Killer Critique (Capucine Culinary Series #3)by Alexander Campion
Now a seasoned member of the Paris Police Judiciaire, the ever fashionable and whip smart Commissaire Capucine Le Tellier is finding murder to be more than just the spécialité du jour. . .
When the senior food critic for Le Figaro is found face-first in a plate of Ravioles d'horand, there seem to be as many suspects as there are restaurants in the City
Now a seasoned member of the Paris Police Judiciaire, the ever fashionable and whip smart Commissaire Capucine Le Tellier is finding murder to be more than just the spécialité du jour. . .
When the senior food critic for Le Figaro is found face-first in a plate of Ravioles d'horand, there seem to be as many suspects as there are restaurants in the City of Light. Yet Capucine feels she'll solve the case quicker than it takes to serve up an omelet aux fines herbes. Un problem, murders of food critics have become an epidemic. As the bodies pile up, un, deux, trois, so do the suspects, including a sexy starlet, an award-winning novelist, and a smorgasbord of aggravated chefs.
While Capucine struggles to zero in on the murderer's tastes, she is confronted with a false dilemma: file and forget the case, leaving restaurant critics across France vulnerable to a killer's episodic cravings, or use her husband, Alexandre, himself a famous food journalist, as irresistible bait.
Filled with delectable intrigue and ripe with quirky suspects, with a dash of Freudian idées de grandeur, Killer Critique is a feast worth killing for. . .
Read an Excerpt
By Alexander Campion
Kensington BooksCopyright © 2012 Alexander Campion
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Is he dead yet?" Brigadier David Martineau asked. "No, not quite. Wait a minute. Hang on. There. Now he's dead," Commissaire Capucine Le Tellier replied. The other detectives were struck dumb. Hardened as they were, actually seeing a life escape from its body was deeply moving.
For Capucine the scene was all the more disturbing because the context was so familiar. Gautier du Fesnay, senior food critic for Le Figaro, good friend of her husband, Alexandre, senior food critic for Le Monde, was—had been—very proud of his blog. He delighted in going to restaurants he was reviewing, placing a miniature camcorder on the table, and making acerbic comments as he ate. He would edit them at home, adding a little background music, blurring out his face, inserting a graphic of the noise level and ambient temperature, winding up with a shot of the check. Even if he loved the meal, he always managed to sound cynical and drop a caustic barb or two.
Capucine knew that Fesnay had taken far more pleasure in these little videos than in his highly polished pieces for Le Figaro, which Alexandre claimed were the summum bonum of food criticism.
The clip had started out exactly like all the others. Fesnay had walked jerkily down the rue de Varenne, the street still bright in the summer twilight, swinging the camcorder left and right, making supercilious comments about the austerity of the ministerial façades until, hesitantly, the street blossomed with chic boutiques as it approached the rue du Bac. As if by accident, Fesnay had discovered Chez Béatrice with a little exclamation of joy.
The camcorder had dropped to waist level as Fesnay entered the restaurant and was shown to his table. Once seated, Fesnay had placed it on the table and had twisted the zoom lens to extreme wide angle. Not yet blurred out, his face was aristocratically haughty as he had scanned the menu and wine list, chatted with the waiter, and ordered. There had been a long, slow pan of the room, filled with cheerful well-to-do youths, promising-looking, young bankerly types and their wives, well dressed from bon chic, bon genre boutiques but still a few years away from bespoke tailors and forays to Givenchy.
The waiter had appeared with a dish of pâté. "Ah, the famous truffled duck foie gras from the Landes," Fesnay had whispered. He cut a small piece, put it on a piece of toast, nibbled, pursed his lips, and nodded in silent approval.
After a fifteen-minute interval the waiter had returned and placed a large, flat soup bowl in front of Fesnay. The camcorder had been lifted, the zoom homed in on a close-up, and the dish examined meticulously. In a conspiratorial murmur Fesnay had announced, "Ravioles d'homard— lobster ravioli—in a sauce of carrot and tandoori spices, served with a mousseline of citrus fruit confit." The dish seemed to consist of three or four oversized raviolis in a copious, thick sauce. Fesnay had held a fork in his left hand and a large spoon in his right and had delicately cut a quarter out of one of the raviolis and scooped it up with a good quantity of the sauce.
