A Nasty Stew
Between her latest "sure–fire" foray into the food industry—video restaurant reviews—and her concern over boyfriend Homicide Detective Paavo Smith‘s depressed state, Angie Amalfi‘s plate is full to overflowing. Paavo has never come to terms with the fact that his mother abandoned him when he was four, leaving vehind only an antique brooch to remember her by. But when the bauble vanishes, the jeweler who was repairing it is murdered, and Paavo‘s surrogate father is critically wounded by a would–be burglar, Paavo decides it‘s time to discover the truth about his errant parent‘s life and mysterious disappearance.
Gourmet chef and eager sleuth Angie Smells a tasty mystery cooking. But what‘s bubbling in this pot is a lethal goulash of intrigues, betrayals, FBI deceptions, and murderous Russian mafia mayhem—an old family recipe for disaster for Angie and her policeman beau.
About the Author
Joanne Pence was born and raised in San Francisco. A graduate of U.C. Berkeley with a master's degree in journalism, Joanne has taught school in Japan, written for magazines, and worked for the federal government. She now lives in Idaho with her family, which includes a multitude of pets.
Read an Excerpt
San Francisco Homicide Inspector Paavo Smith wrenched himself awake in the dark bedroom. He didn't move, but listened, searching for sounds that existed only in his head. When all remained quiet, he slowly collected himself, calmed his racing pulse, and reassembled himself into the now of his existence. He was a cop; he'd seen firsthand the living nightmares men foisted upon one another. There was no reason his imagination should bother him this way. For it to do so was unacceptable.
Abruptly he sat up in bed and ran a hand over his eyes, against his nose. A small ripple of cartilage marked where it had been broken. Most people assumed the break had come as a result of police work, but the first time he had broken it, he'd been wrestling with his older sister. She had raised her head just as he lowered his own, and the world exploded. For a couple of months his nose looked like it was heading leftward, while his eyes and mouth aimed straight ahead.
That Jessica came to mind now made sense. She'd been in his nightmare. It was an old dream, but recently he'd begun having it again'three times in the past few weeks, each time more vivid than the last.
He stood up, his body slick with sweat. At the foot of the quilt-covered bed his yellow tabby, Hercules, lifted his head, twitched an ear, and yowled with annoyance at having his sleep disturbed. Paavo left the lights off and paced the room, rubbing his forehead, as if through physical force he could shove the alarming memories away.
The dream wouldn't bother him half so much if he could figure out what it meant. The nightmare placed him in a shoot-out. He had been in a few sincejoining the force, but had never experienced the stark terror that filled him in the dream. He was low on ammunition, trapped, with no way out, and the worst part was that Jessica was with him.
Yet when she died, he'd been only fourteen years old.
Most likely she'd been on his mind because of the brooch that had belonged to their mother, a cameo of a woman's profile in a gold setting. Jessica had never liked it and refused to wear it. She was into grunge before there was such a style. Brooches weren't "her thing."
At Christmas Paavo thought of the brooch while trying to come up with a meaningful gift for his girlfriend, Angie, who had enough money to buy herself anything she wanted twice over. Although it was only costume jewelry, the design was beautiful and delicate and elegant. Just like Angie. Its sentimental value, he knew, was something she would also appreciate.
Seeing it, holding it, must have stirred up recollections of his family, what little family he had. They then could have jumbled together in his head with current thoughts and blended his life as a police officer with memories of his sister. That was the only explanation he could think of. Guns had never entered his life as a child, he didn't think.
And yet . . .
He wished whatever the hell was causing this nightmare to surface would stop. Now, with Angie in his life, he was happier than he had ever been. He didn't want to remember the past, the days of his childhood; he didn't even want to talk about them, and didn't.
Still, from the dream, an awful dread hovered over him, as if an omen of what was to come.
Angie Amalfi thrust a handful of money at the Yellow Cab driver. "Keep the change." In a waft of Quelques Fleurs and a mint-green Donna Karan silk suit, she dashed from the taxi to a small jewelry shop on California Street. Gold lettering over the shop proclaimed rose jewelry, ltd., and an open sign dangled on the front door.
