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By Eileen Davidson
Obsidian, 2009 ($6.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
White House executive chef Olivia "Ollie" Paras is used to getting calls at 4 a.m.. She's usually getting ready to go to work, and when the phone rings she expects it to be one of her staff calling in sick. When she sees the caller ID, she knows there's trouble of another kind. White House chief usher Paul Vasquez tells her there's a car waiting for her downstairs, that she must go to the White House immediately. Cutting off her questions, he tersely tells her "For God's sake, don't say anything to anybody!"
Downstairs she is met by two burley look-alike Secret Service agents who hustle her to the waiting car. She is stunned to see a crowd of people with microphones and cameras, and can't understand most of their yelling. One thing she hears loud and clear "...what killed Carl Mingus?"
Carl Mingus is -- or is that "was"? -- a big wheel in the National Security Agency, bringing hundreds of terrorists to judgment. Lately he'd been turning his attention to American citizens, causing trouble for law-abiding people a la Joe McCarthy, and he'd earned a lot of enemies for that. He was a dinner guest at the White House the previous night, and the reporters seem to be suggesting he was dead, and her food might have something to do with it. The agents refuse to tell her anything, saying she'll be briefed when they get there. No way could the food she and her trusted staff prepared could have lead to his death...could it?
Being interrogated doesn't fit with her plans. She needed to make breakfast for the First Family, get started on the preparations for the annual Easter Egg Roll, go pick up her mother and Nana for a long-awaited visit, and so much more. Her plans are of no interest to the assistant director of the Secret Service, who tells her that the kitchen is off-limits to her and her staff until it has been thoroughly examined and the staff interviewed. Ollie is relieved when her sort-of secret love, agent Tom MacKenzie, shows up, but he can't do much to help her. In fact, his boss puts Tom in charge of keeping her away from the case, which incenses her. She might be inquisitive -- okay, nosey, but her insider knowledge had helped prevent major catastrophes in the White House before, and this case is very, very personal. Tom's assignment puts a strain on their relationship, to say the least.
It isn't long before Ollie and most of her staff are cleared and allowed to return to their jobs, but one of her best staff members is put on suspension. She's left short-handed at the worst possible time: all those thousands of Easter eggs must be cooked and decorated, or thousands of tax payers and their children will be disappointed. And what about her mother and Nana? She couldn't get in contact with them, and envisioned them sitting glumly on a bench at the airport, wondering where she was. She arrived at her home to find them comfortably settled, chatting with the neighbors. Tom had come through, going to pick them up himself.
Ollie tries to stay away from the case, she really does, but events beyond her control pull her into the midst of it. Her mother is wooed by a charming gentleman who Ollie doesn't trust, a man who was also a guest at the fatal dinner party. The widow Minkus, absolves Ollie of killing her husband, and invites her to the funeral. Later, she warns Ollie that her mom's beau is a dangerous man, but as things play out, Ollie wonders who can really be trusted.
This is the third in Hyzy's delightful White House Chef mystery series, following HAIL TO THE CHEF and THE STATE OF THE ONION. The characters ring true, the plot is well done, and there is just the right balance of humor and suspense. Being allowed a peak behind the public curtain of the White House is just plain fun.
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