Authors: Rosie Genova
PRAISE FOR THE NATIONAL BESTSELLING ITALIAN KITCHEN MYSTERIES
The Wedding Soup Murder
“A tightly plotted whodunit that will have readers guessing right to the end, the book blends mystery with comedy, romance, family drama, a vivid and affectionate portrayal of the Jersey shore, and . . . oh, yes, cooking.”
New Jersey Monthly
“I love the characters and the atmosphere.”
“Genova has served up another tasty read. . . . This story is well crafted, and I found myself turning those pages so I could find out whodunit.”
“The characters continue to grow. The friendship between Vic and Sofie is spot-on. Interfering but loving family, again, right on the money . . . a great read.”
—Kings River Life Magazine
“Genova’s books are filled with tasty Italian treats and plenty of family drama to balance out each whodunit. Readers who are looking for a mystery that will tantalize the palate, as well as energize the mind, will love this one!”
—Debbie’s Book Bag
good. A well-written, enjoyable cozy mystery that had me hungry for more.”
“I’m happy to be back on the boardwalk. In addition to a solid mystery, Rosie Genova has given us another fun look into the Rienzi family and their relationships with each other as well as their restaurant, the Casa Lido.”
—Cozy Up with Kathy
Murder and Marinara
Best of 2013 Pick and a Finalist for the 2014 Daphne Award
“The tastiest item on the menu, with colorful characters, a sharp plot, and a fabulous Jersey setting. I enjoyed every bite.”
New York Times
bestselling author Jenn McKinlay
“So good I can taste it.”
New York Times
bestselling author Stephanie Evanovich
“Clever and intriguing . . . left me hungry for more.”
—Livia J. Washburn, author of the Fresh-Baked Mystery Series
“A saucy debut. . . . The crime wraps up logically and the characters are likable. . . . I could easily see reading another in the series, preferably in a beach chair, down the shore.”
The Newark Star-Ledger
“Follow Vic and her cohort through the streets of Jersey . . . and discover that you can smell Italian food through a book.”
“Several slices above the usual salami. . . . The Jersey tone is captured very well here, and the family and assorted friends sound like real people.”
Contra Costa Times
“A delectable mystery with an original heroine who shines a light on the complexities of the . . . world of Italian cooking.”
—Kings River Life Magazine
“A charming, action – and humor-filled novel. . . . The cast of characters is sassy, brassy, and memorable, with writer Victoria and her SIL (sister-in-law), Sofia, leading the way with the loving and loud family.”
“Love the characters and especially the setting of the series. . . . I am already craving a second helping. . . .”
Also by Rosie Genova
The Italian Kitchen Mystery series
Murder and Marinara
The Wedding Soup Murder
A Dish Best Served Cold
Published by New American Library,
an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
This book is an original publication of New American Library.
Copyright © Rosemary DiBattista, 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.
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To John, the last to sail away—with love and pride
Many thanks are due my editor, Sandra Harding, and my agent, Kim Lionetti, for their support and understanding when it was most needed. Couldn’t have done it without you, ladies!
I am also indebted to:
Retired Fanwood Police Sergeant Brian L. Bantz, for once again sharing his knowledge of police procedure.
My brother-in-law, Kenneth Harms, for answering my questions about golf and providing details about the Atlantic City Country Club.
My coadviser, Nicole Scimone, and our journalism students at Westfield High School, for their continued support and inspiration, particularly for the scenes at Vic’s old school. I will miss you all dearly!
My valued friends and critique partners, Loretta Marion and Sarah Pinneo, for reading pages and providing encouragement and laughs along the way.
Lori Caswell and the Great Escapes bloggers, for receiving my work with such enthusiasm and support.
My guys: Anthony Paul, Adam, and John—you make it all worthwhile.
My husband, Anthony, whose endless patience, skills with the grill, and heroic rescue of my computer truly made this book possible.
And finally, to all those in my home state who offered food, clothing, charging stations, and other means of support to residents affected by Hurricane Sandy—this story is for you.
mingled blast of garlic and alcohol hit me as soon as I opened the back door. The reek was emanating from Pietro Petrocelli, known colloquially as “Stinky Pete.” Naturally, I never called him that to his face (or in front of my grandmother, whose family knew him from the old country). Pete listed to one side, then the other, blinking his bloodshot eyes and grinning at me with his nearly toothless mouth. Recoiling from the stench of unwashed skin and lack of dental hygiene, I took two steps back into the restaurant kitchen.
“Uh, hi, Pete. Nonna’s not here at the moment.” I started to close the door, but Pete, who was pretty quick for a drunk, held it fast.
