Maggie McConnon rings in Christmas in Bel, Book, and Scandal, the third adventure for everybody’s favorite Irish-American culinary artist turned amateur sleuth.
Bel McGrath tries her best to keep herself on the straight and narrow but she just has a taste for trouble. This time danger arrives in the form of a newspaper left behind by visitors to Shamrock Manor—and a photograph that jolts Bel out of the present and back into a dark chapter from her past. The person in the photo is Bel’s best friend Amy Mitchell, long gone from Foster’s Landing, at a commune in upstate New York shortly after her disappearance. The picture, and Bel’s burning desire to find out what happened to Amy—and whether she may still be alive—is the catalyst for a story in which old secrets are revealed, little by little…and certain characters are shown to not be as genuine as Bel once thought.
Bel McGrath is:
“Authentic…will leave you smiling.”—Nancy Martin
“Hilarious and surprising.”—RT Book Reviews
“A saucy, funny, flawed protagonist that readers are guaranteed to fall in love with.” —Susan McBride
About the Author
MAGGIE MCCONNON grew up in New York immersed in Irish culture and tradition. A former Irish stepdancer, she was surrounded by a family of Irish musicians who still play at family gatherings. She credits her Irish grandparents with providing the stories of their homeland and their extended families as the basis for the stories she tells in her Belfast McGrath novels.
Read an Excerpt
I was wet, cold, and tired, but despite the fact that she was ready to kill me with her bare hands for staying out all night, my mother addressed all three of my immediate needs before saying anything else.
A towel to dry my hair.
Clean clothes in the form of a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and a pair of socks. An Irish sweater, the most uncomfortable item of clothing ever made — a hair shirt, really — but welcomed, and probably deserved, at that moment.
A bologna sandwich. It would be the last time I would eat bologna, for many reasons, the most significant being that the smell would forever after remind me of Amy. And how she had disappeared the night before and would always be gone.
Mom was worrying a rosary in one hand, the other securely placed in one of my father's meaty ones. She turned and looked at me, asking me a question she had already asked and would continue to ask, along with everyone else even vaguely connected to Foster's Landing. "Where is she?"
I didn't know. I didn't think I would never know.
My brother Cargan, the closest to me in age and the one who had found me beside the Foster's Landing River, was across the room, looking out the window, his violin strapped to his back; he had a lesson later that morning and wouldn't miss it for anything, even if Amy Mitchell was missing and never to be seen again. No, he was gearing up for a big competition in Ireland and nothing stopped him from his lessons or his practicing. Although the mood was somber in the police station, I wouldn't have been surprised if he had whipped the instrument out right then and there and started playing a tune, a sad one, the type I had grown up listening to.
My other brothers were out and about in town now. They, too, had come running when Cargan first discovered me but were less concerned about me now that they had joined the hunt for Amy. It was another night for Bel, one said. She was going to be in a lot of trouble, said another. They were both right: It had been another typical night and now I was in a lot of trouble, the last to have seen Amy alive with nothing to tell that might lead to her whereabouts. They were a self-protective bunch, caring little as to why I would be hauled into the police station, happy that, for once, they were not the ones in trouble. Feeney, especially. He was always in trouble. Derry and Arney, not as much, but both had a way of finding their way into situations that were beyond their control. Feeney was a much more calculated and deliberate hooligan.
Next to Mom, Dad let out a barely audible sob, the kind that told me that he was, first and foremost, a father and one who felt the pain of a missing child. He looked over at me, almost as if he wanted to confirm that I was still there, and reached out the hand that didn't hold Mom's, patting me awkwardly on the thigh.
"Ah, Belfast," he said. "Ah, girl."
"It's okay, Dad," I said. "They'll find her. They'll bring her back." I thought about those words a lot over the years, wondering where that confidence came from. Youth, I eventually decided. When you're young and nothing bad has ever happened, you think everything will always be better, every wrong will be righted. It's only with age that you realized that that wouldn't always be the case and that disappointments would stack up, like the layers of my famous mille-feuille cake, the one with seemingly a thousand layers of goodness that cracked upon the first dip of the fork. But even then, in my heart, I had a feeling it wasn't going to turn out the way we all wanted, something I couldn't give voice to at that moment.
Lieutenant D'Amato came out of the conference room at the Foster's Landing police station and looked at me, frowning. Behind me the door opened, and his expression suddenly lightened, the sight of his only child, his daughter, coming through the doors with a cup of coffee in one hand and a bag of something delicious in the other, the greasy stain at the bottom indicating that it was probably a Danish from the local bagel store. It smelled better than my bologna sandwich, which I wrapped up in the wax paper that Mom had put it in and which I stuffed under my thigh.
Mary Ann handed her father the food and then turned to me, tears in her eyes. "Oh, Bel," she said, and ran toward me, enveloping me in a hug. She smelled good, not like river water and stale beer like I did, but more like the soft grass that I felt beneath my feet when I ran from my house down the steep hill toward the river. Beside me, my mother's silent reproach hung over me like a fetid cloud.
Why can't you be more like Mary Ann D'Amato?
I had heard it more than once in my seventeen years and hoped eventually it would die a natural death as I got older and more accomplished, setting off to take the culinary world by storm, another thing that left a distinct distaste in my mother's mouth. I was supposed to be a nurse. A teacher. A wife, mother. Not a chef.
It was your idea to open a catering hall, I wanted to say. Your idea to have me in the kitchen every moment I wasn't studying or swimming on the varsity team. Your idea to ask me how the potatoes tasted, if the carrots needed another minute. Your idea to let my brothers learn the traditional Irish tunes and put me in an invisible, yet highly important, role — that of sous chef to you and a myriad of other cooks who had come through the doors of Shamrock Manor, only to discover that yes, our family was crazy, and no, they didn't really care all that much about haute cuisine.
Mary Ann was going to nursing school; of course she was. She was the daughter that my parents never had and she would make everyone in this town proud.
Years later, in what could only be from the "you can't make this stuff up" files, Mary Ann would marry Kevin Hanson — my Kevin Hanson — and I would cook the food for their wedding. We would all be friends and we would laugh together and eat together and have a generally good time in one another's company. Before, I felt the lesser, but in the future, the now, I would be the equal, the one who had gone away and come back, realizing that my heart was in this little village, at least for a time. But back then, Amy was still missing and everyone thought I held the key to her whereabouts.
"Where is she?" Mary Ann whispered into my curly hair.
"I don't know," I said. And I didn't. Amy Mitchell was my best friend, my confidante, my sister from another mother, and she hadn't said a word about where she would go after a night on Eden Island. My last words to her, an angry sentence (You'll be sorry....), burned in my gray matter. I don't know where she is, I wanted to scream. It had been just fun and games until I had seen her kissing my boyfriend, Kevin Hanson. We had been celebrating our waning days at FLHS, and it was the best night we had ever had up until that point.
I don't know why she wouldn't tell me where she was going, but maybe I did.
Maybe of everyone here in the police station, she wanted me to be the last to know.
I broke the embrace with Mary Ann and sat down again; I would never smell a certain floral-scented shampoo again without thinking of that morning. I would never feel the grass beneath my feet without thinking of the smell and where it brought me in my mind. Mary Ann's face, tear streaked and pale, made me feel bad about my own: dry as a bone, not a tear in sight, stunned, resigned. Amy was gone, and deep down I knew that she was never coming back. How I knew it so well in the early morning hours I had no idea. Why I had told Dad things would be fine was a mystery. But I knew it as well as I knew my own name that it was over and wondered how everyone else was still clueless to that fact.
I looked up at a cop who clearly didn't know who I was but whose face told me he knew why I was there.
"That's me," I said, and walked into the room where I would tell them everything and nothing.
"Belfast!" my father cried from the foyer. "Belfast McGrath!" he said again, as if I, as an adult, had forgotten my full name and that would bring me running. It had to have something to do with the Christmas tree that he put up in the foyer every year. My brothers, who were supposed to help with the massive tree, had scattered into the wind like fallen leaves at first sight of the tree, making me Dad's choice as the de facto trunk holder as Dad balanced precariously on the banister, trying to get the tree straight without the benefit of a level or a tall able-bodied man (ahem, Derry).
I was in the kitchen at Shamrock Manor preparing for an upcoming wedding. I had taken over the reins as chef a few months earlier, and while it never got easier to be in the midst of my family, I had found a certain rhythm — a certain peace — in the kitchen. It was now my own and everyone treated it as such, leaving me to do what I did best: cook. Dad poked his head in the door. "Been calling you, girl. What's going on?" I waved a hand around the kitchen. "This," I said, bringing his attention to a plate of macaroons. "And that," I said, brandishing a tray of raw cylinders of piecrust dough. "I hope you're not implying that I'm slacking off, mister."
May Sanchez, a sous chef I had hired a few months earlier, backed me up. "She's working, Mr. McGrath. Like always." Her job done, she went back to fileting a large piece of beef with a razor-sharp knife, her hands working quickly. Although her formal training in the kitchen was less than mine, she was a natural, her knife skills as good as anyone's with whom I had worked.
For some reason, Dad took May's word over mine. "All right then," he said. "We've got a couple in the foyer, tall drinks of water, both of them, who just happened to be passing by on the Taconic and they think this might be the perfect place for his daughter's wedding."
The couple was standing by the bust of Bobby Sands, Irish martyr, that Dad had sculpted, reading the plaque that he had put there. Dad is nothing if not sympathetic to "the Troubles," a Northern-Irish boy himself, someone violence had touched, if only tangentially, but leaving its emotional mark. When I emerged from the kitchen, they both looked at me, a smile breaking out on the woman's face and a worried one breaking out on the man's. The woman, a tall brunette wearing clogs not unlike the ones I wore in the kitchen, pointed at me.
"Hey!" she said. "I know you."
She didn't look familiar to me, but that didn't mean anything. As I had worked in a New York City restaurant for years, faces had come and faces had gone, and if you wanted to be remembered you had to be a "special order," someone whose favorite dish, their "usual," resonated with me. A face meant nothing, but a fan of my lamb shank? That was the person I remembered.
She started for me, her rubber-soled clogs squeaking on the glossy marble. "You're Belfast McGrath, right?"
"I am," I said. The woman was very excited to see me and I didn't know why, two things that left me a bit wary.
"No, the Belfast McGrath. The chef. From The Monkey's Paw?" she said. She held out her hand. "Alison Bergeron."
Didn't ring a bell, and I still didn't know who she was. Her husband shoved his hands deep into his pockets and looked up at the ceiling; something told me that he had never gotten used to his wife's enthusiastic, if misguided, outbursts.
"Nice to meet you," I said. "You were at The Monkey's Paw for dinner?" "At the Monkey's Paw for dinner," she said, dropping her voice an octave, giving the words import. "That dinner."
And there it was. Now I did remember her. There had been a few couples in the restaurant the night I had lost my cool and my job, and she and her husband had been one of them. Max Rayfield, a reality-TV executive who desperately wanted to follow my every move, and her husband were seated with them. At the other table were the former president of the United States and his First Lady and, unfortunately, an unexpected guest, a fish bone in his snapper that had nearly killed him. Not my fish bone exactly, but the fish bone of my sous chef and ex-fiancé who had let me take the fall with a gratefulness that left me stunned.
Alison grimaced. "I'm sorry," she said, looking from me to my horrified father. "I shouldn't have brought it up."
"Nope. You shouldn't have," her husband said, his eyes still trained on the ceiling. Although he seemed to be practiced in the art of not reacting to his wife, he had not perfected it.
"But I have to say that it was one of the best meals I ever ate," she said. "Later events notwithstanding."
Did she mean the broken bottle that I brandished at the celebrity restaurant owner, the famous award-winning actor? Or how I was "escorted" from the premises by some muscle the owner had called in? Either way, it had been the stuff of my nightmares, come to life, and certainly was an event I was hoping to forget.
"No offense," she said.
"None taken," I said. I held my hand out to her chagrined husband. "Hi, I'm Belfast. But you already knew that."
"I did," he said, and I started to wonder if he ever said more than three or four words at a time. Alison was chatty; he probably couldn't get a word in edgewise. "Bobby Crawford."
The introductions made, Dad led the couple into the dining room, which wasn't set up for a client visit but which was impressive nonetheless. The bank of windows facing the river offered a view that would never get old, even now in winter when the trees were bare, and a thin layer of ice coated what was left of the river, mostly dirt now, a drought the previous summer having brought the water down to a dangerously low level. It was because of that drought that weeks earlier the police had discovered Amy's things, buried underneath the water for years, but not Amy. That was something else I was trying, and failing, to forget. We took seats at a round table next to the largest window, the couple facing the river, and Dad's and my backs to it and the great lawn that rolled down to the water's edge, the perfect view if you were trying to sell someone on what we had to offer.
"So, your daughter is getting married?" I said.
"His daughter," she said, not unkindly. She set the folded newspaper that she had carried into the Manor on the table; an advertisement for the Manor was visible on one of the pages. So that's what had brought them here. "She has a mother. A nice one. A great one, in fact. She's just not me."
"Yes, my daughter. Erin." Bobby Crawford looked at my father, beseeching him with his eyes, trying to telegraph something. He finally blurted it out, my father blissfully unaware of what he might be trying to convey. "She's young. Twenty-four. Too young."
It didn't seem too young, but I didn't have children so couldn't fathom why the father of the bride looked so bereft at the thought of his adult daughter getting married. "And her fiancé?" I asked. "Young, too?" I had learned along the way that in addition to booking parties, Dad, Mom, and I also acted as therapists when the couple, or their family, had an issue. She was too young; he was too old. (Or, in the rare case, vice versa.) She was Catholic; he was a Protestant or, worse yet for the devout parents, an atheist. She had a big family; he had only a few cousins on his father's side and most of them didn't speak to one another. It was a constant juggling act, making the couple happy while keeping their parents — who usually paid for the grand event — from having nervous breakdowns.
"You were barely out of your teens when you got married the first time," Alison said to her husband. "We've had this conversation."
He crossed his arms over his chest. "Too young."
Alison turned to me. "We were driving around and happened to see this place. It looks perfect for what we have planned and in terms of location. We'll have to bring the happy couple here, of course." She looked out at the river. "Can't beat that view even if it's a little bare right now."
She didn't know that the view for me had changed since the discovery of Amy's belongings.
"Hopefully we'll get some rain and it will fill up nicely by the time you have your event," Dad said, ever the optimist.
"When's the wedding?" I asked.
Bobby rolled his eyes. "Memorial Day."
Excerpted from "Bel, Book, And Scandal"
Copyright © 2017 Maggie McConnon.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this series if books by Maggie McConnon. I did not want to put this book down I love that many of the mysteries that have gone on through the series were solved in this book. There were many twists and turns throughout this story. I loved the characters. I received a copy of this book from Minotaur books and Netgalley for a fair and honest opinion that I gave of my own free will.