Catering to Nobody, by Diane Mott Davidson

cateringtonobodyTitle: Catering to Nobody

Author: Davidson, Diane Mott (Author’s Website)

Genre: Mystery, cozy mystery, culinary mystery, gentle read

Bibliographic: Bantam, 301 pages, Mass Market Paperback List Price $7.99, Audiobook List Price $25.87, ISBNs 9780553584707, 9780449220467, 9781574902044, 9780312042776, 9781575110202

Publication Date: July 1, 1990

Rating: ★★★☆☆/♥♥♥♥♥ (The rating scale is here).

Appeal Factors: Likeable characters, amusing, upbeat, engaging

Why I picked it up: It was assigned for my readers’ advisory class. I would never have picked it up otherwise.

S.I.A.S.: Goldy needs to prove that she didn’t poison anybody in order to get her catering business back.

Summary: Gertrude “Goldy” Bear, owner of Goldilocks Catering Company, is providing the food for a wake. She thinks it’s the least she can do, since the deceased (one Laura Smiley) was her son Arch’s fifth grade teacher, with whom he shared a special bond. Goldy, Arch, and their housemate Patty Sue are serving the food. At first, everyone is a bit unnerved to be in Laura’s house, where she allegedly died by suicide, but as time passes the guests get more comfortable — until one of them is poisoned. The victim is none other than Dr. Fritz Korman, local gynecologist and father to Goldy’s abusive ex-husband John Richard. John Richard is absolutely convinced that Goldy is the culprit, and has poisoned his father to exact her revenge on him. When the police arrive, Investigator Tom Schulz determines that Fritz’s drink was deliberately spiked with rat poison, and shuts down Goldy’s catering business until he can get to the bottom of things. Desperate for money with the holiday season fast approaching, Goldy decides to take matters into her own hands.

Meanwhile, Goldy is facing a series of dilemmas. Arch has taken Ms. Smiley’s death harder than he wants to let on, and is having an increasingly difficult time telling the difference between reality and the fantasy world where his Dungeons and Dragons campaigns are set. Patty Sue’s behavior is becoming increasingly erratic, and she proves to be more of a hindrance than a help in every endeavor she attempts (especially driving). Fritz’s wife, Vonette, is going through life in an alcohol-induced stupor. John Richard’s second ex-wife, Marla, keeps making jokes about poisoning John Richard which really aren’t appropriate, given everything that’s been going on. And on top of all of that, Tom Schulz wants to date her — but she’s still got a crush on Pomeroy Locraft, a reclusive beekeeper who Arch reveres. Even so, Goldy continues digging, and eventually becomes convinced that Laura Smiley’s death was not by suicide, but murder, and that the murder somehow connected to the attack on Fritz Korman — and she is determined to prove it.

Evaluation: I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed this book, mostly because of the characters; as far as I’m concerned there is not a single likable one in the bunch. Goldy is probably the least annoying of them, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed reading  about her. Her name is ridiculous, and every time her first and last names were mentioned together I was jolted out of the narrative. She decides to investigate the poisoning even though Vonette and Marla both tell her to just let the police do their jobs. She’s not a great mother, routinely letting Arch do things he shouldn’t be doing because she is uncomfortable confronting him. And even after being warned, she keeps trying to obtain information illegally. I just couldn’t bring myself to root for her. Tom Schulz is next on the list of characters I didn’t like. He is lax with the rules to the point of being unethical, such as when he continues to take information from Goldy despite the fact that he knows she got it illegally. He is somewhat condescending to her, and seems to tease her as a way of showing his interest, which is certainly appropriate for a child or teenager but seems a little odd coming from a grown adult.

I also thought the plot was a little too outlandish to be believed. When Patty Sue’s driver’s ed car jumped the building and landed on top of the catering van in an adjacent parking lot, I would have abandoned the book if it weren’t required for class. As someone who self-identifies as a feminist, I find it a little bit offensive (and highly unlikely) that the presence of a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves was supposed to serve as sufficient evidence that Laura Smiley didn’t own a razor to make death by suicide impossible. Where does an eleven-year-old even learn to make a Molotov cocktail? Why would the murderer be so careless as to leave the murder weapon lying about like that  — didn’t (s)he even try to hide it? There were just too many things about the story that didn’t really make sense for me to feel comfortable recommending it without reservations.

That said, I would feel comfortable recommending this to someone who is already an established fan of cozy mysteries. The series is enduringly popular, and just because it wasn’t suited to my personal tastes doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good example of its genre. If a reader was looking for zany antics and  an ending that might be difficult to guess, I would likely ask if they’d heard of this book.

Finally, the recipes: I found it hilarious that the very sentence where Goldy is complaining about the frequent interruptions she’s facing is interrupted by two recipes, and there are a couple of them that I’d like to try, even if I don’t understand why anyone would ever put mayonnaise in guacamole.

Significance: This is the first in the “Goldy Bear Culinary Mysteries” series, which has seventeen titles so far — the most recent was published in 2013.

Readalikes: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, by Joanne Fluke. Death by Rhubarb, by Lou Jane Temple. On What Grounds, by Cleo Coyle.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When she’s first starting her investigation, Vonette and Marla both tell Goldy to stop digging and let the police do their jobs. Why is Goldy so determined? Why doesn’t she trust the police?
  2. Arch is absolutely hung up on the idea of the lich, to the point where he almost believes that he can cast spells in real life. Is this typical for an eleven-year-old? How might someone in his age group react to the loss of someone close to them?
  3. Pomeroy is characterized largely by his deliberate distance from the rest of Aspen Meadow society. Why might this make him intriguing to someone like Goldy? Why might it make him intriguing to someone like Tom?
  4. How are Fritz and John Richard similar? How are they different? What does Arch have in common with each of them?
  5. Which of the recipes would you most like to try?

Lists and Awards:  Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel (1990). Agatha Award Nominee for Best First Novel (1991).

Professional Reviews:  Kirkus. Publishers’ Weekly. Writers Write. New York Times (Interview). Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Interview).

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