La Signorina Scrittrice
,” he slurred. “The lady writer. How you do,
?” He stuck his unshaven face inside the door opening, treating me to another whiff of garlic breath. “Is your papa here?”
“No,” I said firmly. My dad, Frank, who had a soft spot for Pete, would sometimes give him a glass of homemade wine, but only when my grandmother wasn’t around. Nonna would feed Pete if he was hungry, but she drew the line at liquor.
“Hokay,” he said with a sigh. “So maybe, Lady Writer, could you do an old man a favor?”
“Not if it involves wine.” I gripped the side of the door, trying unsuccessfully to push it closed.
. I am parched in the heat.” He pressed his free hand against his chest. “I have a great thirst.”
“I’ll bet you do,” I said. “You can have some water. And if you’re hungry, I’ll give you a panini. But that’s it. And then you have to go.”
He finally let go of the door and shook his head. “It is not for water that I have the thirst. But I will take, how you say, a ‘suh-nack.’”
“One ‘suh-nack’ coming up. But you have to wait there, okay?” I said, closing the door. I grabbed a roll, threw on some salami and cheese, and wrapped the sandwich in a paper towel.
When I handed it to him, Pete stuck the sandwich into the pocket of his tattered shirt and winked at me with one droopy eye. “For later,” he whispered. Taking advantage of the open door, he pushed his head inside again; I tried very hard not to inhale as he spoke. “If you give me
, I can tell you stories. For your books.” He raised his hand in a scribbling motion to illustrate.
“I can’t, Pete. It’s not good for you. Nonna won’t let me.”
“Oh, your grandmother, she is a saint,” he said, clapping his palms together as though in prayer.
She’s a saint, all right.
“You need to go, Pete.” I shoved harder against the door.
He tapped the side of his head. “Me, I know t’ings. Many t’ings I could tell you for your murder books.”
“I’m sure you could, but you really have to go now.”
Pete nodded, pulled his head back from the doorway, and patted his breast pocket. “Thank you,
. And remember what I said,” he called as he stumbled off. “I have stories to tell.”
Stories involving the grape, no doubt, but probably little I could use for my “murder books.” I bolted the door behind me, still wrinkling my nose as Pete’s smell lingered in the air. I grabbed the bowl of fresh tomatoes that sat on the counter; just picked from our garden, they were a perfect, ripe red. I scrubbed my hands and found Nonna’s best knife, chopping the tomatoes quickly to release their sweet, earthy scent. Then I grabbed a handful of basil from the refrigerator, stuck my nose in it, and sniffed deeply.
“Victoria,” my grandmother called out sharply, “what are you doing to that basil?”
She stood in the doorway to the kitchen, her hands on her hips and a frown on her face—her usual pose when greeting me.
“I’m starting the bruschetta. But I’m also clearing my nasal passages. Pete was here.”
“That’s Mr. Petrocelli to you. Have some respect.”
“Ugh, Nonna, he’s disgusting. He came around hoping Daddy was here to give him wine.”
She shook her head and made a tsking sound. “A terrible affliction. Pietro was once a cabinetmaker, a craftsman. And a man like that turns to drink. Such a shame.”
“Why are you nice to him? Why do you even let him come around?” I asked, giving the basil a quick rinse at the sink.
“Back in Naples, he knew your grandfather.” At the mention of her late husband, Nonna crossed herself and looked at me expectantly.
“May God rest his soul,” I said quickly.
She nodded her approval and resumed her story. “Pietro’s older brother, Alfonso, was also close to your grandpa’s
, your great-uncle, Zio Roberto. But such troublemakers, those two.” She shook her head again. “Got in with criminals. Your grandfather’s family never talked about Roberto. Now leave that basil and start on the vegetables.”
I put the basil away and gave my grandmother my full attention. A long-lost great-uncle who “got in with criminals” and was a forbidden subject in the Rienzi family? This was rich material for my novel—not the murder mysteries from which I made my living, but the new historical I was writing based on my family. I grabbed my waitress pad and a pen from the pocket of my apron; they would have to do in lieu of my computer.
“What happened to him?” I casually set the pad down on the counter, trying to keep it out of her sight. If she thought I was writing instead of prepping vegetables for lunch, I’d be in for it. I set the bin of carrots on the counter for effect.
“He died in the old country. No one was sure how.” Nonna, who’d been scrubbing vigorously at the sink, dried her hands on a towel and tied an apron around her waist. “Have you chopped the onions and garlic?” she called over her shoulder.
“Uh-huh.” I scribbled away in secret on the other side of the carrot bin. “So, did he just disappear? I mean, did they have a funeral for him? Is there a death certificate?”
She pinched her fingers and shook her hand in the classic Italian gesture. For as often as I’d seen it, I was surprised her hands weren’t frozen in that position. “What are you, the police?” she asked. “Why all these questions?”
