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A White House Chef Mystery

By Julia Hyzy

Berkley Prime Crime, 2008 ($7.99)
ISBN-10: 0425224996
ISBN-13: 978-0425224991

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

There are many mystery series featuring cooks and chefs as protagonists, but only Olivia "Ollie" Paras gets to ply her skills in the White House kitchen. Itís the holiday season, and Ollie and her staff are in the middle of the holiday frenzy. Ollie has just been promoted to head chef, and sheís anxious to get everything just right for the First Family and their guests. While waiting to talk to the First lady, Mrs. Campbell, two Secret Service agents gruffly order her to join Mrs. Campbell and her nephew, Sean Baxter, in the bunker. She and the others who live or work in the house are used to frequent security drills, but this appears to be the real thing. While waiting for the all-clear, she gets to spend some quality time with the First Lady, who is already fond of Ollie. She is so fond of Ollie, in fact, that she is none-to subtly trying to set Ollie up with Sean, a plan that is destined to fail.

The conversation takes a more serious turn as time goes by. The First Lady, sensing a kindred spirit, has made Ollie her confidant in a situation that is deeply troubling to her. Mrs. Campbellís father and three of his friends had set up a company to perform charitable causes when their children were small, with orders that their heirs could not sell the company until all four of the men were dead. Mrs. Campbellís father, the last of the four, recently passed away, and the other three owners are eager to sell. She is worried that the potential buyer will not continue to run the company the way the founders intended, and is hesitant to relinquish her holdings.

The alert turned out to be a false alarm, but a frightening one. Someone had managed to gain access to the White House to plant a fake bomb, and everyone is aware that it could just as easily have been the real thing. Security is stepped up, throwing a monkey wrench into Ollieís schedule, but terrorists and murderers arenít concerned with such matters, and accidents can happen even in the safest building in the world. Two people die, and Ollie canít help but believe that, rather than one being a suicide and the other a tragic accident, both were murders. When the powers that be refuse to consider her theories, she takes it upon herself to figure out whatís really going on, come hell, high water, real bombs, or fixed gingerbread contests. Luckily, she has some friends in high places, and friends in low places who just happen to have some important information that supports her theories.

This is the second book in the White House Chef mystery series, following the delightful STATE OF THE ONION. I hope there will be many more. As an added bonus, there are recipes for appetizers that just might have been served in the White House

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