Pies and Prejudice is the first in a new series of witchy murder mysteries by Ellery Adams. Like Brownies and Broomsticks which was published two months earlier, it features a young woman who moves to Georgia and whose dreams of opening a bakery are complicated by a murder. However, Pies and Prejudice distinguishes itself from the witchy mystery genre in particular and from paranormal, wish-fulfillment fantasy more generally in a couple of ways.
The trope of most protagonist-unexpectedly-discovers-that-they-are-a-really-truly-real-witch books is that the protagonist discovers that he or she is a witch in the first few chapters, and the books are generally about how the characters learn about and use their new found powers. In Pies and Prejudice the heroine, Ella Mae LaFaye, does not learn that she is a witch until the final chapter. There is definitely magic happening earlier than that, and the reader is in the know long before Ella Mae is, but the structure allows the magic which occurs to take on more of the resonance of the magical realism of Marquez, Allende or Block. In fact, for the hardy Pagans who work their way through the comparatively pedestrian murder mystery involving thoroughbreds and a Machiavellian nail-salon mogul, there’s absolutely delightful scene of Ella Mays initiation at the end.
The other way that this novel distinguishes itself from the rest of the witchy mystery genre is that Ellery chose to use a far richer and allusive language than most such books. The descriptive prose here is replete with similes and metaphors. The rich language is appropriate for a tale in which confections play a central role: there is a foodie sensuality that pervades the novel, and the allusive language evokes that mood well. However, Ellery might push the language a bit too much for some tastes, and even in my typically casual read I noticed that she referred to light reflecting on water as diamonds twice. (A quick search of the text reveals that, in fact, she does so three times.)
The setting for Pies and Prejudice is a fictional town called Havenwood located above the Piedmont in Georgia. At the start of the novel Ella Mae has fled home from her previous life in Manhattan after she had returned from her culinary class one day and her apartment elevator opened to reveal her husband Sloan Kitteridge fucking one red-headed twin while fingering another. She has brought nothing but the clothes she was wearing and her dog Chewy, and come home to her mother who had never approved of the marriage to Sloan. Soon, however, with the help of her three aunts and the housekeeper Reba, Ella Mae is creating a new life for herself in Havenwood by preparing to open The Charmed Pie Shoppe to fulfill her culinary ambitions. Before that can happen, however, Bradford Knox, the elderly fiance of Ella Mae’s high school mean-girl and romantic rival Loralyn Gaynor, is murdered with Ella Mae’s rolling pin a few days after Ella has shouted, “…I will KILL YOU!” at Loralyn into Bradford’s truck during a confrontation in front of the town’s bank.
Thus, Ella Mae must solve the mystery while she prepares to open her Pie Shoppe, and she soon finds herself untangling a web of intrigue surrounding Knox’ veterinary practice and the thoroughbred horse owners who were his clients. Along the way, she discovers that her current emotions are somehow infused into her pies and can effect the people who eat them, and her mother and aunts seem to have strange powers as well. At the end of the novel she finally bakes a pie with the intent to discover what she really is and her witch heritage is finally revealed.
There is also a hint of romance in the offing as Ella Mae meets Bradford’s son and encounters her first crush, Hugh Dylan at the local swimming hole. But Ella Mae is still pretty much in shock at the sudden dissolution of her marriage, and Hugh has a long history with Loralyn who hooks up with between her marriages to rich old men. Thus, there’s some moments of heat, most of the sensuality in the novel is about the pies Ella Mae creates.
Pies and Prejudice is magical and sensuous (and thank you to Rebecca from recommending it). Placing the revelation of Ella Mae’s magical powers at the end of the novel is a welcome variation, and the rich language of the novel is consonant with those powers. A second book in the series, Peach Pies and Alibis, is already available as well.