#BookReview: MURDER ON THE MENU by Nancy Skopin

Private Investigator Nicoli “Nikki” Hunter has lost enthusiasm for the bar and restaurant surveys that pay the bills but no longer challenge her. When the brutal murder of socialite, (and stripper), Laura Howard lands on her desk, she finally encounters a case worthy of her talent.

Murder on the Menu is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Nikki Hunter. The only child of a Cossack and a former nun, Hunter is a smart, tenacious thirty-five-year-old, who lives aboard a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay Area and works out of a ground floor office in the marina complex where she lives.

When the Howard murder goes unsolved, the victim’s mother contacts Nikki, who agrees to a preliminary investigation, and discovers that Laura was about to inherit several million dollars. The list of suspects grows as Nikki delves into Laura’s past. Nikki befriends Homicide Detective Bill Anderson, and he confides to her that three recent murders, including Laura’s, have peculiar similarities.

Nikki enlists the aid of her best friend and fellow boat-dweller, Elizabeth Gaultier, and while the two are conducting interviews they discover they’re being tailed by another PI. When the interviewees start turning up dead, Nikki tells Detective Anderson everything she’s uncovered, but it’s too late. Nikki has already become the killer’s next target.

Nancy Skopin, 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award winner for her first novel, Murder On The Menu, is a native of California, and currently lives on the Oregon coast with her husband and their dogs.

Amazon / Amazon UK / Amazon CA

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My Review

This is a good PI mystery with a strong female lead. I appreciate that Nikki doesn’t turn to mush around good looking men, doesn’t weep and whine over her lack of a love interest, and doesn’t need a man to rescue her. She’s strong and independent, but still feminine.

I am not among those fortunate individuals who can relax and allow life to happen while they placidly observe, although learning how to placidly observe is on my long list of things to do.

We go along with Nikki as she investigates her first homicide, and the author does a great job of showing us how a PI really works. At the same time, though, the story often gets mired down in these details. For instance, we learn that Nikki is adept at taking in everything about a person upon meeting. This becomes tedious, as Nikki goes on to list the attire and appearance of every single person she comes in contact with. Once we’ve established this fact about Nikki, we don’t need to go through the list with every person she sees.

She’s five feet and one half inch tall and about a hundred pounds. Her strawberry blonde hair, hazel eyes, and the scattering of freckles over the bridge of her nose make her look like an innocent but sexy waif.

The repetition of detail was exacerbated by repeating the very same information. Twice we’re told Nikki’s best friend Elizabeth’s height, weight, hair color, and eye color. And twice we’re told the details of Nikki’s work for restaurant owners. We’re also given several pages of detail on five dogs living with their owners at the marina where Nikki lives. I love dogs, but I did not need to know each one’s breed, owners’ names, play habits, likes, and dislikes.

He’s starting to gray around the muzzle and he’s very affectionate, dopey, and unpredictable. He’s also obsessed with tennis balls.

The pacing, because of the volume of minutiae, is slow, particularly through the first half of the book. That being said, the plot is intriguing and I enjoyed going along with Nikki as she investigated.

I thought the ending was a little too convenient. We have a Q&A session in dialogue form with the killer, used as a way of wrapping up all the loose ends for readers. The conversation didn’t feel realistic to me, particularly given the situation and setting. The Q&A took away from the immediacy and danger of what should have been a climactic scene.

“Were you wearing gloves that night? I asked.”

The whodunit aspect is handled well. Nicki is investigating a murder, but we aren’t given a lot of gruesome detail and we’re not weighed down with misery. While this isn’t quite a cozy mystery, the story does have that light, quirky feel.


Thanks for reading. 🙂