"A Bitter Feast"

The crime novel “A Bitter Feast” is Deborah Crombie’s 18th in a series about Scotland Yard detectives and spouses Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. I was unaware that this was a series and never suspected it, thus confirming it’s a great standalone read. The book is character-driven—even minor characters are tied to the mystery and murder occurring in a small village in the Cotswolds.

Superintendent Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector James have been invited to spend the weekend at the Beck House, a country estate belonging to Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot’s family. The Talbots are wealthy, prominent and influential and are hosting a charity luncheon at the home.

The luncheon is being catered by local chef Viv Holland who left her job at a prestigious London restaurant decades ago and has kept this part of her life a secret. Holland likes the anonymity the Cotswolds provide. That all changes when Superintendent Kincaid is broadsided on his way to Beck House.

The two passengers in the car that struck him die. Toxicology tests on the victims reveal that the unidentified gentleman in the back seat was dead before the accident, the victim of foul play. Local Detective Sergeant Doug Cullen, with help from Duncan and Gemma, try to solve the mystery/murder.

Holland knows the stranger from the past—a man she’s trying to hide from. Why was he in Cotswolds? What did he want? Who would want him dead? Readers learn of these characters' pasts via Holland's flashbacks presented throughout the investigation.

Holland isn’t the only one keeping secrets. Melody Talbot hasn’t shared her family history with her boyfriend Andy, a rock star. When she doesn’t return his texts or messages, Andy comes to Beck House. He is surprised to learn that Melody is part of the powerful newspaper Talbots.

This page-turning crime novel is full of lies, secrets and murder. “A Bitter Feast” also touches on the importance of successfully merging career with family, friends and even pets. An added bonus for me was learning how chaotic a restaurant kitchen can be. Being someone who loves to cook, I enjoyed all the food descriptions as well.