Richard J. Bennett offers readers an approachable hero in The Lovely Chocolate Mob, a charming novel that fuses intrigue and mystery with small-town politics and workaday ennui.
Bennett presents a protagonist who helps tie all of these narrative threads together in Randall Owen, a 50-year-old civil engineer living in the small town of Lovely, Texas. He pointedly feels the emptiness left by his failure to marry and procreate; he’s looking for a way to shake up his seemingly go-nowhere life.
That all changes when Owen reconnects with Helen, a long-lost love from his college days who has since married and had children. She enlists Owen to help her save her marriage; she suspects her husband of infidelity with the heir to the riches of the Lovely Chocolate Factory, one of the town’s commercial pillars. From there, Owen gets pulled into a detective story that includes murder and a very distinctive organized crime unit. With firm morals and convictions, Owen remains the anchor throughout.
For the most part, Bennett skillfully balances those elements, opting for a casual narrative style that keeps the action flowing. Although he unexpectedly shifts from first- to third-person perspective at different points throughout the story —a style that can be jarring—the author keeps the story flowing thanks to distinct characters and a strong voice.
There’s a folksy charm to this story that would appeal to fans of Garrison Keillor’s writings about Lake Wobegon. Bennett’s action never strays from the sleepy, small-town setting of Lovely, and all of the activity is tempered by the grounded, reliable character of Owen. Even within that context, Bennett offers compelling and suspenseful stretches.
For readers who enjoy intrigue in a small-town atmosphere, The Lovely Chocolate Mob serves up enough humor, pathos and wit to satisfy.
Also available in ebook and audiobook.