I’m a huge Goldy Schulz fan, so when I saw Diane Mott Davidson finally had a new book out, I pre-ordered the e-book immediately. Unfortunately, I did not like Crunch Time. I suppose I should have been warned by “A Novel of Suspense” on the cover. Goldy Schulz novels have never been about the thrills – they’re about the warmth, the humour, and yes, the food. Crunch Time tries so hard to be about the “suspense” that it ends up with a whole lot of half-developed plot points, frenetic plot twists and new characters who just don’t make me care.
Ernest, a private investigator, is killed, and his live-in cook Yolanda and her great-aunt Ferdinanda are friends of Goldy, so they come to live with her while looking for a new place. Ernest was working on several cases (a fishy dog breeding mill, a divorce case involving possible adultery, a generations-old stolen diamonds case, and Yolanda’s abusive, stalker ex-husband), so he had quite a list of people who’d wanted him dead. Yolanda is a suspect and Goldy, being Goldy, decides to help her out by finding the real killer. Classic Goldy Schulz plot.
Here are the problems. Yolanda and Ferdinanda are just plain annoying. Ferdinanda is the classic feisty elderly lady. She talks non-stop, she takes over Goldy’s kitchen, and she confidently wields a baton against men. She does have her likable moments, but for the most part, I felt more sympathy for the man she was yelling at or whacking with the baton. Yolanda claims her ex-husband abused her (again a classic theme in Goldy Schulz novels), and so is understandably jumpy. Unfortunately, Davidson handled this type of character much better with Goldy (whose fear made her sympathetic) and Marla (whose spunk made her admirable), mostly because we saw just how bad their ex-husband, the Jerk, could be. Yolanda’s ex is barely developed and even Goldy sometimes questions whether Yolanda has even been abused in the first place, so Yolanda just comes off as hysterical. Characters in fiction need not be likable, but if the lovable protagonist risks herself and her equally lovable family for them, they should at least be likable enough to be worth that risk.
Other minor characters irked me as well. One suspect for example is a man who literally faints at the sight of blood. He had at least three scenes of blood-related fainting incidents, which I personally thought was at least two too many. The first time was surprising, and somewhat amusing. After a while, it turned into slapstick that tried too hard either to be funny or to establish that this character is a wimp.
Also, I don’t know if Goldy’s nosiness has always been this annoying, or if I just don’t think this case is worth her meddling. I’ve always found Goldy charming – I like how she mostly just wants a quiet life as a caterer, and yet ends up embroiled in mysteries because she or a good friend (like Julian Teller) or family member (like the Jerk) is accused of a crime. Because the stakes are usually so high and she tries to find an answer quickly so she can get back to her usual life, I cheer her on when she bends the rules, ignores police warnings and gets into dangerous situations. In Crunch Time, Goldy seems to have developed a taste for detecting, and has morphed from an ordinary mother/caterer into a wannabe cop/busybody. At one point, she enlists someone’s help to drug a suspect so she can collect evidence, then later fabricates evidence to collect even more evidence. This type of mystery always requires a suspension of disbelief when it comes to chains of evidence, but even I couldn’t swallow all that. Nor could I help thinking, Goldy’s police officer husband Tom seems more than capable, why not tell him what she knows and let him handle things?
The plot twists and red herrings in this book just pile up, and it wasn’t so much confusing at it was unnecessary. Davidson emphasizes the most random things, which make me think they are significant, but end up being just bits of colour to add to characters. At least two people for example ask Yolanda why she calls Ferdinanda Aunt instead of Great Aunt. In real life, I just don’t see people caring about that, so I thought the inconsistency would mean something later on. Spoiler: either it didn’t, or I missed it completely. Later on, Ferdinanda hangs a Santeria mask on Goldy’s door, which makes Tom protest. Santeria masks do play a role later on, but the fact that Ferdinanda insisted on hanging the mask up despite Tom’s (the house owner’s!) objections meant nothing at all, from what I could tell.
It was good seeing old favourites again, and I love seeing Goldy’s son Arch, whom I first met as a shy, awkward eleven year old, now a popular, confident athletic sixteen year old. So he’s a fencer, which isn’t exactly the height of cool, from what I can remember of high school, but still, it’s nice to see him all grown up. The always entertaining Marla was, like Goldy, more annoyingly gossipy here, but even worse, she was barely involved at all in the case. Even an annoying Marla is much better as Goldy’s sidekick than Yolanda and Ferdinanda. Tom and Goldy’s relationship has progressed somewhat, and it’s nice seeing them having sex more often than in previous books. They’re a cute couple, and I like seeing them happy.
Finally, and I admit this should a minor, ridiculous gripe, I miss Goldy’s constant cooking. In previous books, she cooks every time she gets stressed out (which is often), and Davidson describes the most mouth watering recipes in these scenes. Goldy still does cook, and Davidson does include a list of recipes, but at least half the time in this book, when Goldy goes to the kitchen, she finds that Ferdinanda has already cooked something sumptuous. We still get the description of how heavenly Ferdinanda’s meals are, but it isn’t quite the same as seeing the meal created.
Minor question to Goldy Schulz fans – how religious was she in previous books, beyond teaching Sunday school and catering church functions? She just seemed very preachy here (commenting about sins and commandments), and the scene where she is stressed out and goes to light candles in church rather than cook surprised me. Not a big deal, and certainly, a character can change. Just struck me as odd.