children, and three grandchildren. He believed in hard work and wasn’t one to lavish his family with money. He didn’t seem to have any enemies. But the question remains, who would have wanted him dead and why? Julia Buckley has written a wonderful mystery to add to her Undercover Mystery series. The main characters of Lilah, Ellie, her boyfriend Jay, her brother, and sister-in-law are wonderful. The secondary characters of Marcus Cantwell’s children and grandchildren are just as great. The mystery was good with you not being able to take anything for granted. Julia definitely added a few extra breadcrumbs to throw readers off. There were definitely a few surprises. I’m happy to say that the romance girl in me is extremely pleased. I’m hoping this series continues because I just can’t get enough of these characters. Hopefully, a couple of the secondary characters will make more appearances. **Received a copy from Penguin Berkley and voluntarily reviewed the book.**
Pudding Up with Murder by Julia Buckley is the third cozy mystery in An Undercover Dish Mystery series. Lilah Drake works as a secret chef in her spare time (when not working at Pine Haven Caterer’s). Lilah along with her dog, Mick are attending the birthday party of Marcus Cantwell. She prepared a rice pudding for her client, Ellie Parker to take to the event. After speaking with Marcus, Lilah is given a tour and the dish on the family by Cash Cantwell. When Lilah goes back to the kitchen, people are enjoying the rice pudding. Marcus enters the kitchen with an empty bowl of rice pudding and collapses. Thankfully, Detective Maria Grimaldi was on hand to secure the scene and quickly gather evidence. Who disliked Marcus enough to murder him? When Cash ends up being a prime suspect, Lilah starts looking at the extended family to find the real killer. I found Pudding Up with Murder to be easy to read and it had a decent pace. The mystery was straightforward and one detail gives away the identity of the murderer. I could pinpoint the killer early in the story. I felt the romance dominated the book (I like a little romance, but I this was over-the-top). I quickly tired of Lilah mooning over Jay and Jay’s jealousy over Angelo Cardelini (it was ridiculous). I wanted more investigation and less day-to-day activities. There is cooking, walking the dog, dates, friends, and work. These elements make up a significant portion of the book. My rating for Pudding Up with Murder is 3 out of 5 stars. I do not quite buy into concept of a secret chef. Why would anyone be ashamed about not cooking or not wanting to cook? What am I missing? I was not enthralled with Lilah, but I did enjoy Mick, the dog (a cutie). Pudding Up with Murder can be a standalone. For cozy mystery readers who prefer the emphasis on cozy, then you will appreciate Pudding Up with Murder.
I love this series and this one is the best yet! Pudding Up With Murder is everything you could want in a cozy! Even if you haven't read the other two, you will have no trouble enjoying this one. Julia Buckley writes some of the best cozies out there. Her characters pop to life, her writing style pulls you in and never lets go, the mystery is intriguing and her books are always entertaining. I love this book!
This is the first book I've read in this series. I love the titles of the books and the covers are always so vibrant and fun to look at. Lilah Drake is a character that I can relate to. As the creator of undercover dishes, Lilah prepares mouthwatering food and others take the credit. When Lilah creates a spectacular dish for a party, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt, or killed. Lilah has an uncanny ability to sniff out the truth, and having her canine companion by her side makes it even better. I'm looking forward to becoming familiar with the other books in this series. I voluntarily read an ARC of this book provided by the publisher and NetGalley. 3 likes
I would pud up with anything, even murder, to read a book written by author Julia Buckley! I once heard it said that “There is such a thing as too much of a good thing”. Okay, I don’t know who came up with that, but they never would have said it if they were readers if Julia Buckley. I’m here to tell you, when it comes to this author’s books, the phrase should have been “There’s no such thing as too much of a good thing”! The best of the batch so far, PUDDING UP WITH MURDER is a fantastic story that held me captive from beginning to end. I simply adore the characters in this series, and that makes any book so much more of a joy to read. Hanging out with Lilah and her dog, Mick is always a great way to spend a day. Even when we come across those ever present, pesky dead bodies. ;-) The fun in an Undercover Dish Mystery always starts on page one, and PUDDING UP WITH MURDER was no different. From the moment I opened this book, I was on a rollercoaster ride of emotion. Honestly, I spent 293 pages, laughing, gasping, blurting out, “No way!” and “Get out of here”, with the occasional “Nah-uh” thrown in for good measure. When trying to figure out the who in the dunit, I always come close but second guess myself, which is exactly what author Buckley wants. She has a real skill for plotting the perfect crime. Good thing she uses her power for good, as a writer, or the law would have their hands full with her! As always with this fantastic series, the whipped cream on the pudding if you will, there are some amazing recipes at the back of the book that just beg the reader to make them! If you are a fan of tried and true cozy mysteries, look no further. PUDDING UP WITH MURDER is the book for you!
