The Grave Gourmet (Capucine Culinary Series #1)

The Grave Gourmet (Capucine Culinary Series #1)

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by Alexander Campion

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From the Champs-Élysées to the twinkling banks of la Seine, chic Parisian policewoman Capucine LeTellier plunges into a uniquely Parisian affair of gastronomic delights and bureaucratic intrigue to close a case that could make her career--or kill it. . .

After dining on such delicacies as oyster sorbet and avocado soufflé, Jean-Louis Delage, pr… See more details below

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From the Champs-Élysées to the twinkling banks of la Seine, chic Parisian policewoman Capucine LeTellier plunges into a uniquely Parisian affair of gastronomic delights and bureaucratic intrigue to close a case that could make her career--or kill it. . .

After dining on such delicacies as oyster sorbet and avocado soufflé, Jean-Louis Delage, président of automotive giant Renault, has been found dead in the freezer of Le Diapason, a three-star restaurant owned by Chef Jean-Basille Labrousse, a renowned restaurateur extraordinaire.

Capucine is uniquely suited to the case, as her husband Alexandre is a food critic well-connected to the culinary world. In between sharing sumptuous meals and fine wine with Alexandre at Paris' finest eateries, Capucine struggles to win the respect of her new squad of detectives and crack both the case and the guarded secrets of the restaurant staff.

Praise for Alexander Campion's The Grave Gourmet

"Full of amusing characters. . . Readers will want a second helping." --Publishers Weekly

"A delicious mystery. . . a fun book with a very different flavor." --Carolyn Haines, author of the Bones Mysteries

"An astonishing debut that raises the bar on today's detective novel." --Aram Saroyan, author of Door to the River

"Saucy, spicy, tasty. . .ooh-la-la!" --Kate Collins

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Campion's debut introduces a beguiling heroine, 28-year-old Lt. Capucine Le Tellier of the Paris judicial police. Bored with her deskbound job pursuing white-collar crime, Capucine jumps at the chance to get involved in a possible murder investigation. The body of Jean-Louis Delage, the président-directeur général of the automaker Renault, has turned up in the refrigerator of Diapason, a three-star restaurant, where Delage dined earlier that evening with his lawyer. Diapason's owner, eminent chef Jean-Basile Labrousse, is well known to Capucine's restaurant critic husband, Alexandre. What at first appears to be a case of food poisoning is soon ruled a homicide. Capucine's family connections help open political doors and provide useful contacts as she uncovers a plot involving foreign nationals and industrial espionage. Full of amusing characters, this diverting gastronomic mystery builds to a most satisfactory conclusion. Readers will want a second helping. (July)
Library Journal
When the president of Renault is found dead in the freezer of the best restaurant in Paris, Lt. Capucine LeTellier is assigned the case for several reasons: her husband is a famous food critic, and she knows her way around the culinary world. This is her first homicide, but her vast knowledge of the financial world (she has been working in the fiscal crimes unit) also gives her entrée into the auto industry. VERDICT This series debut by a former food critic features lively dialog, much discussion of culinary delights, a peak into the French criminal justice system, and a pleasing mystery. [Targeted library outreach.]

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Capucine Culinary Series , #1
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The Grave Gourmet



Copyright © 2010 Alexander Campion
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-4669-1

Chapter One

Capucine Le Tellier rushed into the restaurant. Late again. I hope he isn't fuming. She pulled up short at the end of the long zinc bar perpendicular to the front door and scanned the large tobacco-, wine-, and butter-sauce-pungent room for Alexandre. There he was, in the far corner, grinning contentedly as a corpulent waiter in a severe black coat erupted in laughter, shimmying his white floor-length apron as if it were swaying in a breeze.

The covert stares she drew as she walked across the floor sparked a buoyant rush. She preened, straightening, drawing in her tummy, rounding out her buttocks, lifting her breasts against her designer silk blouse. The Sig Sauer automatic holstered at the small of her back nipped into her spine. Her feeling of well-being popped like a soap bubble, drenching her in cold oily dampness.

When she reached Alexandre he rose and swept her in his arms with a stage-whispered whoop. "Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder," he said, planting an ostentatiously lubricious kiss on her lips.

At the next table-all of two feet away-a shrewish woman in her sixties with blue rinsed hair and a miniature poodle nervously piaffing on the banquette at her side scowled at her husband. "These hussies," she hissed loudly, well within earshot of Alexandre and Capucine. "They think when they cavort with a man twice their age nobody knows what they're after. And him, that bloated old fool, he's as bad as you are, drooling at everything that goes by in a skirt."

