When Jake and Ellie, who’ve been through a lot together, decide to open a chocolate-themed bakery, they figure it’ll be a piece of cake. With Ellie’s old family recipes luring in customers, they expect to make plenty of dough this Fourth of July weekend. Having family home for the holiday only sweetens the deal for Jake—until an early-season hurricane scuttles her plans. Worse, with her family scattered and stranded, health inspector Matt Muldoon is found murdered in the kitchen of The Chocolate Moose.
Ellie never made a secret of her distaste for Matt, who had been raining on their parade with bogus talk of health code violations. Now, with no alibi for the night of the murder, she’s in a sticky situation—and it’s up to Jake to catch the real killer and keep Ellie living in the land of the free.
Includes a Recipe!
Praise for Sarah Graves and her Home Repair Is Homicide Mysteries!
“Graves blends charming, evocative digressions about life in Eastport with an intricate plot, well-drawn characters and a wry sense of humor.”—Publishers Weekly on Dead Cat Bounce
"For fans who enjoy nooks, crannies, subplots, and carpentry tips."—Kirkus Reviews on Nail Biter
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It was a bright summer morning, the first day of July in the remote island village of Eastport, Maine — three hours from Bangor, light-years from anywhere else — with a salty breeze snapping in the banners over the seawall and the sun glittering on the bay.
Up and down Water Street in front of the old two-story brick or wooden storefront buildings, shopkeepers swept doorways, hung out colorful OPEN flags, and watered lush window boxes brimming with red geraniums while seagulls swooped above.
Not the kind of morning that makes you worry about finding a dead body, in other words.
But as I approached my own small chocolate-themed bake shop, The Chocolate Moose, a petite white-haired woman in jeans and a black T-shirt — the shirt gorgeously embroidered in gleaming jewel tones at the neckline, jeans fitting as if tailored — stepped from the Second Hand Rose, her vintage clothing emporium next door.
"Good morning, Jacobia," she trilled.
The accent's on the second syllable of my name, by the way, and it's Jake to my friends. But the Rose's owner disdained casual nicknames as scrupulously as she avoided giving discounts.
Firmly I averted my gaze from the shimmery-gray wool shawl hung in her store's bay window. It was lovely, and would be even more so this coming winter. But it was expensive and I'd put all my disposable money into setting up the Moose six weeks earlier.
Plus some that was not strictly disposable. "Good morning, Miss Halligan. Hard at work already, I see."
She was lugging a bucketful of sudsy water with a squeegee in it, though her shop's window was already spotless as usual.
"Mmm," she replied, squeegeeing energetically. Her perfume, a light citrus fragrance, mixed pleasantly with the sweet smell of the bay. "I hope everything's all right."
She'd called me at 5 A.M.; Miss Halligan was an early riser. She'd said my own shop door was standing open and did I want to do something about it myself, or should she just call the cops?
Listening, I'd held back a sigh. The wind often blew that old door open — the lock had been wonky from the start, the door itself creaky and temperamental — and obviously it had done so again. So I'd merely asked Miss Halligan to close it as best she could, then made one more call before going back to sleep.
Now she eyed me, brandishing the dripping squeegee. "I'd have panicked if it had been my shop," she said.
And would've rushed down here at once to check on things, she meant. "But you must have all sorts of responsibilities at home with that big old house of yours and your family," she added.
"Uh-huh." I stepped into the doorway of the Chocolate Moose, a tiny storefront with two bay windows, a moose-head silhouette with elaborate wooden antlers hung from chains over the door, and a pair of small cast-iron café tables on the sidewalk out front.
At the moment, that big house of mine was being cleaned by my housekeeper, Bella Diamond, who since she'd married my elderly father had also become my stepmother. Meanwhile my husband Wade Sorenson was on a tugboat bound for the enormous container vessel that he'd be piloting into Eastport's harbor later that day; my grown son Sam was in Boston visiting friends; and my father was loudly but uselessly agitating to be released from the hospital where he was recovering from a heart attack.
