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By Elaine Viets

Obsidian, 2011 ($7.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-451-23524-4
Kindle eBook: $7.99

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Mystery shopper Josie Marcus should be happy with her new assignment. She gets to taste some of St. Louis's finest delicacies, like toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, chocolates and pizza. All that's fine, but then there's the sandwiches: fried pig's ear and fried cow's brain. Can you spell "ugggh!?" She's a trooper, though, and she manages to finish her assignment, with some help from her boyfriend Ted, a veterinarian, who convinces her the sandwiches aren't as gross as she imagines.

She thinks the first item on the list will be easy. Tillie Minnelli, owner of the popular Tillie's Off the Hill restaurant, is an old family friend, and her hand-made ravioli and sauce is a crowd-pleaser. Josie takes her mother Jane, who is also her landlady and babysitter to daughter Amelia, to Tillie's. The two older ladies have a great time catching up, and the food is delicious, but there's one fly in the ointment. Frequent customer Clay Oreck is drunk and obnoxious, and his girlfriend isn't much better. Tillie threatens to call his wife, but Henrietta says she's too busy to pick him up yet again, just go ahead and let the police haul him off. Tillie admits Clay is a constant problem. She's tried banning him, cutting off his booze, having him arrested, but he still keeps coming back.

Another problem is that the neighborhood has gone downhill. Most of the businesses are closed, the streets deserted. Tillie points out a man sitting in the corner. His name is Desmond and he's a representative for a corporation that wants to buy all the property and build a casino. He keeps trying to get her to sell, but she's the last holdout. Her restaurant is her life. Not so for her fiftyish daughter Lorena, who seems resentful about being stuck as a waitress working for her mother. She wants Tillie to sell the business, and she wants to find a husband before it's too late. She has her eye on Desmond, who seems to return her affection. Josie wonders if he cares for her or for her mother's property.

Finally Tillie gets fed up with Clay. When he says he wants his ravioli sauce really, really hot, she spices it up big time. He ends up in the hospital, and it gets worse from there. Tillie is arrested for murder, and Josie's mother pleads with her to prove her friend's innocence. The trouble is, Josie's not sure Tillie is innocent, and even if she is, she still may be hurt when the true murderer is revealed.

This is the seventh in Viets' charming Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper series. The characters are believable, and the family dynamics of Josie, her daughter, and her mother ring true. Roaming through the eateries of St. Louis with Josie is fun, and learning about the regional delicacies is interesting, if not always appetizing. She includes a section of shopping tips, explaining the background of the special victuals of St. Louis and where they can be found. Viets also writes the popular Dead-End Job Mystery series.

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