At precisely that instant the waiter, who had scuttled away at Capucine's approach, returned, bowed slightly, and handed her a flute of champagne. "Bonsoir, Madame l'Inspecteur. You've come just in the nick of time. Monsieur, your husband, his stories are just too good. I can't tear myself away to go to my other tables. They are all getting impatient."

After the waiter left Alexandre winked at his wife affectionately. "My dear, your self-control is admirable. I could see you itching to explain to the poor man that "inspecteurs" have been called "lieutenants" for over a decade and then give him a long lecture on the hierarchical structure of the Police Judiciaire."

Capucine laughed. "Au contraire. I'm sure he knows far more about the police than he would like. He hangs on to "inspecteur" because it sounds quaint and inoffensive and fits right in with the opera boulevard libretto restaurant people love so much. Also it sounds far more exalted and he's anxious to please such a revered restaurant critic as you." She crinkled her nose coquettishly.

The woman at the next table leaned toward them, openly eavesdropping.

"And by the way," Capucine said in a clear voice, darting a sideways glance at the woman, "you haven't been twice my age for all of eight years." She smiled sweetly at the woman whose brows had creased in her struggle with the arithmetic. The woman jerked away indignantly.

Alexandre hiked his eyebrows. "Are you harrying the hapless bourgeoisie as a result of insufficient job gratification?" he asked with the barest hint of hopefulness.

"Pas du tout. Actually, as it happens, we finally made an arrest on that insider trading case I'm in charge of. I was showered with kudos," Capucine said with an ironic smirk.

Alexandre looked at his wife levelly. "But something's wrong."

Capucine tapped her menu irritably on the glowing whiteness of the tablecloth. "We've been over this a thousand times. I loathe white-collar crime work. Look, I mortified my parents by joining the police so I could be on the streets with real people, dealing with real passions, real crimes. But all I got was endless hours in front of a computer screen. I'm in a trap. I might as well be an accountant with a green eyeshade and my sleeves hitched up with armbands. Believe it or not, most of the people in my department actually leave their guns in the boxes they came in, still wrapped in the original oily paper, and only take them out once every six months to do their mandatory fifteen minutes on the range."

"My love, what an enigma you are. You're on the cutting edge of the police force and all you want to do is pound the pavements like a flatfoot in search of vulgar wife beaters and muggers."

"Don't start. I know your theories about my need to liberate myself from the yoke of my parents' genteel upbringing in order to validate my existence, blah, blah, blah. It's all very nice and well put and all, but the truth of the matter is it makes no sense to pursue a career that bores you comatose."

"That's for dead sure. A job without fervor is like a meal without cheese. Like a kiss without a moustache," Alexandre exclaimed with a raised finger.

"Don't ever think of growing a moustache!" Capucine said with mock alarm.

Alexandre laughed. "Not likely, I was just sympathizing with you. But sooner or later they're bound to respond to all those applications you've made for another section. Wasn't your Oncle Etienne going to pull a string? Since he's Director of the Minister of the Interior's cabinet, his string is bound to be a hawser."

"It backfired. I got the call this afternoon. My request is permanently denied on the grounds that I'm allegedly just too good at what I do. So, my last resort is to take the commissaire's exam and get promoted to senior-grade officer-"

"I knew we wouldn't escape the lecture on the hierarchical structure of the Police Judiciaire," Alexandre said interrupting.

"Oh, you're impossible! What I mean is becoming a commissaire is much more than just a promotion. It means joining a whole new hierarchy. It would be like starting all over again. I'd have to do another internship and I'd get to pick the place. You can bet I'd choose a small precinct in a poor neighborhood as far away from the financial brigade as I could get."

"Sounds straightforward enough. Why didn't you think of that months ago?"

"I did, but, as that good woman so tactfully pointed out, I'm just a child. I'm twenty-eight and you have to be thirty to be a commissaire. Unless,"-she paused-"one of the top brass authorizes it." She pursed her lips slightly and pianoed the table with her fingertips. "I'm going to see Commissaire Principal Tallon in the Brigade Criminelle tomorrow morning and see if he'll do it."

"And if he won't?"

"Well, then I think I may just quit."

Alexandre beamed and beckoned the waiter over. It was not clear to Capucine if the smile was for the waiter or at the idea of her quitting the police.

Chapter Two

Capucine bit the inside of her lip until she could taste the salt of her blood and willed herself not to wither as Commissaire Principal Tallon shook his head in dismay. It was exactly her father's look when she was being taken to task for some adolescent peccadillo.

