Food writer, or Foodie, as they are known in the trade, Nora Franke is overfed and overwrought over a recent breakup with her long time boyfriend. “We need a break” he tells her, Nora decides that spending some time away from the bustle of New York is just the tonic she needs. Her solution is to take a temporary job as recipe consultant at a ritzy and very exclusive Spa in Baja. Nora is ecstatic, three months in a beautiful location and able to combine her love of food with the ever pressing need to shed the results of too many gourmet adventures in New York.
Life at a Health Spa is much like life on a Cruise Ship, time becomes compressed, most of the guests are only there for a week. Friendships that would normally develop over weeks or months, develop in minutes, alas also do animosities. Nora finds herself more accepted by the guests than the staff, and is quickly drawn into a group of loosely connected friends that come to the Spa every year for a few days of relaxation and reflection. This group of opulent and seemingly wealthy friends readily accepts Nora as if they have known her since kindergarten.
The setting seems idyllic for something bad to happen, and Helen Barer is just the author to do it! Helen herself is no stranger to the world of writing, she has a number of cook books to her credit, but this is her first foray into the murder mystery genre.
The first cracks in the Louis Vuitton luggage occurs the next morning when the body of Alan is found, in what appears to be a climbing accident on a nearby mountain. What Nora notices is the different reactions from the members of the group, from grief, to indifference, to maybe something more sinister. In the 50 years that the exclusive retreat has been in existence this is the first death the ranch has ever experienced, sprained ankles, and a mild heart attack from over exertion held the previous record.
There is a second death, one that can not be explained away as an accident. Now Nora is pulled into the web of deceit, what is going on, and who is responsible for these two deaths?
Nora is on the scent! She has no investigative training, just a dogged thirst to find the truth. Of course this may not be the best ‘recipe’ for a long life!
I liked this book a lot, I think this is a very fine first time effort, small enough at 200 pages to be a quick read, but long enough to develop the characters well. I suspect that we will be seeing more of Nora Franke in future books by Helen Barer. If you are looking for a fun and fast murder mystery I can recommend that you try Fitness Kills.
Fitness Kills is the first in a series of cozy mysteries by Helen Barer. Helen spent many years as a writer of non-fiction material, ranging from cookbooks to television documentaries. She is presently at work writing her next Nora Franke mystery.