I’ve always assumed the most stressful part of writing the first book in a cozy mystery series is that it has to stand on its own while perfectly setting the stage for any subsequent books. Cozy authors have to balance creating a winning main character who readers root for while plopping them in a niche that separates them from other series—to say nothing of all the murder and mayhem that has to surround them in a semi-plausible way. It’s an awful lot to balance in a crowded genre.
Well, if Meri Allen (author Shari Randall’s pseudonym) struggled with any of this, none of it shows in the pages of The Rocky Road to Ruin, which marks a terrific beginning for her and her newest sleuth, Riley Rhodes.
A CIA librarian and food blogger with a complicated past, Riley returns to her hometown to attend a funeral. Unfortunately for the denizens in this otherwise idyllic Connecticut community, that’s not the only corpse Riley sees in this book. Soon she’s out tracking a killer all while reconnecting with her past and even helping out at her former job, the Udderly Delicious Ice Cream Shop.
Simple, right? Just the kind of mystery that permeates so many cozies. And yet, Allen has crafted such an incredibly likable and strong heroine that everything around her feels fresh. Rather than feeling like the type of detective that stumbles around interrogating a foolish cast of characters, Riley comes across as a levelheaded natural—of course she’d be the one to solve the mystery. It helps that Allen has paired her against a strong group of secondary characters who more than hold their own. While she’s quick with a joke and, as the name of the ice cream shop suggests, she has no problem with a pun, Allen has carved out some really lovely characters who come across as fully realized people. There’s also a couple of cats, which for me is never a bad thing.
Of course, then there’s the mystery itself. Allen does a great job of telegraphing the potential victim while also still managing a surprise reveal. From there, it’s a wild ride as Riley tracks clues questions suspects, and, on occasion, mixes up ice cream. Allen balances the mystery with the fun perfectly, yet there hits a point about three-quarters of the way through when this book becomes unputdownable. I knew the case was on the cusp of being cracked, yet the reveal was oh-so satisfying.
The Rocky Road to Ruin is better than an ice cream sundae on a hot summer’s day.
Title: The Rocky Road to Ruin
Series: Ice Cream Shop Mysteries #1
Author: Meri Allen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: July 27, 2021
Classification: Cozy Mystery
Allen’s Website | Publisher’s Page
Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.