Madeline Bean, caterer to the stars, is in the middle of the biggest job of her career. She and her partner Wesley have pulled off Hollywood's most outrageous A-list Halloween party for notorious producer Bruno Huntley, complete with an eerie fortuneteller who is astonishingly accurate, and exotic food that's to die for. Before long, Bruno is thrashing and writhing out on the dance floor. Just one problem: he's not standing up, And soon, he's not even breathing.
The newly late Mr. Huntley was poisoned, that's certain. But the number of suspects with a yen to send Bruno to the devil could fill an audition for extras in the next Quentin Tarantino flick. When Wesley is arrested for the murder because of a long-standing dispute with the maniacal mogul, Madeline knows he couldn't be guilty. But to prove it, she has to wade through the muck of a mudslinging family, outrun a pair of crazed canines, dodge a pair of well-aimed bullets, and expose a slew of secrets that could put a soap opera to shame. Somebody's cooked up a murder, and it's up to Madeline to find out who--before she faces a fadeout of her own.
About the Author
Jerrilyn Farmer, the author of seven acclaimed, award-winning Madeline Bean novels, is a TV writer who has written for game shows such as Jeopardy! and Supermarket Sweep, and sketch comedy specials for Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Timothy Stack, Cheri Oteri, Tim Meadows, and others. Farmer also teaches mystery writing at the UCLA Extension's Writers Program. She lives in Southern California.
Read an Excerpt
"Any last words?"
A puff of dense steam clouded the hot kitchen as the young man pulled the lid off an enormous stainless-steel stockpot. His remark had been addressed to a tank filled with ten dozen live Maine lobsters.
In the warm air, the pungent smell of garlic and hot frying butter mixed with countless other delectable aromas, blanketing the crowded room with the fine perfume of many cooks' efforts. I stepped into the din and swirl and heat, instantly embraced by the heady atmosphere.
Wesley, half a head taller than any of the assistant chefs in the room, saw me at once and met me at the door.
"The truffles never arrived. Fifteen pounds for the love of France!" Wesley checked his watch, the kind with a digital readout and timers and buzzers. "It's seven. The schedule's shot. There goes the artichoke and Swiss cheese tortellini topped with fresh truffle shaved to order."
I met the eyes of Wesley Westcott, my dearest friend and business partner. Wes was usually granite right before guests arrive, when it's one hour to dinner and counting, but this was the first time we'd spent fourteen thousand dollars on one fragile ingredient.
"Wes. . ."
"Coming through!" Our assistant backed her way into the huge kitchen, leading three young men. Each pushed handcarts stacked with crates marked PERISHABLE and AIR FREIGHT.
"Who's got the crowbar?" Holly's strong voice rose above the commotion of thirty cooks and helpers hard at work.
I said to Wes, "The truffles have arrived fashionably late."
"Ah. Good." He rechecked his digital. "Fine."
Someone moved aside, and I felta blast of smoky air from the fireplace where several legs of lamb were roasting on a spit. I was getting high breathing in the succulent aroma of rosemary-scented lamb. I love this. The fun, the noise, the smells, the elevated temperature, the sensuous pleasures of cooking.
I smiled at Wes and he seemed to relax a notch. After all, the truffles had arrived.
Our track record for keeping some of Hollywood's biggest stars happy at their own parties, perhaps even more than the excellence of our cuisine, was adding to the growing word-of-mouth popularity of our company, Madeline Bean Catering.
And this is a great town for caterers. Here, clients desire parties that are extraordinary and are prepared to pay the extraordinary costs. It's this outlandish disregard for thrift that the small-business person such as myself can come to appreciate in their clientele. And such parties!
Wes and I once set up a bar mitzvah for the son of a talent agent in a mock rainforest. It included a parrot that recited the first line of the bar mitzvah boy's Hav Torah. In Hebrew. And the L.A. Times wrote up our "wrap" party for Mel Gibson's last action movie. We blew up tile catering truck right after dinner.
Tonight we were standing in the kitchen of TV producer Bruno Huntley's grand estate, on the evening of October thirty-first, preparing dinner for six hundred guests. And as for our reputed ability to soothe cranky hosts, this evening could be the acid test. If we could keep a famous asshole like Bruno Huntley happy at tonight's Halloween party, we would soon achieve a new "personal best."
Manny Martinez, working on the other side of the kitchen, was waving his wooden spoon at me. He didn't appear happy.
Holly flattened herself against the crates she was working on as Wes and I squeezed by.
Close up Manny looked more worried. "Taste it."
