So you probably already know not to eat French fries with your fingers in Chile, not to shake hands across a threshold in Russia, and to always sit in the backseat of a taxi (never up front with the driver) if you’re a woman traveling solo in Costa Rica. But you might not know that ordinary chocolate contains over five hundred unique flavor components—more than twice that of vanilla or strawberry. You might not know that you should let your next bite of chocolate melt on your tongue (don’t chew it!) for the ultimate flavor experience. And you might not know that the most chocolaty chocolate mousse is made with high-quality chocolate and water (not cream). Not many people do—not even the restaurateurs, TV chefs, and chocolate-company executives who hire me to troubleshoot their Theobroma cacao cookies, cakes, and confections.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You didn’t ask for a compendium of travel- and chocolate-based tips, and the fact that my on-the-job adventures have included bushwhacking through the jungles of Africa, rubbing elbows with Academy Awards-catering chefs, and being blindfolded (not to do something kinky, I promise!) for a chocolate tasting doesn’t mean I never come up stumped. I do. Sometimes. But I never quit, and I never tell clients I’m mystified by their gloopy ganache or freaky frappés, either. I always keep trying until I find a solution. In my book, perseverance counts.
My clients appreciate the effort, and I appreciate their loyalty. I’m a freelancer. That means I can’t goof around (much). My work demands expertise, attention to detail, and a thick skin when it comes to criticism. It demands discretion, too. That’s because most of my work is done (necessarily) undercover. The companies that hire me don’t want it known that they need me, Hayden Mundy Moore, to improve their prized confections.
I’ve gotten pretty good at troubleshooting on the QT, building my high-profile client list through discreet referrals. I work one hush-hush job at a time and let the next assignment take care of itself. My globe-trotting background means I’m fairly adept at blending in when necessary, too. But knowing how to navigate a Milanese street without a map or negotiate a good price at a Lebanese market doesn’t necessarily equip a girl to handle every situation with perfect composure. Not even if that “girl” just turned thirty, like me.
Look, I can backpack with the best. I can make instant friends with the back-of-house staff at a restaurant or the line workers at a chocolate factory. I can tell a wicked Dutch dirty joke that will make a sailor blush, and I can confront a squat toilet in Bangalore with equanimity and (enviable) balance. But that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes run into trouble during my chocolate consulting gigs. Occasionally, I’m offered a bribe to wreck a competitor’s product line. Sometimes I refuse to work with someone, and they get touchy about it. Once in a while, an unsavory character thinks I’m on the menu du jour, right alongside the chocolate-praline macarons and the chocolate pots de crème.
I can handle the grabby types—thanks to my patented anti-mugger maneuvers—but my best friend, Danny Jamieson, won’t get off my back about my “dangerous work.” I get it. As a private security expert, Danny’s paid to be paranoid. He always looks on the dark side of life. Me? I side with my enigmatic, sexy-voiced financial advisor, Travis Turner. Travis specializes in details. In stability. In the incontrovertible (and lucrative) bottom line. So unless (or until) Travis thinks I need to bail on a chocolate consultation, then I’m all good—despite Danny’s warnings to the contrary and Travis’s occasional worrying.
Until now, that philosophy has served me well. I’ve stayed busy traveling the world and consulting for my influential international clientele, turning their “okay” chocolates into “ohmigod!” chocolate extravaganzas. I haven’t once had both Danny and Travis insist I quit a job. Until now, that is. Because now my newfound chocolatier friend, Adrienne Dowling, just turned up dead of a supposed heart attack—under very suspicious circumstances—at Maison Lemaître, the chichi chocolate-themed resort spa where I’ve been consulting in San Francisco. And now Danny and Travis are both insisting that I leave. And now everything is changing, just when I most don’t want it to.
I could just hop a plane, of course. I know that. But what kind of friend skips out when the going gets tough? Not me. Not Hayden Mundy Moore, chocolate whisperer—and friend—extraordinaire. Despite Danny’s and Travis’s objections, I’m staying put. . .and I’m going to find out what really happened to Adrienne, too. After all, there’s no one better than me at troubleshooting. I’m pretty sure I can find out whodunit. I can already work on a chocolate-factory assembly line without scarfing all the truffles, craft a perfect chocolate chip cookie, and expertly decipher those cryptic squiggles and swirls you see on top of all the goodies in a box of chocolates . How much harder can it really be to catch a killer?
You can read more about Hayden in Criminal Confections, the first book in the new “Chocolate Whisperer” mystery series, published by Kensington.
Meet the author
Colette London is the pseudonym of a best-selling novelist who’s published more than three dozen books worldwide. Her Chocolate Whisperer series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing begins with Criminal Confections in February 2015 and continues with Dangerously Dark in October 2015. You can find Colette on her website, Facebook, circle her on Google+, or follow her on Twitter today.