"Pas mal. Pas mal du tout—not bad at all," Fesnay had stage-whispered conspiratorially.
As he swallowed, he had jerked slightly, as if repressing a hiccup. The camcorder had continued to admire him placidly. He had remained immobile for lengthy seconds, holding the fork and spoon in clenched fists over the sides of the bowl. Slowly, with the solemnity of a marble Roman statue toppling off its base, he had leaned forward, almost imperceptibly at first, gradually accelerating until he had collapsed face-first into his bowl, crating a splashed nimbus of crimson sauce.
It was the interminable wait after the crash that had prompted David's question. Finally, another eternity after Capucine's diagnostic, a hand had appeared, lifted Fesnay's head, turned it sideways, and let it sink back into the bowl. Fesnay stared into the camera with immobile, glassy doll eyes. A piece of ravioli stuck to the tip of his nose.
"So if it's curare, like the guy from forensics thought, he could be alive here, unable to move, crying out his anguish in tormented silence," David said, twisting one of his locks into a tight noose around a finger, intent on the screen.
"Nah, he's dead, all right," said Brigadier-Chef Isabelle Lemercier with a snort. "He musta drowned in the sauce. Don't need forensics to tell us that, right, Momo?"
Brigadier Mohammed Benarouche, a giant North African of few words even when he was in a good mood, glowered at his immediate superior.
All four stared at the screen, each horrified in his own way. Absolutely nothing happened. The scene was as static as a photograph. Finally, as if it had been the entire purpose of the cinematographic endeavor, the scrap of ravioli fell off Fesnay's nose. The screen went black.
Chapter TwoFive hours earlier Capucine had been awash in bliss, supine on a long wooden bench next to the huge Provençal table that dominated their kitchen, as Alexandre massaged her feet, prattling on about cooking. Her tummy had been pleasantly full of his latest creation, a large scoop of lamb ragù served on a bed of chrome-yellow risotto alla milanese. The secret to the ragù, she would have learned had she been listening, was to puree the vegetables in a processor and then brown them to the point of cruelty before adding the rest of the ingredients, and the sine qua non of the risotto was to add the threads of saffron only at the very end, precisely at the moment when the dish's climax was at hand.
The soothing lapping of her husband's mellifluous prose had been interrupted by the shrill note of the phone. Despite Alexandre's insistence that she let the little gremlins of electronic technology deal with it, Capucine had recognized the leaden timbre of the call to duty and snatched the cordless handset off its base.
Contrôleur Général Tallon, her boss's boss and well into the stratosphere of the Police Judiciaire hierarchy, was known for his testiness. "Commissaire, I hope you weren't planning on an early evening. I'm assigning you to a case because of your knowledge of the restaurant industry. A man has been killed in a restaurant on the rue de Varenne in the Seventh called Chez Béatrice. The chef and owner, a certain Béatrice Mesnagier, called it in, and I want you in charge."
At the words "restaurant industry" Capucine had beckoned to Alexandre, who had put his ear next to hers against the receiver.
"I know it's outside of your brigade's sector, but it's clearly your area of expertise, or at least your husband's. Good evening, Monsieur de Huguelet."
Capucine resisted the impulse to stare at the window to see if anyone was peeking in. Tallon's ability to know her better than she knew herself was always unnerving.
Alexandre smiled. "Bonsoir, monsieur le contrôleur général." He had met Tallon only twice, but the two had developed a natural affinity in the way that oil and vinegar complemented each other.
"The bad news," continued Tallon, "is that you both must know the victim, Gautier du Fesnay. If he was a friend, I offer my most sincere condolences. Anyway, Commissaire, I need you to get right over there with some of the team from your brigade. The local police are on the scene, and you know how quickly they can muddy up a crime scene. Report to me in the morning."