So I couldn't use family duties to excuse my not being here at the crack of dawn. Nor did I try; for one thing, I was too busy squinting at that door.
"Thanks for calling me," I replied absently instead. "Looks like Morris got the new lock set installed already."
Morris Whitcomb was Eastport's jack-of-all-trades, the man you called if you needed your porch light replaced, your sink drain unclogged, or your fishing boat's old, sputtery wiring transformed from a rat's nest of fuses and tattered electrician's tape into a neatly labeled model of twelve-volt order.
Morris had said he had a lock set he thought would work, and he'd go to Wadsworth's Hardware Store when it opened and have an extra key made for me, too.
Which he'd done; I'd picked the key up on my way here. And he'd have called me if he'd noticed anything suspicious while he was working, I knew. But I'd never seen these small scratches in the door frame before ... had I?
The key turned easily and the door opened; the little silver bell hung over it jangled sweetly as I went in. And at first I noticed nothing amiss:
The shop's interior had exposed redbrick walls, a pressed-tin ceiling featuring two very lovely old wooden-paddled ceiling fans, and a black-and-white tiled floor. The single bakery display case, glass-fronted and white-enameled, was all we had room for, but we only sold what we'd baked ourselves so we didn't need more.
Three additional café tables crowded the opposite wall. The cash register — now open and empty, the way we always left it — sat on a counter to one side of the display case, and behind that a door led back to the kitchen.
Which was where I hit trouble. My longtime friend and current business partner, Ellie White, had been here baking cookies until late the previous night. The air in the shop was still heavy with the luscious aroma of warm chocolate.
So the lights must've worked then. But when I flipped the switch now, the windowless kitchen remained a pitch-black cave.
"Drat." It was probably nothing more sinister than a single blown fuse; the wiring in many of these old downtown buildings was practically prehistoric. Still, I made my way a little nervously — had I seen those odd scratches in the front door's frame before? — through the sweet-smelling darkness to the kitchen cooler.
There with the aid of the small flashlight on my key ring I removed the trays of fresh baked goods that Ellie had placed in the cooler the previous night. During the ill-lit transfer I only tripped once over something on the floor that I didn't bother stopping to identify. Then, after switching on the front-of-the-shop lights — they all worked fine and so did the ceiling fans, strengthening my blown-kitchen-fuse theory — and readying the cash register and the electronic credit card swiper for the start of business, I began setting out our offerings for the day.
These consisted of chocolate pistachio brownies, cranberry-nut chocolate chip cookies, and the pièce de résistance, dark chocolate fudge. Arranged on old blueware plates lined with white paper doilies, the fudge looked so tempting that I nearly grabbed a piece and devoured it myself. But I'd already had a cookie — all right, two — so I went back outside to watch for Ellie instead.
Because the thing was, I didn't want to visit the dark cellar alone. I'd never been down there before; it wasn't included in the shop space we were renting. So I didn't even know for sure where the fuse box was located, and if I ran into anything that I needed quick help with, without her I'd be stuck.
But Ellie's arrival wouldn't only clear the way to my fixing that blown fuse. It would also signal the start of our biggest baking day yet. Since our opening a month earlier we'd had fabulous success with a small, varied menu: chocolate ladyfingers and fresh éclairs one day, whoopie pies and chocolate biscotti the next.
And while it was all pretty challenging — the day before, I'd had to battle a dozen cream puffs into submission while injecting them with chocolate filling — so far we'd managed not to overwhelm ourselves. Now, though, a dozen chocolate cherry cheesecakes were due to be delivered in twenty-four hours to the Eastport Coast Guard station. There they would be auctioned off and the proceeds used to pay for Eastport's Fourth of July fireworks, three days away.
Cheesecakes, I mean, that Ellie and I had promised to bake. And although Ellie was brilliant at following her grandmother's old chocolate-themed recipes, and we'd bought or borrowed every springform pan in eastern Maine so we could bake the cakes in only a few batches, the task still felt daunting.
Anxiously I peered up and down Water Street. With the holiday imminent, patriotic flags and banners draped the shops' fronts. The cotton candy and popcorn stands were set up along the fish pier. A corral made of sawhorses and lobster traps stood ready for the pony rides in the post office parking lot, and a gaggle of vendors — postcards and T-shirts, earrings and refrigerator magnets, ball caps and candles and coupons good for 15 percent off the price of a tattoo — gathered on the walkway overlooking the boat basin.
But there was still no sign of Ellie. Meanwhile, I supposed I could be fixing that fuse right now if I just locked the shop again for a few minutes. After all, one cellar is much like another; my working down there alone wasn't guaranteed to lead to disaster.
Finally I went back inside, where by now the smell of warm chocolate was so paralyzingly delicious, you could've used it for crowd control. Also a familiar humming sound was coming from the kitchen: the cooler's compressor.
It meant the power was back on. Hurrying out there, I snapped the light switch once more and this time was rewarded by a bright fluorescent glow from the kitchen's overhead fixtures.
But my relief at not having to root around in the cellar got squelched fast. The kitchen was spotless as always: a worktable stood at the room's center, flanked by a baker's rack and the oven on one side, baking implements ranged out on Peg- Board hooks on the other. Two stainless-steel sinks, one for dishes and the other one strictly for washing hands as per health department regulations, completed our equipment.
The walls back here weren't brick, only plaster and Sheetrock, evidence of some long-ago architectural fiddling that had merged two buildings, ours and Miss Halligan's, into one. Now the walls' hospital-white paint pushed the room's cleanliness quotient up off the charts.
Only two things marred the room's spic-and-span perfection, in fact. The first was a box of salt lying on the floor, its spout open and a few remaining white granules spilled out in a heap.
Which wasn't so terrible. I could just sweep the salt up, and ordinarily I would have done so at once. But the second odd thing in the kitchen that morning was so utterly incongruous that I had to blink several times just to be sure I was really seeing it:
A man's body leaned against the worktable with its feet on the floor and most of its middle sprawled across the table's surface. Its head was plunged down into the large, heavy pot that we used for melting chocolate. The pot stood on a warming pad whose dial, now that the power had come back on, glowed cherry red.
"Eep," I squeaked, stepping back sharply. And just that small movement, or my voice, or maybe a breeze or something, caused the body to begin sliding.
The body's shoes had been braced against a cardboard box full of cookbooks. That's what I'd bumped against earlier, moving it just enough, apparently, so that now the box and shoes slipped backward together on the shiny linoleum. The arms slid, elbows slanting down off the table, hands splayed across the stainless-steel top as if feeling around for something.
Finally the hideously chocolate-coated head rose, dragged upward by the body's weight, until at last — with the chin hooked stubbornly over its rim — the pot tipped threateningly.
"Oh no, you don't!" I snapped, shocked suddenly out of my horrified paralysis. Grabbing the man's shirt collar, I lifted him by it; not much, but it was enough so that his chin came free.
The pot settled. So did the melted chocolate in it. "Good heavens," said someone from behind me, startling me so I gasped, dropped the dead guy, and whirled to confront whoever it was.
Somehow I'd expected the cops, or maybe Miss Halligan. Or perhaps some kindly space visitor, here to whisk me away to some distant galaxy until any possible need for cheesecake baking was over.
But instead it was Ellie White, a slim strawberry blonde with violet-blue eyes and a dusting of gold freckles across her nose. For her bakery duties today she wore a bibbed white apron over a blue-and-white summer shorts set and white canvas sneakers. A red-white-and-blue ball cap perched jauntily on her head, and her earrings were small, brightly enameled American flags.
"Darn," she said, sounding vexed, eyeing the dead man. "Now we're going to have to throw out all that good chocolate."
* * *
My name is Jacobia Tiptree, and when I first came to Maine I had a young teenaged son named Sam, enough money if we lived carefully, and a heart so badly broken that you could have swept the shattered bits up into a dustpan and dumped them.
