Review: Tart of Darkness by Denise Swanson

Posted February 19, 2024 by Lola in Mystery, Review / 2 Comments

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Tart of Darkness Tart of Darkness (Chef-to-Go Mystery #1)
by Denise Swanson
narrated by Melissa Moran

My Rating: 3 stars

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Age Category: Adult
Type of romance: MF

First book in the Chef-To-Go Series from New York Times bestselling author Denise Swanson, featuring a delightful cast of small-town characters and a deliciously mysterious murder!

Right when Dani thinks she’s hit a dead-end in her career, she unexpectedly inherits an enormous empty mansion in a quaint college town. This gives her the perfect opportunity to pursue her true passion—cooking! So Dani opens Chef-to-Go, preparing delicious, ready-made meals for hungry students attending the nearby university, as well as providing personal chef services and catering events for the local community. To help support her new business, she opens her home to a few students, renting them rooms and becoming almost like a big sister figure in their lives.

But Dani’s sweet new life has a measure of darkness in it: when the friend of one of her boarders is murdered, Dani becomes a primary suspect! She’ll have to scramble to clear her name, solve this culinary mystery, and save her business before the killer reappears—perhaps to silence the new chef forever.

My Review

I bought this one when I spotted it discounted in audio and the premise sounded so fun! In Tart of Darkness main character Dani inherits an house in a college town and after resigning from her previous job she takes this opportunity to start her own business, doing catering, personal chef and making lunch sacks for college kids. She also has 3 college kids as boarders in her house to help pay the rent and they also help her with her business.

I thought the set up and premise for this book was quite unique. With Dani being like a big sister to the three college kids that live in her house as well as her 3 different types of services she offers as part of her business. The college town also forms the backdrop of the story as well as the murder. And the variety of work Dani offers means she comes in contact with plenty of different people and on different locations. I liked reading about the food and was a bit surprised there wasn’t even more about the food, but the mystery really takes center place once it gets going. The set up did take some time and felt a bit slow, but once Dani is in her new house and has her boarders things really get going.

The mystery in this book was really well written for the most part, although the ending ruined it a bit for me. When a rich college girl gets murdered after Dani catered her party, Dani becomes the main suspect. She teams up with Spencer Drake, the uncle of one of her boarders as they try to solve it and keep her out of jail. There are plenty of suspects and so many people have a motive. It kept me guessing till the very end. And I thought it was well written and I liked how the mystery progressed with them learning new information often. I didn’t really like how the reveal happened and how a side character basically solves the mystery, add in the super coincidentally timing of some events at the end and it just felt off. There also is this bit that’s just sad about the whole thing and even though the murdered girl was quite the mean girl, I also felt sad for her.

There’s also a romantic plot line that felt quite prominent as side plot line. I liked how Dani teamed up with Spencer and how they actually both work together to solve the mystery. I wasn’t a fan of some of their dynamic and inner thoughts, but in other parts I did like them and thought they were sweet together and made for a good team.

Sadly this book also had a bunch of things that didn’t work for me, mostly they were small things, but they piled up throughout the book. I didn’t like how the police officer was not only incompetent when it comes to solving the crime, but is a dirty cop out for revenge and has it in for Dani. I just didn’t like reading about that. Then there is this weird cameo appearance of a reporter character that I think is from one of the author’s other series. It just felt off how she got inserted in the plot and also helped with the mystery and could get some information the main characters couldn’t. Might be more fun if you have read that series, but for me it didn’t work and it just felt off. Then there is Spencer’s attitude at times with how he could be overprotective and I didn’t like that behavior or how it often devolved in Dani defending herself and saying she could take care of herself. I’ve read about this dynamic too often and I just don’t like it, especially as they could be quite sweet and fun together in other scenes. There’s also a side plot line regarding Dani’s ex that felt a bit weirdly fit in the story and I wasn’t quite sure what the point was except to show Dani she was better off without him.

To summarize: Tart of Darkness has an unique and fun premise. I liked reading about Dani and how she ran her Chef-to-go business. The college town setting felt quite fresh too and formed the background for the story and mystery. The mystery was really good, but the ending kinda ruined it for me. I didn’t like how a side character basically solves the mystery and there is some coincidental timing as well. It also just left me feeling sad. I liked how Dani and Spencer teamed up for the mystery and I liked part of their romance, but some of their dynamic and inner thoughts didn’t work for me. Then there are a bunch of smaller things that didn’t work for me that piled up throughout the book, from the weirdly placed cameo appearance side character from another series, the dirty cop that was out for revenge, to the plot line about Dani’s ex that felt like it didn’t felt like it fit in the story and then there was Spencer’s overprotective behavior. I felt like there were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book, but also a lot of things that didn’t and it just left me feeling conflicted.

3 Stars


You can also read my review on Goodreads and Bookbub.

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2 responses to “Review: Tart of Darkness by Denise Swanson

    • The parts about Dani’s work and food were so fun to read about, it was just a shame the other things didn’t quite work for me as it was such an unique and fun set-up for a series.

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