Desert Isle Keeper
Engagement and Espionage
Engagement and Espionage by Penny Reid is the start of a spin-off mystery series from her highly entertaining Winston Brothers series. In Beard Science, Jennifer Sylvester and Cletus Winston began their romance when Cletus helped Jenn attain her independence from her parents. It was my favorite of the Winston Brothers stories, but I’ll be honest, I’m not usually that keen on stories that take place after the HEA or HFN ending. So I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about reading this first book in the Solving for Pie: Cletus and Jenn Mysteries but to my delight it exceeded my expectations and has convinced me that I will need to read all of the author’s upcoming books starring Jenn and Cletus. It’s best read after Beard Science and this review will contain some spoilers from that book. In terms of the timeline, this story takes place before Beard Necessities, the final Winston Brothers novel.
It’s been several weeks since Jenn’s life was turned upside down, but for the better with her involvement with Cletus. She’s still working for the Donner Bakery as her mother’s prize baker (her Banana Cake Queen moniker is well deserved) but her parents have split and her controlling and abusive father is trying to start up a business to rival her mother’s vacation lodge. Jenn gets her baking supplies from local farmers, and all of a sudden they don’t want to sell to her. While it seems obvious that her father must be involved somehow, things take a nasty turn when Farmer Badcock’s chickens turn up strangled or missing. And then Jenn’s mother gets knocked out and dragged behind a burning beehive. Is it a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or attempted murder? Jenn and Cletus have their hands full navigating the next steps in their relationship and finding out who is trying to sabotage them and why.
The obvious culprit is of course Jenn’s father, but that would make for a boring and predictable mystery and Engagement and Espionage is not that. There are a number of suspicious characters, some of whom Jenn has beaten in past local fair baking championships, and the author does a great job of providing several possible suspects for the shenanigans going on until the mystery is solved. I really liked how the plot plays out, things getting a little more complicated with every discovery so that in the end you get a satisfying whodunit. I don’t read a lot of mysteries so I don’t know how this compares for avid readers of the genre but it works for me.
With the mystery we also get the continuation of Jenn and Cletus’s romance. Everything seemed to be going great for them at the end of Beard Science, but Jenn hasn’t been able to get the free time she’d wanted from the bakery now that she’s helping her mother cope with her post-divorce problems, so she and Cletus hardly get to spend any time together. And every time they catch a few moments alone they get interrupted by another emergency, so they are both frustrated (sexually and otherwise) and this has put a strain on their relationship. Despite this, Cletus truly loves Jenn and is a real sweetheart, taking care of her house and little tasks so she can concentrate on the bakery, and then helping take care of her mother after the attack. Jenn’s mother has grown a lot since Beard Science as well, becoming a much more likable character, and in this story she and Cletus develop an actual bond. Cletus wants very much to give Jenn an engagement ring but he wants it to be one that she wants to wear, so he’s bought five of them and some of the funniest moments in the story come with him trying to figure out which one to give her.
The story is told from both Cletus and Jenn’s points of view, and getting into Cletus’s head is always an enjoyable and humorous experience. There are lots of scenes with Cletus’s family and townsfolk, and while there are a couple of more serious scenes (discussions of Cletus’s mother’s abusive marriage for example), the overall feeling of the novel is lighthearted, fun and sweet, mystery notwithstanding. And I’d be remiss not to point out that there are some pretty sexy scenes once Cletus and Jenn get some alone time together. All in all, it’s a great start to the Solving for Pie: Cletus and Jenn Mysteries and I am eagerly awaiting the next in the series!