That was what I'd felt like doing, having at last left my husband to the mercy of his many girlfriends back in Manhattan. Driving up the East Coast with my whole past life little more than a smoldering crater in the rearview mirror, all I could think of was getting to the end of the Earth and flinging myself off.
But then I crossed a long, tide-swept causeway and found Eastport, a tiny town on a Maine island a stone's throw from the Canadian border. The town's narrow streets full of venerable old wooden houses overlooked a pristine bay dotted with lobster buoys and fishing boats, and the air smelled like beach roses.
It wasn't quite the end of the Earth, but it was close; I did not, though, find myself wanting to take a leap. Instead I bought one of the old houses, an 1823 white clapboard Federal with three redbrick chimneys, forty-eight old wooden shutters, and about a million acres of peeling wallpaper all of which needed scraping.
So I began to. Also I began raising Sam, who after a dozen years of hearing his parents threatening to kill one another was nearly as broken as I was, and I can't say I got very far with him.
Soon, though, he discovered the island's beaches, wide sandy expanses thickly studded with rotted pilings from vanished two-hundred-year-old wharves. There he found antique bottles, clay pipe stems, and beach glass, pale nuggets of sandblasted translucence which he began collecting in Mason jars.
Next thing I knew, he was helping out on a fishing boat and doing better in school. He had his problems, still, some of them very serious ones that would end up lingering into his adulthood, but all in all he managed to turn himself around.
And then I met Wade Sorenson, a local harbor pilot who guided big ships through the wild tides and ferocious currents for which Eastport's waters were famous. I wanted a new romance the way I wanted a chronic skin condition, but Wade bided his time, never hurrying or veering off-course. We were married a few years later; I guess he must have been practicing on those big ships.
So that's how I got here, and now with Sam grown and the old house at last wrangled into some semblance of order (by which I mean it was no longer actively in the process of falling down) I'd found a new passion: The Chocolate Moose.
Ellie had talked me into it, but to my surprise I loved it. Creating delicious chocolate treats and selling them to our customers had turned out to be a blast; too bad that at the moment our shop was the location of a dead — and almost certainly murdered — body.
"I just don't see how someone dies in a pot of chocolate," Ellie murmured, still staring.
"I think maybe he had help," I said gently.
Close up, she resembled a princess out of a fairy tale: hair of gold, long, thick lashes, a smile that could make grown men whip off their jackets and fling them across puddles for her.
"Ohh," she breathed comprehendingly. Then, tenting her clear-polish-tipped fingers, "I wonder ..."
So did I. But I was trying hard not to. It wouldn't be the first time we'd wondered ourselves into a lot of trouble; one way or another, Ellie and I had a fair bit of experience at snooping into Eastport murders.
Which was one reason why I'd already decided that we wanted no part of this one. I was about to say so, too, but instead Miss Halligan stuck her head in and spied the dead guy.
"Let's all of us step outside, shall we?" I said swiftly, body-checking the elegant-looking little owner of the vintage-clothing emporium back out through the kitchen doorway again.
I might not know much — for example, who was the guy? His thick chocolate coating and could-be-anyone clothes, consisting of a gray sweatshirt, faded blue jeans, and running shoes, obscured his identity. But I knew the cops wouldn't like it one bit if we contaminated their nice, fresh crime scene.
I mean, any more than we already had. "Come on, Ellie, let's go," I said while she stood staring at the body some more.
