I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Hana works at her family's Hungarian tea house and loves her job. When the Magyar Women, a group of older Hungarian women, rent out the space for an afternoon tea, she expects it to be gossip, “when you going to meet a nice boy” talk, and friendship sharing, she does not expect murder.
With the reputation of their tea house on the line, Hana and her mother and grandmother work with Detective Wolf to help solve who wanted Ava Novak dead. Hungarian myths, legends, magic, food, and new and old mysteries swirl around as Hana wonders who could do such a thing and if maybe she should let a Wolf into her heart.
“They’ve got poor Mrs. Kalas out there, looking all deflated and nervous. Can you really picture one of these old ladies committing murder?”
“Of course I can. They’re a scary batch of Old Country women, full of superstition and paprika-scented resentment.”
The first in a new series, Death in a Budapest Butterfly, introduces us to Hana. She's of Hungarian descent and even though she is American, the Hungarian culture plays a big part in her life. She helps her mother and grandmother run Maggie's Tea House, a business that has been in her family for generations. When Hana sees that one of the members of the Magyar Women is drinking from her very rare Butterfly tea cup that was only supposed to be a for looks center piece, she makes a move to rescue it. When she sees a Hungarian message about a witch written inside the cup, she immediately searches for Ava, the woman drinking from the cup, and discovers her dead in the bathroom. This starts off the mystery of who could have poisoned a woman in such a public setting and why.
I liked the beginning way the author started off the mystery, the murder happens fairly quickly and then we get relaying of events with each chapter having a specific character giving their account to Detective Wolf. This helps to introduce us to the characters, set the scene, and engage the reader in who is and isn't telling the truth while shifting through the character's testimony.
While I thought the layout of the murder mystery started off strong, I would have liked to have felt like I knew Hana and her family better. It is not until the latter half of the story that I finally felt like I “knew” them, cared, and felt settled in their world. The murder mystery is obviously the highlight of the story but I like to care about the main characters we are following along with.
“You’re falling prey to an illusion. They’re elderly, and they have accents, but they’re not automatically harmless.”
My stomach felt sick. “Jekyll and Hyde,” I said.
“You bet. And it’s my job to find Hyde. In everyone.” His face was solemn.
The relationship between Erik Wolf and Hana was a bit too immediate. Wolf's character was very dry and not fleshed out enough for me; he felt like a blank slate. I did like how the author created a plausible excuse for Hana to be somewhat involved in the investigation, her and her family translate Hungarian to English for him and explain some Hungarian cultural norms and structures.
The story structure reaches out from Hana and her mother and grandmother, this was a matriarchal cozy mystery. There was some supernatural or mystic elements added with Hana inheriting “gifts” or “sight” from the female line in her family. The Jekyll and Hyde theme is threaded throughout with the how could the killer be a “little old woman”?
Later, I realized it was because we had innocent hearts, and my grandmother had always told me that the innocent heart cannot see the evil one, but that evil could see evil because “they live in the same darkness, and they learn to see in the dark.”
I thought the mystery was wrapped up well, the author gave us meaning and backstory for reasons and it wasn't all Scooby Doo dumped at the end. I did think this had a little bit of a heavier feel than the usual light cozy mystery. The inclusion of recipes at the end was delightful as the author will make you hungry with all the descriptions of food throughout the story.
Detective Wolf was too much of a blank slate for me and his romance with Hana lacked depth in its immediacy. The murder mystery started off strong, lost some steam in the middle, but had a satisfactory explanation, and sad one. Hana's family supernatural abilities added a fun twist and all the Hungarian folklore, food, and culture additives gave this a special feel. A pleasing start to a series where I'll look for more depth to certain characters and relationships when the next mystery pops up.