"Lieutenant, your request is entirely unreasonable," Tallon said, snapping over another page in Capucine's file. "According to this"-he tapped the bundle of papers-"your first year in the fiscal branch has been very successful. Your fitness evaluations are exemplary. I can understand your desire for promotion and I'm sure your divisonaire will be happy to endorse your application for the commissaire's exam when you reach the minimum age in-what is it?-two years. Be patient."

"Monsieur le Commissaire Principal, I have spent my entire year in fiscal trying to get out. When I graduated from the academy I requested the Brigade Criminelle but was dumped into the fiscal squad simply because my father is an investment banker. I didn't join the police force to do accounting work. It's not about becoming a commissaire. Every time I apply for a transfer I get turned down. It's clear that the only way I'm going to get into La Crim is as a commissaire. Sir, I'd do anything to get away from classroom problems and into real life."

"Real life?" Tallon pursed his lips in the ghost of a smirk, looking her up and down, clearly taking in the black Bill Blass suit she had picked out with such care that morning, convinced that it gave her a tough, street-smart look she was sure would go down well.

The demon of indignation gripped Capucine. She half rose, leaned far over the desk, her weight on the balls of her feet, palms flat on its scarred top. "Commissaire," she said, "I might as well be working at my father's bank. I have yet to arrest anyone who has ever held a gun in his life." She paused. "I've only drawn my own gun on the range. That's just not police work." She felt she was trembling slightly and sat back down with a thump.

Tallon smiled. "I take your point. I'm not very keen on accounting myself. I can't even balance my checkbook." His mood had changed perceptibly. Capucine was not sure if it was her gumption or the view of her breasts she had offered when she leaned over. Either would do. She thanked her lucky stars she had felt omitting a bra was essential to the tough-guy look. But instead of talking on Tallon had plunged back into her file, grunting and occasionally inexpertly poking at his computer keyboard. Capucine fidgeted. The meeting had slipped away from her again.

Just as the silence became unbearable, the phone rang. Tallon glanced at the caller ID screen. His face tightened. He held up his hand. "One moment. I have to take this." He grunted monosyllabically into the telephone in the liquid diphthongs of French virility, occasionally making notes on a scratch pad.

Capucine sneaked a look at Tallon's computer monitor. The screen was one she was all too familiar with, the Police Judiciare data bank on private citizens. She boggled. The file was headed, "d'Arbeaumont de Huguelet, Alexandre Edouard." Alexandre, her Alexandre.

Tallon was still engrossed in his conversation. Finally he nodded. "Yes, sir.... Of course.... If you insist.... I'll take charge myself.... Right.... I'll have a team there in half an hour.... Yes.... Yes.... Of course, sir."

He put the phone down and stared contemplatively at Capucine for a few beats. "You know, Lieutenant, the gods just might be smiling at you. That was my boss's boss, the contrôleur general. He dumped something in my lap that could get you seconded to the Brigade Criminelle for a week, if you want it. Enough to give you a taste of how things work here and see if you have the stomach for it."

Capucine beamed. "Of course I want it, Commissaire."

"Let me ask you a question, Lieutenant. Do you by any chance happen to know anything about the owner of that fancy restaurant, Diapason, Chef somebody or other?"

"Jean-Basile Labrousse. He's very famous. My husband knows him. Actually my husband knows almost everyone in the restaurant business. He's the restaurant critic for the Monde."

"I know," Tallon said, tapping his screen with a fingernail. "I was just reading up on him. Anyway, it seems the président-directeur général of Renault has been found dead in the refrigerator of this good Chef Labrousse."

"Good Lord. Poor Jean-Basile. He must be distraught."

"It might make some sense to assign you to this case temporarily. I don't doubt that through your husband you'll have some useful insights into the restaurant business. Anyway I'm over a barrel. I need someone right away and the only lieutenant not up to his eyeballs in work, Lieutenant Rivière, is away on a training course all this week. If you want you can start up the investigation. Examine the crime scene, take the initial depositions, make sure the forensic people are set up, just like they taught you at the academy. You can hand it over to Rivière when he gets back on Monday. The experience might dissuade you from wanting to do this sort of work. You'd have to start right away. If you agree, I'll square it with your boss."

"Commissaire, of course I'll do it. But what happened? People don't just get murdered in three-star restaurants. It's unthinkable."

"Lieutenant, don't get ahead of yourself. It's probably not a murder. So far it's just a dead guy in a refrigerator. If it wasn't for who the dead guy is, the local commissariat would be handling it. But since it's who it is, it came to me. And since you happened to be sitting in my office, and since through your husband you probably know more about the restaurant business than anyone else in this building, and since you're certainly qualified to launch a homicide case, it makes some sense for you to lend a hand."