Excerpted from "Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake"
Copyright © 2018 Sarah Graves.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake is the first book in A Death by Chocolate Mystery series, but it is technically a continuation of A Home Repair is Homicide Mystery series (there are sixteen books in that series). I was not aware of this until I started the book, and I felt like I had been plopped into the middle of a series. I wish the author had taken the time to introduce her readers to her characters in the beginning of the book, because I felt lost and confused. We are given more details on the characters as the book progresses (thankfully). However, I never fully connected with the characters and I felt out of step (there were still holes not filled in). Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake is packed full of action. There is one situation after another throughout the story. The action starts with the murder in the first chapter, then Jake and Ellie almost get hit by another boat when fog strands them in the water, Jake’s father disappearing from hospital, Jake’s father takes off with car (and with his medications, he should not be driving), Marla and her dog attacked, lack of chocolate to make cheesecakes, Jake and Ellie breaking into Marla’s house, someone shoots at the duo, Sam is missing, Hurricane Amber and so much more. I wish the author had cut down on the zany incidents. It was too much and I beginning to wonder if Jake had a death wish. I wanted more solid content. I did find some aspects of the book to be unrealistic. Most mystery readers will have no problem figuring out the identity of the culprit long before it is revealed in the book. There is a repetition of information in the story especially regarding the stepmom’s attitude towards cleaning (the same details are repeated over and over). I know it is a culinary mystery, but the author did not need to include so many scenes on the baking of the cheesecakes. The ending felt rushed (take away a baking scene and the ending could have been less abrupt). For readers who love Sarah Graves A Home Repair is Homicide Mystery series, you will enjoy the continuing antics of Ellie and Jake.
Jake (Jacobia) and her friend Ellie are opening a Bake shop called the Chocolate Moose in their island town of Eastport Maine. They've been asked to make a number of chocolate cherry cheesecakes for the 4th of July auction to raise the funds for the town fireworks. Happy to help out, their timing plans are drowned in chocolate when a disgruntled neighbor is found murdered in their shop literally drowning in the melting chocolate. Since the last person to claim to have seen the victim alive is Ellie, the two bakers set out to clear Ellie's name while at the same time baking those dozens of cheesecakes. Problems co tinue when a hurricane sets its sights on Eastport making the timetable for investigating and baking even tighter. It was interesting to see familiar characters in a new setting (home repair vs. chocolate baker) and hope that they continue to move forward in their new venture.
I picked this book up as it was advertised as the first in a new series. What I didn't know was that these characters were well loved in another series, so there was a lot of character development and relationship information that I was lacking, through no mistake of my own. Jake and Ellie have opened up a bake shop on the waterfront of town Eastport, called Chocolate Moose. Apparently, Jacobia (Jake) has experience helping to solve murders, so when the annoying town inspector ends up murdered in their shop, Ellie is the main suspect. Matt Muldoon has been after them since they opened with one complaint after another, even saying he would report them to his “friends at the Maine State Health Department”. Ellie didn’t kill him but she and Jake will have to find out who did or Ellie may find herself under arrest. In addition to the dead man in the kitchen, there is a hurricane headed toward Eastport and the town is planning for their huge 4th of July celebration. Jake and Ellie have a huge order for Chocolate Cherry Cheesecakes for the silent auction. Also, Jake’s dad checks himself out of the hospital after having a heart attack. There is so much going on that I am not sure how it all gets sorted out. Jake and Ellie are both strong women and work together very well. Jake's husband, Wade, makes a few appearances in the story, but is not a major player. Bob the sheriff is another good character and he does not want Jake and Ellie investigating on one hand, but feeds Jake information on another. The story rolls along at an okay pace with Jake and Ellie getting themselves in several sticky and dire situations. There were a lot of twists and turns and the conclusion pulling everything together was well done, but I found I did not really get invested in the story. If you are familiar with Sarah Graves' other series and these characters, you will probably love this book. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.
