White House executive chef Olivia Paras just wants to create first class cuisine for the First Family. Unfortunately, dangerous politics keep spoiling her recipes…
Assigned to work with her arch nemesis, Peter Everett Sargeant, the White House Sensitivity Director, Ollie must find a venue for an event to honor the Secretary of State. Instead they find one of the First Lady’s assistants and the Chief of Staff, both murdered — and Ollie and Peter may have witnessed the killer making his getaway.
News reports suggest that the assistant and Chief of Staff were having an affair, but no one on the staff believes the rumor. Now, with their jobs–and their lives–in jeopardy, Ollie and Peter must depend on each other to learn who killed their colleagues and why–before they become the next victims of a merciless assassin with a secret agenda…
For fans of: Diane Mott Davidson, Dorothy St. James
White House Executive Chef Olivia “Ollie” Paras has been tasked with the impossible: she must collaborate with her archenemy, White House Sensitivity Director Peter Everett Sargeant, to select a location for the Secretary of State’s birthday gala. Trudging around Washington with the whiney, ill-tempered man is miserable work, but the pair is somehow able to come to an agreement regarding the fourth place they visit – a venue called Lexington Place.
At first blush, Lexington Place seems perfect: gorgeous, spacious, and completely state-of-the-art, it’s the ideal location for an elegant, high-profile affair. All Ollie and Sargeant have to do is take some pictures and write some notes and they can finally go their separate ways. Or so they think, anyway. Then they stumble across the corpses of two White House staffers stashed in the facility’s kitchen, and it becomes clear that their shared ordeal has only just begun.
Affairs of Steak is the fifth of author Julie Hyzy’s fabulously entertaining White House Chef Mysteries, and in my opinion, it’s her best book to date. Part thriller, part culinary cozy, it’s one of those rare tales where the plot is driven equally by character and by action, making it impossible to put down. The sense of atmosphere is strong, the pace is breakneck, and the plot is marvelously well-constructed. Hyzy’s prose reads effortlessly, and she makes sure to show you the world she’s created through all of Ollie’s senses, making for a completely immersive reading experience.
The story starts with a bang, and the first twenty pages have more action, tension, and drama than the climaxes of most traditional mysteries. By page forty, you’ll be on the edge of your seat and snarling at anything and anyone that threatens to distract you. I intended to read this book over the course of a weekend – to read it in small chunks so that I could savor it – but once I started, there was no stopping, and I wound up devouring the entire thing in a single sitting.
Hyzy’s character work is top-notch, as always. Ollie’s a strong, smart, determined heroine for whom you can’t help but root, and the fear and paranoia she feels over the course of the book is so effectively conveyed by Hyzy it’s practically contagious. By using the central mystery to turn sworn enemy Peter Everett Sargeant into Ollie’s reluctant ally, Hyzy manages to give depth – and dare I say warmth? – to a character I spent four books wanting to bash over the head with a frying pan. And the appeal of Ollie’s dark and mysterious new love interest, Special Agent in Charge Leonard “Gav” Gavin, continues to grow.
I’d be remiss if I ended this review without giving a nod to the skill with which Hyzy writes the relationships between her characters. Particularly spectacular is Ollie’s bittersweet and occasionally antagonistic relationship with ex-lover and former confidante Tom MacKenzie; their shared scenes are realistic, nuanced, and charged with emotion, and they help push the book past excellent to extraordinary.
Rating: 5 (Perfect!)
Reviewed by Kat