Murder with Collard Greens and Hot Sauce is book three in the Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery series. Written by A.L. Herbert it was published on March 26, 2019.
I have not completed a book in this series before and listened to the audio version of this book. This was a standalone novel with very few references to preceding books.
Mahalia… owner of the Sweet Tea soul food restaurant and our determined main character…
Mahalia, also known as Halia, truly loves cooking and her restaurant. I loved the descriptions of her restaurant and despite being very chaotic I saw how it could be a calming place for her. Serving up delicious soul food is certainly her dream job and she lives for it.
She is on the conservative side and only becomes more aggressive when hunting down the truth. While Sweet Tea may be her life’s work she doesn’t express a particular interest in romance much to her Mother’s eternal dismay. Her mom is intent on having a grandchild even though Halia often reminds her that she is now in her 40s and is not worried about having a child.
As for Sweet Tea itself the descriptions of the offerings would leave your mouth watering. From her savory, crispy fried meats to her mother’s sweet baked goods, it is a book that a foodie would enjoy. Having family from the south I would say that while well researched the recipes were more for a northern soul food palette rather than a traditional southern soul food pallet
Wavonne… the cousin who did not come to work, she came to play
Mahalia’s cousin Wavonne was pure comic relief. She helped to get them into a lot of the funnier predicaments throughout the book. Where Mahalia may be a stick in the mud at times Wavonne lives with her head deep in the clouds and sometimes embraces delusions of grandeur.
She dresses wildly and wouldn’t be caught dead in khakis. Beyond confident she is ambitious and not afraid to jump in front of a camera for a chance at fortune. Nor is she ashamed to pursue wealthy older men who are widowed after perusing the local obituaries.
Basically she is a lot of fun. Even though she is over the top I could not, and would not want to, imagine the book without her. Her clownish antics would earn her a best supporting actress award.
For what she doesn’t bring in her work efforts at the restaurant she makes up for in taking the reader to interesting places and situations. Such as when she gets drunk at a party, causes a rift between a couple and then ends up chatting with a dog- spilling the tea about her woes.
Wavonne even shines at a drag queen nightclub where her outfit and makeup, unfortunately, fit right in. I really liked what a contrast she was to her cousin Mahalia.
Prince George’s County, Maryland… where money and culture meet
I am somewhat familiar with Prince George’s County, Maryland and found many of the books descriptions of the area and people to be pretty apt. It does have a prominent Black American population and there are pockets of affulence throughout the county.
Monique… the Queen of hair, hanging on by a strand
People are not always who they seem to be and Monique would be an excellent example of this. While she has a growing hair care empire that has experienced many successes her life behind the scenes does not match what she presents to the outside world. It was interesting to see how in order to be successful it was imperative that she keep certain parts of her personal life deeply hidden because they would contradict with her brand.
The life of a diva comes with a great deal of scrutiny. Monique lives under a microscope and seems to love all of the attention. She does not shy away from the limelight and promotes her line on television with camera crews documenting all aspects of her journey. She has managed to make a significant impact on the hair industry with her products. It has made her wealthy and a household name to some.
She seemed to be someone that many would envy. Having personal assistants, an over the top tour bus and stylists at her beck and call. She also has a husband, a frenemy and an assistant who are the keeper of her biggest secrets. It is said to keep your friends close and your enemies closer and Monique is taking that advice to heart even if it kills her.
Odessa… a frenemy until the end…
Super bold, thin and determined to not live in Monqiue’s shadow. She does not bite her tongue. Odessa and Monique are opposites in many ways and have legendary clashes.
Monique does not hesitate to shame Odessa with snide remarks about the lowly Coach handbags she carries. Odessa is quick to criticize Monique’s weight and plus sized figure. Their story, and history, was scandalous and worth the read.
Nathan… a despicable husband and maybe a wife killer…
Many divas struggle to find mates who will be okay with their success. Monique was not exactly an exception. Her husband had his own ideas about how to handle the fruits of her success and as Halia digs deeper she finds out that he is a man who has skeletons in his closet.
He finds himself as the prime suspect when Monique is killed and that is when Mahalia’s sleuthing kicks in.
Rife with stereotypes
I had to see this book as pure entertainment in order to get through it because of the blatant stereotypes that spilled over from page to page. The author clearly has something going on with him that makes him believe that it is okay to refer to “good hair” versus “bad hair” so very often. Or at all for that matter. While I will say he probably did do genuine research on the black hair care market the stereotypes were absolutely unnecessary.
I was saddened by this. It seemed pathetic and the generalizations were largely unkind. The vast majority of black people do not have the texture of hair that the author described as “good” and there is absolutely nothing bad about that. The author is not Black American so I question where such thoughts came from particularly in light of the fact that there has been a natural hair movement within the Black American community for over five years now.
Some of the stereotypes played into the mystery itself which was the reason I set my negative thoughts aside because hair typing was a part of the story. Unfortunately the stereotypes did nothing more than take away from what could have been a five star read. One star docked for that.
At the end of it all I would read the other books in this series. I think it was well written and it held my attention throughout. Although I could have done without all of the stereotypes- they did not enhance the story.
The ending was a bit confusing because while the killer was not blatantly obvious to me certain things that pointed that person out would have been obvious to Mahalia long before. The conclusion was as dramatic and over the top as the rest of the book so in that regard it was pretty fitting. Perhaps this was done to allow some of the characters to be a little bit more fleshed out than they would have been had Halia put the pieces together quicker.
The character themselves, aside from shameless stereotypes, were all given unique voices. There were suspects that had equal motives to have killed Monique. The frenemy was an interesting character who stole the scene many times. From the beginning I wanted to know more about her.
Nathan is an unsavory character, that is clear, but I did like that Halia was able to push aside some things as she searched for the truth.
There were many people that wanted to upstage Monique and she sought out the motives and possibilities behind them all. With so many suspects I found myself looking forward to the finding out everyone’s bad deeds. And I was not disappointed- it was deliciously scandalous!
The soul food and culinary aspects of the book were pretty great. Food was woven well into the background and the descriptions of it were mouth watering. Mahalia’s restaurant, Sweet Tea, sounds fairy tale perfect. In that I think this book really stayed true to itself.
In listening to the audiobook version my one and only criticism would be that the accent of one of the characters was supposed to be Dominican but sounded more Jamaican. Otherwise I thought the narration was good.
The book had several hilarious moments brought to us mostly by Wavonne. But I suppose that happens when your sidekick is larger than life and more dramatic than a Broadway show.