Although this books looks like the start of a completely new series, it’s actually a sin off of another series, Home Repair is Homicide. I have read the other series but I went in expecting a new series and was surprised when it was the same characters, just with a different occupation. This is the main reason I knocked the rating down to three stars. The story would be difficult to connect to without having read the previous series. Other than that this was a great cozy mystery with delicious food descriptions and a tantalizing mystery to solve. It’s a good mystery but readers will enjoy it far more if they have read the other series.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Sarah Graves ended her Home Repair is Homicide Mysteries back in 2013. To her fans delight, she has brought the characters back in this new Death by Chocolate Mystery series. Jake and Ellie have opened up a bake shop on the waterfront and the town of Eastport still has a murder problem and this murder happens right in their business, The Chocolate Moose. Matt Muldoon has been after them since they opened with one complaint after another, even saying he would report them to his “friends at the Maine State Health Department”. Ellie couldn’t stand the man, but she can’t be the only one. She didn’t kill him but she and Jake will have to find out who did or Ellie may find herself working in the prison kitchen. These characters were very well developed in the previous series but are now facing new situations as they try to get their new business off the ground. Enough background is given so new readers should not feel lost. They do mention the crimes they have solved before but it is not too much to take over this new story. Jake and Ellie are both strong women and work together very well. In addition to the dead man in the kitchen, there is a hurricane headed toward Eastport and the town is planning for their huge 4th of July celebration. Jake and Ellie have a huge order for Chocolate Cherry Cheesecakes for the silent auction. Also, Jake’s dad is in the hospital when the story begins. To say these ladies have their hands full is an understatement. The story rolls along at a great pace as Jake and Ellie find themselves in some dire situations. Twists and turns aplenty keep us readers on our toes. I did enjoy the interaction between the ladies and chief of police Bob Arnold, he trusted them enough to be able to accept their input because they have a history with this type of situation. Jake’s family life added a nice subplot and I was so surprised by Sam’s announcement. Fans of the previous series will love this spin-off, new readers will fall for these characters too after reading this book. I have to say spin-offs are rare and hard to do in cozy mysteries but Sarah Graves has done a fine job. I am looking forward to future stories with Jake and Ellie.
I'm a fan of Sarah Graves' other two series, so I was excited to get the opportunity to read & review an advance copy of this first-in-series. Many of the characters in this book - including main character Jake and her best friend Ellie - and the setting of Eastport, Maine are carried over from Ms. Graves' Home Repair is Homicide mysteries. It was great going back to visit Eastport and its characters, now with Jake and Ellie running their own bakery specializing in high-quality chocolate treats. There are several suspicious characters in this story, which makes for an interesting, hard-to-solve mystery. The resolution and explanation for the crime was a bit complicated, so I didn't guess the culprit until the very end. There's a big surprise involving one of the secondary characters and we meet some new characters who I hope to see again. I'm so happy that Jake and Ellie are back, and I'm already looking forward to the second Death by Chocolate mystery. I happily provided my honest review in exchange for a free advance copy of this book.
Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake is the first book in the new Death by Chocolate series by established cozy author Sarah Graves, and a spinoff of her previous series - Home Repair is Homicide - featuring the same protagonist, Jacobia "Jake" Tiptree. I'd not read a single one of the books in the other series, but was able to jump right into this very well-written mystery! Jake and her best friend, Ellie, have volunteered to make one dozen chocolate cherry cheesecakes to auction off to raise funds for Eastport's Fourth of July fireworks. Unfortunately, someone turns up dead face down in the chocolate warmer at The Chocolate Moose and then one dozen cheesecakes turns into two dozen because Jake can never say no to anyone in need! A lot is happening in this book with an impending storm and Jake's MIA son, and there are lots of suspects to choose from. Loved it, and I sure hope there'll be a second book in this fun new cozy series! A+
In this first book of the series we are re-introduced to characters from a previous series that the author has written. I liked the change because I got to visit with old friends but life has changed up a bit for them which brought a freshness to everything. Jake has finally finished with all the renovations on her home and is looking for something new to sink her teeth into. Enter her best friend Ellie, together they decided to open up The Chocolate Moose, a bake shop filled with lots of chocolate treats. When Jake finds a local dead in the shop, his head in their chocolate melting pot, she's not sure who it is or how they got there. When she finds out that it is a local who has been giving them nothing but trouble, especially Ellie, she knows that it's time to figure out just what happened and why. Along the way the ladies have to deal with baking dozens of cheesecakes, being almost ran over by another boat, and an oncoming storm. With all that is going on will they be able to keep Ellie out of jail and the bake shop open? Will all the cheesecakes get done in time for the auction? Follow along and see. This was truly a wonderful read, I loved seeing the move these characters made and look forward to what happens with them next.
Another masterful fast paced and tasty edition.