Lilah Drake creates delectable meals and allows her clients to call them their own. The fact that she cooks them is kept strictly confidential. When she and her furry companion, Mick are invited to the birthday party of a millionaire who ends up in her rice pudding, she is stunned. Lilah cooks up a sweet new cinnamon rice pudding casserole for the birthday party of Marcus Cantwell, a wealthy man with three ex-wives and five grown kids. When he's found face down in her casserole, Lilah can’t believe it is happening, again. She along with her boyfriend, Detective Jay Parker set out to locate the killer. -- Series: An Undercover Dish Mystery - Book 3 Author: Julia Buckley Genre: Culinary Cozy Publisher: Berkley Julia Buckley’s third addition to her “An Undercover Dish Mystery” series, Pudding Up with Murder is a wonderful happy adventure with delicious ideas. It fits in well with the other books in the series, The Big Chili, and Cheddar Off Dead but can easily stand alone. The writing is smooth, the plot executed with flair and polish. The story is fast-paced and keeps the reader guessing until the last minute. There are plenty of clues along the way but finding them may be a bit of a challenge. The character of Lilah is enchanting. She is stubborn and nosy but also loving and kind. Her love interest, Jay is a fine specimen of a man, but like Lilah, a bit hard headed with trust issues. They are perfect for each other but take their time revealing their feelings to one another. Love is in the air, and many of the supporting characters are getting engaged and planning a wedding. Lilah helps things along with two of the couples by interfering, which is something she is almost as good at as she is cooking. All the characters are well rounded with individual personalities that are easily relatable. The Victim is not as likable as the other characters, but the reader will find that they feel sorry for him and his family, but also for the killer in the end. Lilah’s furry companion Mick is adorable and seems almost like another human character. There are times when she speaks to him that the reader truly expects Mick to answer her. But Mick is more than just a quiet companion, he is also a protective friend and shows his true colors when Lilah needs him the most. Pudding Up with Murder is a wonderful read and is highly recommended. If the reader enjoys fantastic food, unparalleled mystery with suspects that could be your next-door neighbors; children that are beyond delightful, and twists and turns until the very end, they will appreciate the nuances of this book and the entire series.
Pudding Up With Murder is the third book in the An Undercover Dish Mystery. This was another exciting visit to the community of Pine Haven. It’s always an enjoyable visit with Lilah, her boyfriend, Jay Parker, Jay’s mother Ellie and their friends and neighbors One of Lilah’s first customers for gourmet meals that hostesses can pass off as their own creations, was Ellie. Once again Ellie has called upon Lilah to make her fabulous rice casserole to take to her neighbor, Marcus Cantwell’s birthday party. Cantwell is a dog lover and has heard quite a bit about Mick, Lilah’s Chocolate Lab and would like to see her incredible dog. Between the family squabbles, she has seen at the party and Cantwell’s not wanting to talk about much other than Mick and Lilah can’t wait to leave. Cantwell has been married three times and has five children. If one was to look up the definition of dysfunctional, there would probably be a picture of one of the infrequent family gatherings. As Lilah is mingling with the guests she sees Owen, a son, take a punch at Prue’s, a daughter, boyfriend Damen. This all took place in front of Maria Grimaldi, a police detective, and partner of Jay Parker. But even with all the family infighting, Lilah finds Cantwell’s youngest son, Cash, pretty level headed. As Lilah is going into the kitchen to offer birthday wishes and to say goodbye, Cantwell falls face first into the rice casserole and later dies at the hospital. With Ellie being somewhat close with Cantwell, Lilah feels the need for this murder to have a quick resolution and begins a little investigating of her own. As is often said: money is the root of all evil and money seem to be the main focal point with the family’s bickering In addition to solving the murder, Lilah has a couple of romances that needs kick a kickstart, which she does. In addition, her own romance with Jay is traveling down a bumpy stretch. Another well-plotted and told story and an exciting addition to this enjoyable series and with an interesting and believable cast of characters. Delicious recipes are also included with the book. I would love to read more books in this series.
Pudding up with Murder is a typically delightful Julia Buckley cozy mystery. The Undercover Dish Mystery series has warm characters who feel like neighbors and intriguing murders that never go the way one would expect. I enjoy the regular twist of Lillah's secret side business providing "homecooked" meals for people who don't have the time or talent or for those like Jay's mother who are not physically able to keep up with their famous cooking. There are some big twists at the end but the author plays fair and leaves a trail to the solution. When Emma takes Lillah to a neighbor's birthday so he had meet the adorable and unique Mick the nodding labrador they have a interesting time until Marcus collapses into Lillah's rice pudding. His condition leads to suspicion of poisoning and an estate full of children, grandchildren and ex-wives leave an open field for suspects. Lillah and Jay's relationship have been moving forward at a great pace but a new roadblock may quell the blossoming romance. I requested and received an advanced readers copy of Pudding up with Murder via NetGalley because I have enjoyed other books by the author. I always review books that I enjoy and I loved this one!