The book is the second in a series of Mahalia Watkins Soul Food mysteries, and is authored by A. L. Herbert. In each of the mysteries, the amateur "detective" is the owner of Mahalia's Sweet Tea, a cafe in Prince George's County, Maryland. And, each refers to a soul food classic in its title; in this case macaroni and cheese, and in the first installment of the series, chicken and waffles. As such, what A.L. Herbert produces is a cozy mystery -- with a focus on African American culture and experience. (For a review situation such mysteries between cozy and rough, click here.)
Yes, this fits into the genre of cozy in many ways: an amateur deceptive, a romantic subplot, a cast of characters including family and friends of the "detective" that includes various (often stereotyped) extremes, and enough red herrings to ensure readers stay engaged. Murder and mayhem occur, but neither are presented in a particularly frightening way. While I have to admit that little will challenge Barbara Neely's Blanche White series in the African American genre, I truly enjoyed this entry at the cozy mystery, foodie, African American intersection.
A few tidbits about this particular exemplar:
Prince George County has a very intriguing history, and a complex relationship to the history of race relations in the United States. For those curious, it is worth reading this and this and -- as importantly, to recognize the complex variety of histories of African American lives both across centuries and locales in states like Maryland. As a white woman, this little cozy led me out to read such histories as those linked above -- because I wanted (and perhaps needed) some context for Mahalia's adventures in order to avoid stereotyping beyond what is usually the case when I read cozy mysteries. No, they are not serious literature nor do they claim to represent cultural analysis -- and yet, the risk of mistake here is different from the risk of mistake in other mysteries I have reviewed on Cooking with Ideas.
Not unrelatedly, this book -- and other experiences in both life and reading -- encourage me to point us to the literature out there on African American food ways. Examples of relevant materials include, for example, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks authored by Toni Tipton-Martin and a variety of African American food bloggers (click here).
Having said all this, I have a few quibbles with this mystery. First, and as always, I get a bit put off by some of the romance that authors feel they must provide for female amateur detectives. Enough already. And, second, like others in the cozy genre, the amateur detective (in this case Mahalia Watkins) has to have a side kick, and the side kick is often more than a tad goofy. Yes, this is true of Murder with Macaroni and Cheese. In this case, the goofiness may not be the side kick per se, but a relative who both challenges Mahalia's "bourgeois" upbringing and . . . well, seems a bit forced as a character. Formula fiction is, of course, defined by the ways that the formula is simultaneously fulfilled and challenged. And both are present in A.L. Herbert's mystery.
Overall, I enjoyed this quick read, though I do like to read recipes and there are no recipes for macaroni and cheese here!
Have you read this mystery? If so, let us know what you think!