Nothing could drag chef Angie Amalfi away from San Francisco and her beloved policeman fiance Paavo Smith –– except for a job preparing the banquet her all–time favorite soap opera characters will consume during an upcoming Christmas Reunion Special. So Angie eagerly takes off for the estate where the now–defunct "Eagle Crest" was originally filmed. Not thrilled to be staying in the very room from which the young actress Brittany Keegan took a real–life fatal tumble years earlier, Angie is equally disturbed –– and intrigued –– when another corpse turns up in the cellar. Both deaths have been ruled accidental, but the bitter accusations flying back and forth among the reunited cast suggest otherwise. And now that Angie's a guest star in this deadly serial drama, she's suddenly in serious danger of being written out of it permanently.
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
Two Cooks A-Killing
An Angie Amalfi Mystery
California State Highway 29 cuts through the heart of the Napa Valley, linking wineries and towns. On weekends, traffic stops almost completely as people jam cars, vans, and tour buses to "wine taste" from one establishment to the next. At the center is St. Helena, home to a number of the most famous wineries in the state -- Beringer Brothers, Charles Krug, St. Clement, Sutter Home, and Louis Martini.
Just past the town, Angie Amalfi turned off the highway and drove for another twenty minutes along narrow, winding roads. She was a small woman with wavy brown hair with red highlights, big brown eyes, and long silk-wrapped fingernails in her current favorite shade, coconut cream. The color complemented and drew attention to her hard-won, long-incoming engagement ring. She drove with one eye on the road, the other on the diamond, as she neared the Waterfield estate.
Winery ownership was the sideline of choice for California's nouveau riche such as Dr. Sterling Waterfield, plastic surgeon to the stars, with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Angie's opinion, Waterfield wines were worse than mediocre, with a bouquet of rancid oil that caused the tongue to shrivel and the mouth to pucker.
The estate had once been known for its grandeur and beauty, but all that was overshadowed when Waterfield allowed the producers of the most popular evening soap opera of all time, Eagle Crest, to use it as the estate of the Roxbury family of wine magnates. Their overwrought lives, loves, and wheeling-and-dealing provided weekly proof that money and power couldn't elevate the disreputable to anything other than glitzy sleaze. Viewers loved them.
As a young teen, Angie had watched the show devotedly, not only every episode, but also reruns during the summer months. The early years, which she had been too young to follow when they were first aired, were shown repeatedly on cable networks. She had faithfully watched them several times over. She loved the program and knew several of the episodes by heart. Eagle Crest had ended ten years earlier after a run of eight years when its two main stars, Bart Farrell and Rhonda Manning, who played Cliff Roxbury and his wife, Natalie, quit out of fear of being typecast. Unfortunately for them, they hadn't quit soon enough. Never again did either have a part quite so dominating or so challenging (or so much to type, according to Hollywood gossip) as that of a member of the Roxbury dynasty.
Rhonda "Natalie" Manning retired from public life, while Bart "Cliff" Farrell made infrequent and ill-tempered appearances to talk to Eagle Crest fans about his starring role. The fans remembered every iota of information ever put on the screen throwaway lines, jokes, even story angles that didn't work and were dropped. Farrell's inability to remember, let alone explain, such minutiae usually triggered those outbursts of grumpiness.
Now the cast was being reassembled for a ten-year reunion show, a Christmas reunion, and she, Angelina Rosaria Maria Amalfi, had been asked to be a part of it.
A major part, if she said so herself. She was so anxious to get to Eagle Crest, it was all she could do to stick to the speed limit.
Her father had phoned the day before. He'd gotten a call from his old friend Dr. Waterfield: the woman who was to prepare the important centerpiece meal of the show had broken her leg. Dr. Waterfield wanted to know if Angie could handle it.
Could she ever!
She made sure her fiancé, San Francisco Homicide Inspector Paavo Smith, had no problem with her going away for a few days. Dr. Waterfield was a widower who lived with his two sons, Junior and Silver. Junior had once dated Angie's sister, Frannie, but things hadn't worked out between them.
Paavo had encouraged her to take the job if she wanted it. If? Was he joking? She'd crawl through ground-up Christmas ornaments for this job.
Actually, she couldn't help but suspect he was glad to have her think about something other than their wedding plans. Not to mention engagement parties, bridal showers, and everything that went with them, from dresses to music to napkin rings. They were already making her a little crazy.
Her thoughts sprang back to the Christmas reunion show. The thought that she would be the first true-blue fan to find out what the next step would be in the lives of the cast gave her goosebumps.
The story had begun with Cliff Roxbury. Married and living in Australia, one day he was struck by lightning. He ended up with amnesia, in California. There, he met Ice Follies queen Natalie Parker, who was engaged to winery owner Adrian Roxbury.
Cliff fell wildly in lust with Natalie and her ice skates, stole her from Adrian, and married her. He then swindled Adrian out of half the winery. Adrian was about to shoot Cliff, when -- lo and behold! -- the two discovered they had the same last name because they had the same father.
From Australia, Cliff's older first wife sent her daughter, Leona, to find her missing husband. Because of his amnesia, Cliff didn't recognize her.
Seeing a chance for wealth, Leona married the still rich but emotionally wrecked Adrian.
Into the mix came Natalie's niece, the wild and man-hungry Julia Parker.
