The story begins with a green chile and cheese soufflé—spicy, light and airy, and at risk of sudden collapse, setting the tone for a comic culinary mystery. Rita Lafitte and her colleagues at Tres Amigas, the Santa Fe café of the series title, get involved in solving a murder again. The victim is a petty, arrogant bully, a restaurateur and food cart operator who made enemies of all the other food cart owners in the city. Not an easy death to care about except that a friend of Rita’s is being framed for it. Linda Santiago, the unlucky accused, is a wonderful, original character from the first book who doesn’t fit any mold or any of the standard roles in a comic mystery. Another complex, intriguing and believable character is the multi-faceted Don Busco, hotdog vendor and raconteur. Others are more broadly drawn and provide great comedy, especially Addie, with her delightfully eccentric fantasies of being British, and eighty-something Flori with her flirtatious ways, her sleuthing hobby and her new fascination with Sun Tzu’s Art of War. They are wildly colorful, but not to the point of being impossible. Someone just might feel free to be that odd in The City Different.
It was good to see Rita still connected to the memory of Victor from the first book in a natural flow of her personal story from one book to the next, and to watch how her budding romance develops. Her relationship with her daughter is an ongoing part of the series that adds depth and realism and of course the inevitable humor and conflict of parenting a teenager.
I got a kick out of the arrival of a flamboyant professional thief and his role in the plot. With the high rate of burglaries and thefts in Santa Fe, he may have strong future in the series. There are only 2 or 3 murders a year, but people like him have a thriving occupation.
The setting is brought to life, though only a very small portion of the city is featured. The writing is tight and polished, digressing only for the food-related tidbits that narrator Rita and culinary aficionado readers would find irresistible. With several subplots and red herrings, the plot was paced to keep to me turning the pages even after I figured out the killer’s identity. The revelation scene was the only weak point. Even though almost every mystery handles it this way, I’m not a fan of this particular genre convention and love it when authors find another option for getting closure on the crime. The final ending was satisfying, however. And of course, there are recipes for some of the foods featured in the story, including the thematic soufflé that frames the tale.