Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames.*
The second novel in the Cheese Shop series begins with Charlotte and Fromagerie Bessette preparing to cater a fund-raiser for a new college in Providence, Ohio. Charlotte's best friend Meredith decided that their small town needed a college, and that the perfect building already existed: a former winery built in the nineteenth century by Zachariah Ziegler,one of Providence's first mayors.
After some family tragedies, the winery had been shut down, and the building eventually deeded to the town by one of Ziegler's descendants. Due to rumors that Zachariah had been a pirate who had hidden bodies (and possibly treasure) in the building, it had stood deserted and crumbling for many years. The purpose Meredith's fundraiser was to renovate the old structure, and while many Providence's residents were excited about it, there were also many who were certain that the place was cursed.
Charlotte's preparations for the fondue party are interrupted by the appearance of her cousin Matthew's ex-wife Sylvie, who had deserted her husband and twin daughters to live with her wealthy parents in England. For some reason that Charlotte cannot fathom, Sylvie has decided to return to the US and rekindle a relationship with her daughters while attempting to gain custody of the girls.
Despite Sylvie's disruption, the party starts off fine. Charlotte and her assistant Rebecca are even able to participate in the scavenger hunt activity planned by Meredith. However, while searching for items on their list, the two women find the body of one of the guests, strangled by a scarf belonging to his girlfriend, Meredith's niece Quinn, who immediately becomes the prime suspect.
Certain that the girl she once babysat couldn't have murdered anyone, Charlotte (with the help of mystery-buff Rebecca) sets out to prove it.
Charlotte is a frustrating character, because she knows better than to "snoop around" as she calls it. In fact, each time she decides to check something out, she talks herself out of "being sensible". But like many literary amateur sleuths, Charlotte is either certain that she has information that the authorities don't, or that she doesn't need to call the police because her hunch might prove false. Despite this, she is a likeable character, perhaps because her motivation is to be helpful.
The narrative is laced with mouth-watering cheesy snacks and meals that Charlotte conjures up, and several recipes are included. The volume ends with the opening chapter of the next book in the series, entitled Clobbered by Camembert.
*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.