The catfights between Julia and Leona had garnered some of the highest TV ratings on record and set the standards for primetime soap fights. Angie recalled one such remarkable fight which included several tons of grapes, broken vats of aging wine, and evening gowns that left little to the imagination when soaked in wine.
Angie sighed ...Two Cooks A-Killing
An Angie Amalfi Mystery. Copyright © by Joanne Pence. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Joanne Pence certainly accomplished a coup working a springtime reality into a winter plot! The seasonal-contrast-tension from an April-living-scheme shoved seamlessly into a December ambiance fueled one of the best banquet bashing scenes I¿ve ever read. LOVED the tasty detail in that food fight!! What an ingenious slant on collecting suspects at a dinner table with an amateur sleuth chef trying to shift the spotlights, after she has thoroughly tantalized readers by dramatizing the cooking process of a several course gourmet meal. And what author can make a serious scene of the culprit conclusion hilarious and riveting? Joanne Pence! She outdid herself with flights of food, resulting in the best of that type of slapstick situation I've read anywhere. Usually in-your-face food fun isn't appealing to me, but the way Pence did it, and the irony of having a culinary mystery use this technique was just fantastically, ironically appropriate. It's intriguing (and fun to me) that the author gave more detail in more vivid syntax in the food scenes which trashed culinary coups than she usually does in the eating/prep parts of plot. For Joanne Pence, it does appear that 'Cooking is murder'! As funny as the banquet brawl was, the contrasting scene with Angie barely defying death as she dangled out a window was equally riveting in a serious, 'Oh my God!' way. With Pence¿s obvious love for contrast I shouldn't have been surprised that she'd cancel the flowing tide of the whole novel's sensual pace and comfy coziness BIG TIME in the ending sequences. It almost felt like she was tired of the easy, almost sweet (and I loved it) flow of the whole book and became disgruntled with the plot not being jazzy enough for her standards (though it was for me) when she got to the ending phases of writing. So, she pulled out the whips and chains and jazzed UP the action and angst several plateaus in the denouements, with lightning-fast stepping and pizzazzy-fancy maneuvering. I've been noticing that each sequential book in this series seems to add more to the culinary hits. The taste bud input grows more and more into balsamic levels of gourmet-chef-delicious. Pence must have a collection of foodie contacts somewhere, or a great cook book collection maybe it's all the cooking shows on TV. Surely she watches Lidia's Italian table once in a while! (She did mention Emeril in this one.)
Angie Amalfi has been offered a chance of a lifetime. She is to prepare a Christmas meal for the reunion special of her favorite soap opera, Eagle Crest. This meant she had to be separated from her San Francisco homicide detective finace Paavo Smith. But it is only for a short time. The special is being filmed at the Waterfield estate owned by Dr. Sterling Waterfield. Dr. Waterfield, a friend of Angie¿s father, is a widower and lives with his two sons, Junior and Silver. Junior once dated Angie¿s sister, Frannie, but things hadn¿t worked out. Eagle Crest had ended ten years earlier, but now the cast was being reassembled for a ten year reunion, a Christmas reunion. When she arrives, she finds the crew there, but no stars have arrived. She also finds out that Emery Tarleton, the director, wants her to recreate the Christmas meal from an earlier Christmas show and that the actress Brittany Keegan who had played Julia Parker had died in the house. The official reports were that she died in Los Angeles, but in reality she had died in the house. Worse yet, she fell out of the window of the third floor bedroom Angie has been given! Soon Angie becomes aware that someone is trying to sabotage the filming. The actors arrive and it is soon apparent that they are not very friendly Angie starts looking into the death of Brittany. It was classified as a suicide, but things just don¿t appear to be so simple. Many things happen on the set and Angie knows that she needs to unravel the mystery before someone else is hurt, including herself. I like this series. Angie is a very likeable character. The soap opera actors in this book are so realistic and Angie is the ultimate fan put into a very strange situation. The setting of an estate really assists in this book because everyone is living together but they can leave the estate when needed. I highly recommend this book and series.
Imagine getting a job working in Courtlandt Manor of Pine Valley. To a soap fan this is a dream job, one Angie Amalfi has a chance to live when she lands a job providing the Christmas dinner for the cast of her favorite soap's, Eagle Crest, reunion show. The dream quickly is transformed to a nightmare. The 'chef' is an odious little man who makes Angie's life miserable whenever they come into contact. He's determined to not let her into 'his' kitchen. The stars are aloof and not nearly as likeable in person as their characters. Everyone Angie knows seems to be dropping in to leave a prop for her to place on the set so they can say their knick knack is a part of the scene, and she has discovered that getting this job might be less a measure of her talent and more a facet of her father's match making schemes. Toss in an old, unsolved murder, a tabloid reporter, and a fresh 'accidental' death, and you have a fine hash. ......................... The love of Angie's life, Paavo, is not too thrilled with life either. He misses Angie, and her cooking. Then, referred by Angie's pesky friend Connie, he has a missing person's case dumped in his lap by a 'little person', Minnie Petite. The only good part of that is it ties to Angie's situation, and brings them together again. ...................... **** Angie and Paavo are the best mystery couple since Nancy and Ned. You might die laughing, but it is a good way to go. As always, there are recipes guaranteed to kill your diet if you make them included. ****