I picked up a fork and dipped it into the souffle he proffered. It flaked. It crumbled. It pulled away from the sides of its dish pathetically. Too dry. Too brown.
Wes grabbed the fork. "Is this the arugula and chevre souffle?"
It was something less than the golden, well-puffed mixture of garden greens and goat cheese that was our hostess's favorite dish.
"It was fine when it came out of the oven," Manny said. "But now . . . "
I pointed at the pretty round baking ramekin decorated with hand-painted black cats. "It's the dish."
Wes considered. "It's the right shape," he said. Its sides were straight and tall and in the correct proportion to send the fluffy mixture towering skyward as the beaten egg whites expanded in the heat of the oven.
I clinked the side of the dish with my fingernail. I loved the fine art of detective work and I loved being right. "It's stoneware."
Wes began to nod. Stoneware retains more heat than porcelain. "It's still cooking after it's out of the oven."
"Manny," I advised, "your eggs are getting scorched by the dish."
"I knew I didn't overcook nothing," Manny pointed out. We cooks have egos more delicate than, well, a souffle.
"So we adjust the recipe for stoneware. Make a note." Wes turned and gave me a fond smile. "Oh, you're good."
And then the screaming began.
"Oh no! Oh my god!"
First a woman's guttural shriek. Then men shouting.
"Get them off me! Get them off! Jeez!"
I turned quickly and spied Holly, usually calm as toast, now swatting at her legs in a panic, swearing like a teenager.
She had pried open one of the crates marked PERISHABLE. Instead of containing outrageously expensive delicacies air-shipped from the Perigord region in France, the crate had instead disgorged thousands of wriggling earthworms.
Freed from their wooden prison, they had oozed out onto the floor, squirming in their peaty-smelling packing earth, and over the shoes of Holly and several of her mates.
Wes was all business. "Okay. Get them the hell out of here. Then I want the floor bleached and sanitized. Got it? Oh, and all those of you who have been..." He smiled graciously. ". . . wormed, please change out of those clothes. . .
What People are Saying About This
Madeline Bean is charming, the food is divine, and the Hollywood background is juicy.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The single compliment most fitting for a culinary mystery was earned here: The opening paragraph made my mouth water. It featured stuff simmering on a commercial stove, the ambiance of aroma, and a continuum of taste bud appeal carried out in balsamic detail. Farmer knows how to surge the saliva glands! She enhances the essence of ¿taking a bite of bread,¿ giving detailed, on the tongue descriptions, thereby spreading warm, buttery rapture to the senses, repeatedly interjecting flavors into the plot at just the right intervals. Her yummy scene of making polenta from scratch (occurring 1/3 into the story) was exquisite flavor enhancement, as she stirred with one hand, held the phone with the other, and went through the process with enough detail to cause auto drool, no recipe necessary. Diane Mott Davidson, move over a stool at the communal breakfast bar. Make room for another friend. Not only does Jerrilyn Farmer use all the natural culinary draws to their devilish levels of delight, whenever she¿s not cooking, she packs nearly every scene with heated, jazzy action and well-spiced intrigue. No chance of even a quarter-inch of reader boredom getting within a mile of Farmer¿s aura. The opening scenes around the front stage, huge Halloween party for a demon-blooded (metaphorically) Hollywood mogul were intense enough to seat the reader into a race car and throw him against the backrest, sans seatbelt, as the motor roared into a dancing choreography of ¿let¿s have a party!¿ When the party¿s over and the next morning arrives, I¿m welcoming the pace-drop to cozy, ready for the sensual scenarios to begin, luxuriating in the fascinatingly unique, ideal home/office setup Miss Bean has arranged for herself. Being invited to share the intimate details of a character leisurely opening her day, indulging and divulging personal routines, is the strongest ploy of the cozy mystery¿s ability to allow a reader to let down the hair and begin living in. I also enjoy the ways Farmer comes up with to get her heroine into and out of jams of sonic-boom-paced, risk-factor-rich intensity. The scene of Madeline being chased by 2 bad guys was exquisite action, and her means of evading and escaping them were simply ingenious. When I say simple, I mean it in the most efficient, absolute sense of the word, which leaves a person feeling ¿yeah, that would work. Sure. Why didn¿t I think of that? How deliciously easy and right.¿
Madeline Bean is catering the Hollywood party this Halloween. But things take a bad turn when the host, producer Bruno Huntley, dies in the middle of the festival. This debut features great characters and lots of fun twists to the plot and started what is still a top notch series. I just wish there were more than seven books
Annoying to try to read only about 50 words per page so i did not read the entire book.