Capucine was numb. They had seen Gautier at a dinner a week before. He wasn't an intimate friend, but he was someone they saw frequently at friends' houses, restaurant openings, and once or twice a year at dinners in their own apartment. Gautier was unquestionably part of the furniture of their existence.
On her way to the bedroom to change she had called the front desk of her brigade and had given instructions that Isabelle, David, and Momo were to join her at the crime scene. She had stared unseeing into her closet and had finally mechanically chosen a beige linen summer suit. Even though it was by Christophe Josse and had been the pride of her summer wardrobe the year before, it was now relegated to the role of a work outfit. Behind her Alexandre had stared moodily out of the bedroom window, brooding.
"I feel guilty for having had mixed feelings for Gautier," he had said. "He was a brilliant critic but had a decided haughty streak. Even his rave reviews always had an unpleasant twist to them. I think he made up for it with that blog of his. He spent more time on that than writing for his paper. Somehow he must have felt that those silly videos made him more human."
"You don't think he was just in love with his own image, even if it was blurred out?" Capucine asked as she clipped her Sig Sauer into the back of her pants.
"Possibly. It was a bone of contention with his paper. His blog had a huge following and they felt it pulled readers away. I guess that's not going to be a problem anymore. Merde, I'll miss him, but there are going to be a lot of chefs in town who will breathe a sigh of relief tomorrow morning."
"What about Béatrice Mesnagier?" Capucine asked. "What do you know about her?"
"Her name's not really Mesnagier. She's the only child of Paul Renaud, the owner of that huge drinks business. They've now bought out so much of their competition that they must be the second or third largest producer of alcoholic beverages in the world. A real empire. The story has it that she wants nothing to do with the family and opened her restaurant under the name Mesnagier with money she borrowed from a bank."
"The name sounds medieval."
"It's intended as a joke. A double joke, actually. Le Mesnagier de Paris—The Paris Housewife—is one of the first cookbooks ever published. In thirteen ninety-three, if memory serves, supposedly by some bourgeois type hoping to inspire his wife. Renaud might have chosen the name to let her father know that as far as she was concerned, tying her apron strings to a stove was preferable to becoming an executive in the family business. Also the real author of the book was the famous Taillevent."
"Like the restaurant?" Capucine asked.
"Exactly. Since Taillevent is supposed to be the best restaurant in the world, I suspect La Béatrice is hinting that she's aiming at taking their place."
"The things you know. So she's an heir to the Pastis Renaud fortune? And with all those millions she spends her evenings sweating in a kitchen? Well, well, well."
"Don't be so snide, my dear. I seem to recall you infuriating your parents by joining the police just so you could get your hands deep into the nitty-gritty. In her case it wasn't the police, it was the rough-and-tumble of the professional kitchen."
Capucine had pursed her lips in a theatrical pout.
"Good for her, then," she had said. "Can she cook?"
"Can she cook? Very definitely. When she first opened the restaurant, she stuck to a menu based on the dishes of her childhood in the Midi. At her opening I recall starting with a fougasse stuffed with a complicated tapenade and then a main dish of oxtail with foie gras. A skilled twist on traditional recipes. Now that her commercial success is assured, her cuisine is becoming more sophisticated and she's edging into the world of genuine haute cuisine. She's definitely someone to keep an eye on."
Chapter ThreeThe three brigadiers continued to stare at the black computer screen until Capucine picked up the palm-sized camcorder splotched with black fingerprint powder and unplugged it from her computer. She leaned back, producing an outraged squeal from the swivel of the ancient government-issue office chair, and put her legs up on the desk, a gesture that invariably produced an admiring look from Isabelle and a knowledgeable comment about her shoes from David. But this time only Momo spoke.
"Jeez, Commissaire, that was the first time I'd ever seen a snuff film. Can't say I want to see another one."
"Momo," Isabelle said testily. "That's not what snuff films are. Snuff films are the worst possible manifestation of female oppression. There's humiliating sex, and at the end—" She stopped short as the three other detectives exploded into laughter.
"All right, Brigadier-Chef," Capucine said with a smile. "Walk us through what we have here."
