When I worked at a book store many years ago I was always amused by the titles of the cozy mysteries. There were so many good ones back then and authors continue to be creative with titles such as Flour in the Attic, Tilling the Truth, and Shot Through the Hearth. When I saw Denise Swanson’s Tart of Darkness, a play on Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness, on a reshelving cart recently, I liked the title so much that I decided I’d finally give a cozy a try.
The book revolves around Dani Sloan. She has recently inherited a mansion and is living there along with three female undergraduates she has decided to keep an eye on after they got in trouble for a wild party at their previous residence. In exchange for letting them stay with her, Dani, who recently left her human resources job to pursue a career as a chef and baker, asks the young women to help her with her sack lunch business and various catering jobs.
After one of these catering jobs, a party for the rich and not particularly likeable Regina Bourne, Regina is found dead the next day and the police detective on the case, Detective Mikeloff, seems intent on charging Dani with Regina’s murder. Dani gets help from Spencer Drake, the uncle of one of her boarders. Drake is the head of campus security but quickly develops a crush on Dani, which makes him even more motivated to clear her name. Dani does her share of amateur sleuthing as well. She has some jobs as a personal chef for some of the richer residents in town and eavesdrops on their conversations to collect info on who would have wanted to kill Regina. In addition, readers who grew up in central Illinois will probably be able to pick up on Swanson fictionalizing Normal, Illinois into Normalton for this book. Tart of Darkness is a fun light book with enough strong characters and clever plot twists to keep it from being too light.