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by Claudia Bishop
Berkley, December 2003
272 pages
ISBN: 0425193314

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The residents of the town of Hemlock Falls in New York are all excited. In just a few short days they will be celebrating and reenacting the 133rd Battle of Hemlock Falls that was fought during the Civil War. Everyone will be dressed up in period clothing to watch the reenactment and the parade that follows.

Sarah (Quill) and Meg Quilliam run the Inn at Hemlock Falls. Quill, who manages the Inn is also a famous painter and her sister, Meg, is a famous chef who runs the Inn's kitchen. The Inn is booked solid for the festivities and the sisters would be completely happy except that Meg's fiancÚ, Andy, a doctor at the local hospital, has just had a third elderly patient who was under his care, die. All the patients were old and all had some kind of heart problem but there was no apparent reason for their deaths. Andy thinks that there is something more going on and asks Quill, who has investigated murders in the town before, to probe the three recent deaths.

Although Quill is busy with The Battle of Hemlock Falls committee meetings and running the Inn she's never too busy to do a little murder investigation on the side. What she discovers about the deaths frighten her. All three of the recently deceased people ate at the Inn on the same day. Could they have eaten something that killed them? Was it her sister's cooking or was it something totally different? Quill decides to find out the truth even if she puts herself in jeopardy, which is exactly what happens.

A PUREE OF POISON, by Claudia Bishop, takes the readers into small-town life in Upstate New York. In Hemlock Falls, the people there know everyone else and there are no secrets within this town.

Some characters like Mayor Elmer Henry (who some people call Fudd) and his wife Adela are cute enough. There's also the insurance broker who makes sure her company insures all the Hemlock Falls residents, if they need it or not. The people who work at the Inn are interesting, especially when they determine that Quill isn't being fair with them and decide to picket the Inn days before the reenactment is slated to begin.

The fact that the town is celebrating The Battle of Hemlock Falls is amusing -- since the battle was lost -- but nothing else is terribly exciting in this murder mystery. The story is bogged down with the long meetings that Quill attends dealing with the details of the reenactment, and it's further slowed down by long explanations about why and how she is using a new management technique that causes her staff to rebel.

There are large holes in the murder investigation and a convoluted side storyline about why Quill's boyfriend (the town's sheriff) Myles McHale, has to leave the town and for a year to do dangerous work in Iran. This is the first book I've read in this multi-book series and it's possible I had problems following that story because I was a newcomer to the town and its residents. It seemed to me that this book doesn't stand on its own at all.

But, I will say that A PUREE OF POISON is a classic cozy and I suspect that avid fans of Claudia Bishop and her series can forgive a lot. But, unless you've read some of the other books about the Inn, I don't recommend you introduce yourself to the series by reading A PUREE OF POISON. I didn't enjoy it much.

Reviewed by Sharon Katz, December 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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