Isabelle read stiffly from her notebook in the litany of police officialese. "Du Fesnay, Gautier, journalist, unmarried, residing at thirty-two rue Cardinet in the Seventeenth Arrondissement, found apparently murdered in a restaurant by the name of Chez Béatrice in the Seventh Arrondissement. The identification of the body is from the victim's identity papers and has been confirmed by Commissaire Le Tellier, who was acquainted with him.
"The INPS forensics expert on the scene, Ajudant Dechery, believes that the death was due either to a nerve poison or curare since (a) there is a small puncture wound just under the victim's right ear and (b) the victim fell into his plate of food, which was very liquid and, judging from the amount of said food visible inside his nostrils and throat, he continued to breath even though he had collapsed and apparently was unable to move. It is highly likely that the victim died by drowning in the sauce and not from the poison. Such acute muscular failure is typically associated with nerve gases and curare."
Isabelle looked up and said in her normal voice, "Of course, we won't know fuck all until they do the autopsy and all their cultures and whatever else it is they do, but Dechery seemed pretty sure that someone had walked by and either stabbed him or shot him with something that contained a very potent muscle relaxant."
"Time of death?" Capucine asked.
"A few minutes after nine. We have that from the time-clock on the video and the fact that pretty much everyone in the restaurant saw him keel over just after nine. Of course only two people actually admit they saw it happen."
"Actually," Capucine said, wagging a size-six foot comfortably shod in Zanotti flats, thanking her guardian angel for the current trend away from high heels, "I had a word with Ajudant Dechery as they wheeled the body out. He thinks he might be seeing a glimmer of something metallic about half an inch inside the wound. He had no idea what it might be, but certainly not a bullet from a gun."
"Air-gun pellet?" David asked.
"Yes, of course, that's what it could be," Capucine said.
"I hadn't thought of that. Someone could have shot him in the neck as they walked by."
"This case is going to be a no-brainer," Isabelle said. "It had to be someone who was either eating there or was working as waitstaff. No one could have rushed in off the street, and the cooks don't go wandering around the restaurant, right?"
"Except for the chef," Capucine said. "It would have been normal for her to make a little cameo appearance. My husband tells me she loves to press the flesh in the front of the house."
"She did," David said. "But that was half an hour before our stiff keeled over. One of the waiters told me. Those nerve things are supposed to be very fast acting. Does that mean she's off the hook, Commissaire?"
"No, not really," Capucine said. "You know how unreliable crowd testimonies are. She could easily have come out again. We'll need to go into that very carefully."
Isabelle snapped through the pages of her notebook noisily. "There were exactly ninety-two people—plus the chef makes ninety-three—who were either customers or worked in the front of the house. One of them has to be the killer. So the perp's name is already right here in my little book. This is an all-time first!"
"Oh, goody," David said. "A locked-room mystery. I've always wanted to work on one of those."
Isabelle glared at him.
"Make that ninety-one people," Momo said with his ponderous logic. "The chef is the boss's husband's pal, and the boss is close buds with one of the customers."
"Let's stick with ninety-three," Capucine said. "Even if Béatrice Renaud were Alexandre's buddy, which I don't really think is the case, she very definitely could still be a suspect. And I was as amazed as anyone else to run into Cécile de Rougemont. It's true she's a very close friend, but that certainly doesn't mean she won't be investigated as thoroughly as anyone else."
Ever so slightly, the three brigadiers pursed their lips, moved their eyebrows together, and nodded fractionally in a highly attenuated version of the Gallic expression of ironic incredulity.
"How many of the people in the dining room did you three talk to?" Capucine asked.
Excerpted from Killer Critique by Alexander Campion Copyright © 2012 by Alexander Campion. Excerpted by permission of Kensington Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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This is a part of the Capucine culinary mystery series. All of the books are delightful, but this one was especially exciting. Since Capucine, a police commissaire, is married to a famous restaurant critic, she is assigned cases involving the restaurant industry. Someone is killing the restaurant critics one by one and they are all friends of her husband. It is a race to find the killer and keep her husband from being one of the victims. As is true in each of the books of this series, we are treated to some extraordinary French cuisine.