Thursday, February 16, 2012
I love the White House Chef cozy mystery series, particularly during a major election year. I think it helps to lighten some of the politicking. The White House Chef mysteries have grown and established a fan base, while garnering new readers with each release. I interviewed the author a while back (click here.) Let's join the White House as spring blossoms in the capital.
Author: Julie Hyzy
Copyright: Jan 2012 (Berkley) 304 pgs
Series: 5th in White House Chef Mysteries
Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, Cozy
Main Character: Chef Olivia Paras (Olie)
Setting: Modern Day, Washington D.C.
Obtained Through: from publisher for an honest review
Olivia and the haughty Sensitivity Director, Peter Sargeant, are to meet the First Lady's assistant at a local convention venue. They are reviewing several potential sites for the Secretary of State's birthday party and will decide which location is best for the party. When Olivia and Peter arrive at the last venue, it seems they are alone. They soon find the First Lady's assistant and the Chief of Staff dead in the kitchen. Olivia attempts to restrain herself from asking questions, but one evening she is followed from the metro, which signals the killer knows who she is. She also comes to the assistance of a confused elderly man, only to find out it is the Secretary of State's father-in-law who suffers from dementia, and may have been kidnapped.
Olivia has plenty to complicate her life in this edition. First, she is forced to work with Peter Sargeant, who has always been unpleasant to her. Virgil is the egotistical personal chef for the First Family who is trying to undermine Olivia's authority and position. There is a new Head Usher, Doug, who is throw-in during this crisis and doesn't handle situations well. Olivia's ex-boyfriend, Tom MacKenzie, is around and repeatedly opens old wounds. Her new "almost boyfriend", SAC Gavin, is reluctant to commit to much of a relationship at all. Add to this mix Peter's black-sheep nephew who thinks he knows who the killers maybe and wants to help out - if they can get him a job at the White House. Then, as if working with Peter weren't difficult enough, Doug assigns a narcissistic protocol aide to help them plan the birthday party.
Olivia's character is a little more mature in this edition. She displays patience with difficult people when I would have told a few off. In this book the theme for Olivia is patience. She is patient with Peter, with Virgil, with Doug, with Gav, with Kyle, and even with Tom. The reader practically cheers when she does give a well-deserved lecture to one character.
The supporting cast in this edition is full of well drawn characters. Milton is a sad pathetic character, like a puppy trying to please. The reader can't help but feel a bit sad for Milton. Virgil is a nasty piece of work. I think everybody has experienced a co-worker who just wants to discredit you. That is Virgil. Virgil is just wicked enough to be believable. Kyle is the narcissistic, slick player that the song "Smooth Operator" aptly describes. This character is another that the reader will no doubt have met in real life at some point. One of my pet peeves is when the main character is harassed about sleuthing, and that is ex-boyfriend Tom's sole purpose. The Secretary of State's elderly father-in-law with dementia is bitter-sweet and portrayed with a loving touch. Mrs. Wentworth is a great neighbor. She could have been a stereotypical nosy neighbor, but instead we get a diligent one-person-neighborhood-watch who is a touch snarky.
The setting goes outside just the White House and explores a bit of the D.C. area. Prior novels have had more of the White House inner workings. This book contains less information about the food that Chef Paras is preparing than prior books, and focuses on the many activities going on. The pace was steady and kept my interest easily.
The plot had enough depth and shadows. I did not expect who the villain was, so that was a surprise. I did feel as though the initial murders were only slightly part of the story. There didn't seem to be a feeling of grief or shock in the White House. Even Olivia was only mildly affected by finding the bodies.
There was a good, suspenseful climax that utilized a great location coupled with realistic action. The wrap up was worthy and made me want the next book right away. Overall, another solid addition to the White House Chef series, potentially the best thus far.
Here is a short video interview with the White House Chef for children to learn about careers: