This was just a lot of fun. It’s not quite a cozy mystery as I expected, nor, in fact, is it much of a mystery at all, despite the cover design and the ‘Pies Before Guys Mystery’ branding. Rather, it’s more of a lighthearted contemporary with magic and thrillerish elements.
Daisy Ellery is gifted with the ability to infuse her pies with magic. Sometimes, as with the pies she bakes for a diner in exchange for getting to use their kitchen, she infuses her pies with nostalgia and a touch of home. Other times, as with the pies she sells from her food truck / mobile home at a bustling college campus, she adds a touch of calm and mental clarity. And then there are the pies she bakes for men who abuse women, which, depending on their capacity to change, either gets them to stop the abuse completely, or kills them without a trace. Those pies are available only through word of mouth, for women Daisy meets at support groups, or women who have been referred to Daisy’s Pies Before Guys business by satisfied customers. In making them, Daisy also abides by a few core rules, such as no killing innocents, and no killing women.
Unfortunately, someone is on to Daisy’s secret. They send an order, not through the Pies Before Guys app that maintains Daisy’s anonymity, but with an anonymous note dropped off at Daisy’s mobile home. The note gives her a list of three women, with no context around why the person wants them dead, and threatens to reveal Daisy’s secret if she doesn’t comply.
The note-writer’s identity forms the central mystery of the novel, as Daisy scrambles to protect herself and the life she’s built. However, the big reveal happens about halfway through, and the novel is really more about how Daisy responds to this reveal, and how she comes to terms with her particular brand of magic.
As interesting as the blackmail subplot was, I was more drawn to Daisy’s grappling with her place in her family’s history. Both her mother and grandmother used their magic purely for good, either in making clothes or styling hair. While Daisy comforts herself that her pies kill only men who can’t change for the better, she can’t help but feel that she’s broken somehow, that the darker application of her magic reflects something darker in herself. I love her journey of self-exploration, and I absolutely love the strong bonds she still clearly feels with the women in her ancestral line. I hope future books in this series dig a bit deeper into her family history, and reveal a bit more, to both Daisy and to us, about this wonderfully rich matrilineal line of magic.
I also adored the romantic subplot in this novel. There was a love triangle element, involving both a male love interest and a female one, which I don’t see too often, so that’s super cool. The love triangle did feel organic at first, but I admit one of the potential love interests annoyed me to the point that the love triangle began to feel forced halfway through the novel. One of the love interests just struck me as too narrow-minded, and I think they would have hindered Daisy’s growth. And later in the novel, this character also engaged in some truly toxic behaviour; they totally disregarded Daisy’s boundaries, and attempted a horrifically misguided grand romantic gesture. The narrative seems to frame them as misguided more than malicious, but I legit considered them a mini-villain at points. All that to say, I’m glad the romantic subplot turned out the way it did, and I was super cheering the couple on the entire way.
And I especially love that the author also delves into the more mundane aspects of Daisy’s pie-baking. There’s a subplot about her entering a pie-making contest, and I loved reading about the recipe she created for it. Honestly, that pie sounds delicious, and while I’m not even much of a pie fan, the author’s descriptions made me super crave Daisy’s pie. The author does included some recipes at the end, for any readers who also love to bake. Daisy also reveals the non-magical magic secret to her pie: she uses sugar rather than beans or weights to blind bake her crust. The sugar caramelizes while the crust bakes, which adds to the crust’s flavour, and the roasted sugar is then used to sweeten future pies. The technique sounds intriguing, and if I ever do get to making a pie, I may try it for myself!
Thank you to Crooked Lane Books for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.