Inside, recessed lights shone onto walnut-framed glass counters set in a U shape along the back and side walls. Gold- and platinum-set stones and diamonds were tastefully displayed on black velvet. Atop each long counter was a rectangular mirror on a lacquered stand, while more mirrors discreetly hung from the paneled walls.
A white-haired man sat at a wooden desk behind the farthest counter. "Thank God you're here," Angie cried, hurrying toward him on dyed-to-match Giacomo Ferre stilettos.
He raised his head. Slowly pushing himself to his feet, he unhooked the jeweler's magnifier from his eyeglasses and placed it on the table. He was quite old, his back curved so badly that even standing upright, he seemed to be searching for something at his feet. He peered at her through bushy gray eyebrows, frowned, and shuffled closer.
"I hope you can help me." Anxiety made her voice shrill. "Mr. Warner at Tiffany's told me you were the only one he knew who did this kind of work."
His eyebrows lifted with interest at the name. Ralph Warner was the senior jeweler at the prestigious store. Shaking, gnarled hands rested on the glass countertop. "What kind of work is it?" His voice was deep and he spoke with an accent, mixing his v's and w's.
"I'll show you." She set down her tiny green Prada handbag and, from a black leather Coach tote, removed a small padded jewelry box. The hinged top opened like a clamshell. "My boyfriend gave me the brooch for Christmas. I was polishing it'the cameo had gotten some dust and dirt in it over the years'and the stone fell out of its setting. You've got to fix it for me!"
His gaze fixed on the brooch. "Oh, my," he murmured.
"It was his mother's," she continued, trying to keep the dejection and panic from her voice. "I can't tell him I broke it. This is so upsetting! I could just die!"
She waited for a word, a reaction, but he gave none. She stopped talking and watched his fascination with the piece. The cameo was oval, an elegant woman's profile carved on rose-hued agate against a black background.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of my favorite scenes in this series took place in this book. It was between Paavo and a 9 year old girl, after the murder of her grandfather, in a tenement building. The chapter containing that segment confirmed for me that Pence is not only an artist and an author, she¿s a master of her craft. The type of mood catharsis Joanne Pence accomplished there was phenomenal. In the urine touched tenement scene, the well set stench transformed with a single sentence describing the clean aura of the apartment in which a 9-year-old girl sat. Pence gave that apartment a feel of purity, a distance from tenement soullessness, even with the girl¿s grandfather lying dead in the next room. Yet, Pence had spared no odor in the detailed painting of the ugliness of life in that world. She painted it as it should be exposed. Then, in that single sentence, with a few carefully chosen words about the lack of leftover food cartons, she lifted the hopeless despair into something still truly sad, but somehow refreshingly healing and quietly cathartic, even as the girl was dealing with that gut wrenching situation. The author moved the plot further into this emotional purity within the simple exchange between Paavo and the girl. He knew how she felt he had lived it. He also knew how to be with her, what to give her, yet to avoid breaking her difficultly maintained composure, to avoid dishonoring who she was and how she had come to deal with her life with a loved but un-pampered child's simple and serious dignity. That scene was so powerful, I was heavily reluctant to leave it. As the story moved forward, I found myself wondering about the little girl, but the continued shifting of plot was more than enough to keep me busy and fueled. The girl¿s return in a few potent vignettes artistically and satisfyingly concluded her part in the story, as one of the symbolic links to Paavo¿s past.
Angie Amalfi has messed up big time. She has lost the antique broach that once belonged to her significant other's mother. She knows her detective boyfriend, Paavo Smith, will not be amused that he only thing he has to remember his mother by has vanished. She must have a replacement made and soon. To top it all off her apartment, Paavo's place and his stepfather's house have all been broken into. The result is his stepfather is in the hospital. When Angie learns that the jeweler has been murdered, she knows deep down that it's time to panic. The answers lie from Arizona to Russia, from family secrets to an unknown past, all leading to Paavo and his family and a recipe for disaster. TO CATCH A COOK is murder most baffling and nobody stirs a murderous brew like Joanne Pence, complete with colorful characters, and a recipe to die for, Pence serves up a murder so hot, a plot twist so unique that you'll be left dying for another sample. I simply cannot wait to read the next tasty culinary treat that Pence has penned. Pamela Cornwell James