"Did the inspecteur général supply any details? Do we know what he died of?"

"The guys from the local commissariat are already convinced it's just a case of bad food. It doesn't look all that good for Labrousse. He discovered the body. The local guys seem to think Labrousse panicked and stuffed the body in the refrigerator and took all weekend to find the courage to call us."

"Labrousse would never do anything like that."

"We'll find out, don't worry. You're in charge of the team for the week and you'll report to me. But get two things through your head. This doesn't go beyond one week and you can't fuck up. I want results and I want them fast. Clear?"

"Of course, sir."

"I mean it. Don't think for an instant that this is a permanent reassignment or that it has any bearing on your application for the commissaire's exam whatsoever."

"Oh, yes sir," Capucine said, releasing an insuppressible smile to flutter across the room like a butterfly.

"Go collect Rivière's brigadiers and get out there. Here's the address of the restaurant," he said, needlessly handing her a page from his scratch pad. "The forensic guys are already informed. Make sure you kick the guys from the local commissariat out right away. Don't let them hang around. They get their fingers into everything. Make it clear that you're in charge and check everything out carefully. Report back to me in the afternoon so we can decide what to do next."

Capucine started out the door. "Oh, one last thing, Lieutenant, Rivière's squad has a bit of an-ahh-a reputation. They're good enough, but they need a heavy hand. A very heavy hand. Don't forget that. Now get out there." Tallon smiled at her with a smile that was, just maybe, a bit warmer than one could expect from a commissaire principal. Capucine thanked the guardian angel who had talked her out of the bra when she was choosing her outfit that morning.

Chapter Three

Capucine's little rosy cloud of bubbly anticipation had gradually grown into a huge dark thundercloud of frustration and self-recrimination. After a fruitless half hour of striding up and down the labyrinthine corridors of the legendary Escalier A, Troisième étage-hallowed home of La Crim-trying to locate A-36, the office of Rivière's brigadiers, she was close to tears of frustration. Just as she was about to give up and go back to the ground floor receptionist and ask for directions a third time she heard a deep, throaty female voice. "Sometimes Rivière is just too much. I can see him taking a week off for a real training course, but computers! Give me a fucking break. He has trouble even turning his on. I'll bet he just saw it was in Nice and signed up without bothering to read what it was about. He'll be back with one hell of a tan and we'll have gone stir crazy staring at four walls for a whole fucking week."

A delicate but clearly male voice answered, "Isabelle, your own proclivities should be a better conduit to the understanding of our officer's mind. Those courses are ideal for picking up girls. You should know perfectly well that's Rivière's main interest in life."

"Listen, you creepy little faggot ..." the reply began, but Capucine had caught sight of a miniscule black plastic tag high up on the door frame-"A-36"-and she peeked cautiously around the doorway. The female voice emanated from a young woman in her middle twenties whose muscular body, straight as the trunk of a small tree, supported a head that would have been handsome had the mousy brown hair not been roughly hacked off, apparently by the owner without benefit of a mirror. Her antagonist was a diametric opposite, lithe and fluid as a ballet dancer, with flowing golden locks of a splendor not equaled in shampoo commercials. There was also a third person in the room, a gargantuan North African who glowered silently at his companions.

"Is this A-36?" Capucine asked. The North African mimed "not a clue" by shrugging, hiking his eyebrows, and puffing out his cheeks. The female looked at him and shook her head in scorn-"It's the office number, you idiot"-and, turning to Capucine, "Yes, madame, it is. Can we help you?"

"So, you must be Brenarouch, Martineau, and Lemercier. I'm Lieutenant Le Tellier. You've been assigned to me for a week. Well, actually, I'm filling in for Lieutenant Rivière for a week and we've all been put on a case and really have to get going right away, but it might be nice to spend a few minutes getting to know each other first," Capucine said in a rush.

The North African, eyeing Capucine's suit, was visibly nonplussed. "Look, uh, Lieutenant, 'scuse me. This is a Crim squad. There must be some sort of mix-up. What is it you do, social work or something like that? You can't be filling in for our lieutenant."

"I'm sorry, m'dam, my partners have no manners," the woman said with exaggerated politeness. "The big one is Brigadier Benarouche, Momo, and the cutie over there is Brigadier Marineau, David, and I'm Brigadier Lemercier, Isabelle." She stood rigidly at attention. Capucine ignored the cynicism.


Excerpted from The Grave Gourmet by ALEXANDER CAMPION Copyright © 2010 by Alexander Campion. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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