Samantha Barnes was always a foodie. And when the CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of America) came calling, she happily traded in Cape Cod for the Big Apple. But then the rising young chef’s clash with another chef (her ex!) boils over and goes viral. So when Sam inherits a house on the Cape and lands a job writing restaurant reviews, it seems like the perfect pairing. What could go wrong? Well, as it turns out, a lot.
The dilapidated house comes with an enormous puppy. Her new boss is, well, bossy. And the town’s harbor master is none other than her first love. Nonetheless, Sam’s looking forward to reviewing the Bayview Grill—and indeed the seafood chowder is divine. But the body in the pond outside the eatery was not on the menu. Sam is certain this is murder. But as she begins to stir the pot, is she creating a recipe for her own untimely demise?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Okay, so here's how it's gonna go down."
I looked sternly at my dining companions, who were eyeing me warily over the rims of their wineglasses. They were not used to me looking at them sternly.
"We order one meat, one vegetarian, one seafood, and one pasta entrŽe."
"Pasta doesn't count as vegetarian?"
That was Jenny, a mother of three with the body of a sixteen-year-old that she proudly claims is the result of her dedicated meat-and-potatoes-only diet. She was probably worried that I was going to make her order eggplant.
"No. Pasta doesn't count as vegetarian," I explained. "Some restaurants like to think it counts as vegetarian, but that's how vegetarians get fat. That and too much cheese. No, a real vegetarian entrŽe is about vegetables. Maybe with grains or legumes, but the focus is on vegetables, like a ratatouille."
"Sorry I asked," Jenny muttered to Miles, who was sitting next to her and had been quietly entertaining himself by checking out the other patrons at the Bayview Grill. "What's a legume anyway?" she asked him.
Miles looked at her like she'd just arrived from Mars. Miles is a farmer. What he doesn't know about legumes isn't worth knowing. "Beans, lentils, chickpeas-that kind of thing," he said. "How do you not know that?"
Jenny shuddered. "I don't eat 'that kind of thing.'"
I tried to continue with their instructions. "Appetizers can be anything you like-"
"Well, hallelujah," Miles said. He poked Jenny in the side with one massive elbow, almost knocking her off her chair. "I'd like that cutie-pie over there at the bar."
I ignored him.
"Anything you like," I repeated, "but it needs to make sense with your entrŽe."
"I'm lost," said Helene, running a ring-bejeweled hand through her mane of silver curls. Helene was Fair Harbor's new librarian. I'd known her exactly twenty-four hours and couldn't imagine anyone less like a librarian.
"I've been eating out for forty years," she said, "and I never once worried if my appetizer made sense with my entrŽe. I don't even know what that means."
I sighed. Well, no one had ever said writing restaurant reviews for the Cape Cod Clarion was going to be easy. Actually, I reflected, that wasn't true. I was the one who had said it would be easy.
I tried to clarify. "It means that if you're having the hanger steak for your entrŽe-"
"That's mine!" Jenny said, suddenly all in. "I call I claim the hanger steak."
I call I claim? What is she, six?
"And a half dozen Wellfleet oysters to start," she added.
Jenny always had oysters to start. And, as these were Wellfleet oysters, which are universally acknowledged to be the best on the Cape (and all Cape Cod oysters are awesome), I was surprised she wasn't starting with a dozen.
"That's fine," I said. "A classic pairing."
I turned back to Helene. "If, like Jenny, you're having the hanger steak," I explained, "you don't want to order the barbeque sliders as a starter."
She nodded thoughtfully. At least Helene was taking this seriously. But then she ruined it by saying, "Actually, barbeque followed by steak sounds yummy."
I gave up.
"I'll order for all of you," I announced. "And once we get our food and you've had a chance to taste and consider your choices, I will discreetly exchange plates with each of you, one by one, and sample each dish. Then we'll discreetly switch back again. We'll go clockwise around the table, starting with Helene."
"I'm lost again," Helene fake whispered to Miles.
"Don't you worry, honey," he said. "Wait until she gets a glass or two of wine into her. Then we can do whatever we want."
He grinned at me, looking exactly like the overgrown five-year-old he was. If five-year-olds had big, bushy lumberjack beards.
I began to worry for real. My dining companions were definitely not taking my first foray into restaurant reviewing seriously enough. And Miles was right about the two glasses of wine. I was a notoriously cheap date. But I was also the night's designated driver, so no worries there.
"No wine for me," I said firmly more to myself than to Miles, "even if it kills me."
A poor choice of words, as it turned out.
My name is Samantha Barnes. Sam to my friends. I stand six feet one and a half inches tall in my stocking feet, six two and a half in my chef's clogs. I'm not exactly beautiful, especially when I'm sweating over a hot stove, but, as my grandfather used to say, I clean up nice. I'm blessed with my Italian American mother's clear olive skin and my Yankee father's high cheekbones, but my brown hair and eyes can be fairly described as unmemorable. When I'm not wearing the standard black-and-white-checked chef's pants and double-breasted white jacket, I have a weakness for floaty dresses and dangly earrings.
Ten years ago, I had packed my bags and headed off to New York's Culinary Institute of America (fondly referred to by its alumni as the CIA) to learn how to cook professionally and swear creatively. Before that I had lived all my life on Cape Cod, that sandy spit of land reaching out into the Atlantic from the coast of Massachusetts like a crooked arm. I grew up on the "elbow" of the Cape in a small town called Fair Harbor (pronounced Fay'h Hahbah, if you're local). Summer population, around 20,000; year-round population, 6,798.
Actually, 6,797. Now.
After graduating from the CIA, I single-mindedly climbed my way up New York City's restaurant ladder from prep cook to line cook to sous-chef and finally head chef, each time moving to a better kitchen. I was a rising star. Someday I was going to open my own place.
I was proud of being a successful woman chef in a decidedly male field. I was tough, and I didn't let the male chefs intimidate me. For the first time in my life, my height was working for me. Those macho men literally could not look down on me. Because, let me tell you, most male chefs are off-the-chart macho. They are the baddest of bad boys.
My big mistake was marrying one of those bad boys. He'd told me my love had changed him. Well, that wasn't true.
Things got very scary very quickly. I'd seen Stefan's temper flare at work but never at home. So I was totally unprepared the day it happened. A big screaming man with a knife in a busy professional kitchen is one thing; a big screaming man with a knife alone with you in the tiny kitchen of your New York walk-up is quite another. That we took it out into the street didn't help. Neither did the subsequent YouTube video of our difference of opinion posted by a helpful bystander.
But more about that later.
I try to be a nice person. In general, I like people and assume they are good at heart, especially if they make me laugh. I will forgive a lot for a good laugh. If my reaction to someone is not positive, I trust my radar and assume they are not nice people. Also, until recent events taught me better, I tended to take what people said and did at face value. What you saw, I thought, is what they were. This misconception has not worked out well for me (see failed marriage, above). In fact, that spring, the spring I came metaphorically limping home to the Cape, the spring when my friend Krista offered me a temp job doing restaurant reviews for the local paper, you could say it worked out very badly indeed.
But I did learn one thing: never rely on first impressions. Do not even rely on the impressions of a lifetime. Alas, I learned this lesson too late. In retrospect, I got every player in this little drama wrong. And one of them disastrously, murderously wrong.
After my 1.2 million extremely unwelcome YouTube hits, I found myself out of a job (unfortunately) and out of a marriage (hallelujah). In the great tradition of the newly unemployed (and newly single), I was spending a lot of time on the couch binge-watching Netflix. It was 2:15 in the afternoon on a dreary day in early May and I was deep into the finals of the Great British Bake Off, when my cell began to ring. Sighing, I hit mute on the remote and picked up my phone.
"Hello," I said crossly.
"Samantha?" a man's voice said. "Samantha Barnes?"
"Yes," I admitted cautiously. "Who's this?" One of the many lessons I had learned from my YouTube notoriety was that there are a lot of nutters out there.
"It's Roland, Roland Singleton."
I sat straight up and jabbed the TV off. Roland Singleton was Fair Harbor's most respected lawyer. More significantly, he was married to Jenny Snow Singleton, my best friend since childhood.
"What's wrong?" I demanded. "Is Jenny all right?"
"Nothing's wrong. Jenny's fine. The boys are fine. We're all fine."
I breathed again.
"I'm calling in my role as Ida Barnes's executor." His voice gave nothing away. Roland's voice never gave anything away.
My great-aunt Ida had left this vale of tears a few weeks earlier. Though we hadn't been close-nobody had been close to Aunt Ida, a taciturn Cape Codder of the old school-I'd always liked my father's aunt, ever since she'd taught me how to make real New England clam chowder with quahogs that we'd dug ourselves. (Tip: Real Cape Codders always use milk in clam chowder, not cream. Cream is an affront to Yankee frugality.)
"I see," I said to Roland, even though I didn't. I wasn't even sure what an executor was.
"The reason I'm calling," he continued briskly, "is that Ms. Barnes, having no children of her own and apparently fond of you"-Really? My impression had always been that Aunt Ida wasn't particularly fond of anybody-"has left you her house in her will."
I let the words sink in. This inheritance, I knew, was not exactly a windfall. Aunt Ida's house was barely habitable. But it was perched on a hill overlooking a pristine salt pond where I had spent many happy hours sailing my Sunfish as a little girl, so there was some affection by association there.
As Roland droned on about something called probate, I was surprised to find that I felt, for the first time in weeks, a faint stirring of hope. My life in New York was a shambles. This might be a short-term way out. I could go back to Fair Harbor, take some time off while I sold the house and reinflated my bank account, come back to the city when my notoriety had died down, get on with my life.
What could go wrong?
It took me a week to actually get my tokus off the couch, but I finally managed to shove some clothes into a suitcase and hop a Peter Pan bus to the Cape. (Yes, the bus line to the Cape is really called Peter Pan. I always wanted to ask for a ticket to Neverland but didn't have the nerve.) I was going home. Only temporarily, I reminded myself. But still. It felt like failure.
Miles and Jenny had insisted on picking me up at the bus station in Hyannis. Miles Tanner, Jenny Snow Singleton and I had been a trio ever since we were drama club geeks together at Fair Harbor High School. None of us had really ever fit in. In my case this was mostly because of my height. I had almost hit the six foot mark by my fourteenth birthday. I was always the stage manager for the high school plays. It is difficult to find a part for a girl who stands at least a head taller than everyone else on the stage.
Jenny-petite, trimly built, with the square open face of her lobsterman father and the soft blond thistledown hair of her artist mother-had struggled in her own way. She was a math whiz, but because of her dyslexia, letters and words needed slow decoding. Though she would deny it, she was also a talented photographer and videographer. She took amazing candids of the actors and videoed the play itself, which the drama club then sold to the students' proud parents at exorbitant prices.
High school hadn't been easy for Miles either, who had tried, not very successfully, to hide his sexuality and regularly paid the price for it. Until, that is, he hit his growth spurt in his junior year. Suddenly this skinny little farm boy with a penchant for brightly colored socks and show tunes (he was a fantastic Harold Hill in the Music Man) turned into a great big farm boy with a penchant for brightly colored socks and show tunes. The bullies backed off.
Both of them were waiting for me in Miles's red pickup. I knew they'd come in the truck to cheer me up. I love riding in Miles's truck. It makes me feel badass. Plus, I love any vehicle that is red. It is my conviction that they drive faster.
While Miles chucked my suitcase into the truck's bed, Jenny hopped out and gave me a hug.
"Now don't you worry about where you're going to stay," she announced. "You're staying with us."
By "us" she meant Roland and her three more than slightly hyperactive boys, ages nine, seven, and five, all of whose names started with E. Ethan, Eli, and some other name I could never remember. I just called them Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three.
What I don't know about kids is a lot. I am the only child of two only children. I have no cousins. My parents always treated me like a miniature adult (until I became an adult, at which point they started treating me like a child). So Jenny's kids made me nervous. And much as I tried, I found Roland, with his corporate handshake and closed face, difficult going.
"Super," I lied.
"And you can use my mom's old truck while you're here," Miles said. "I already left it at your house."
"Aunt Ida's house," I corrected him. Begin as you mean to continue.
"It goes fine. When it goes," he added.
"Super," I lied again.
We piled into Miles's truck, with Jenny riding shotgun and me in one of the two surprisingly spacious back seats. We pulled out onto Route 6, the Cape's one and only highway. Twenty minutes later, we turned off into Fair Harbor proper. I smiled, as I always did on my visits home, at the "Welcome to Fair Harbor" sign, below which was written: "Drive slowly. Densely populated." It's all relative, I guess.