“I want to know about our history.”
“Well, I want to know about the vegetables. Bring me that onion and garlic so I can start the sauce.”
I brought her the open containers from the refrigerator, my eyes tearing up at the smell. I was still learning about cooking, but I knew the garlic and onion had to be kept in separate containers. You have to start with the onions, as they take longer to cook; garlic burns if you’re not careful, so that gets added later. A perfectly sautéed onion and garlic mixture formed the basis of most of the Casa Lido’s celebrated sauces. “Would you tell me more about Zio Roberto?” I asked.
“I will if you put that pen away and clean those carrots like you’re supposed to.”
I sighed and took a vegetable scraper from the drawer. As my brother, Danny, once observed about our nonna:
She don’t miss a trick
. “Yes, Nonna,” I said.
I watched her pour a generous helping of extra-virgin olive oil in the bottom of our biggest stock pot, heard the sizzle as the onions hit the hot oil. She talked while she stirred. “Your grandpa Francesco’s mother was married very young and had Roberto right away. But then for many years she had trouble having babies,” Nonna explained. “Your grandfather was what we used to call a ‘late life’ baby. His mama must have been forty when she had him.”
“So Grandpa and Zio Roberto had a big gap between them?”
. Maybe fourteen, fifteen years. Your grandfather barely remembered him. All he knew was that Roberto got involved with the wrong people and died back in Italy. End of story.” She stopped stirring long enough to scrutinize the chopped garlic. “Did you take out all the sprouts?”
My grandmother was obsessive about garlic preparation. “Yes,” I said, holding up my hands. “And I have the smelly fingers to prove it.”
“Part of the job,” she said shortly. “Use lemon juice.”
“Speaking of garlic,” I said, “Stink . . . uh, Mr. Petrocelli said that he ‘knows things’ that I could use in my books. Do you think he might have meant information about his brother and Zio Roberto?”
“Who knows?” She lifted one broad shoulder in a shrug. “He’s an old man and old men like to talk and make themselves important. He probably just repeats the same stories to anyone who will listen.” She paused. “I suppose they could be about Alfonso. But he turned out bad, and may God forgive me, so did your zio Roberto.”
“Yeah, you said that.”
But bad in what way?
Could they have been Mafiosi back in Italy? I imagined the two young men in Naples, dressed in suspenders and flat caps, looking like extras from
Godfather: Part II
. Though my book wasn’t a
-type story, I couldn’t help being curious. “So Grandpa’s brother died young. What happened to Alfonso?”
“Last I heard he had emigrated here. But that was many years ago.” She shook her wooden spoon at me. “I thought you wanted to know about your great-uncle Roberto.”
“I do.” I lifted a carrot high in my right hand while my left crawled across the counter toward my pen and pad. But before I could grab either, my grandmother’s words assailed my ears.
“You pick up that pen, missy, and I shut my mouth.”
I let out a loud huff, prompting my grandmother to shoot me a look that froze my blood. “Okay,” I said, resigned to the inevitable. “No pen. So I’m supposed to just remember it all,” I muttered.
to be working. Come to think of it, I have more important things to talk to you about than dead relatives. We have the anniversary celebration to think about.”
I stifled a sigh. Nonna was obsessed with the Casa Lido’s upcoming anniversary; it was clear I’d get no more family history out of her today. I briefly considered talking to Stinky Pete to find out what he actually knew about my grandfather’s mysterious brother. Grimacing at the thought of a one-on-one with the odiferous Signor Petrocelli, I told myself I didn’t have much time for writing anyway.
It was August, and we were coming to the end of a busy season, one that would be capped off by a celebration of the Casa Lido’s seventieth anniversary and the last rush of Labor Day weekend. They were likely to be the restaurant’s most profitable events of the year, and we were counting on that revenue to make up for our slow start in the spring. (A dead body in the tomato garden tends to keep the customers away.) As I thought about the events of the last weeks, it struck me that I’d been back in New Jersey for nearly three months—almost a whole summer season. In that time I’d gotten myself involved with two men
two murders. That was some crazy arithmetic, even for me.
My thoughts were interrupted by a loud rapping noise and I jumped a mile. “I’m talking to you, Victoria,” my grandmother said, banging her wooden spoon on the countertop. “Stop daydreaming. Hurry and finish those carrots; then bring me four jars of tomatoes from the pantry. And when you’ve finished that, you can write down the menu for the party as I dictate. It will be summer dishes—antipasto and bruschetta, cold salads, and maybe some shrimp . . .”
She was off and running. And in all the bustle of preparation for the dinner service and the plans for the Casa Lido’s big day, Zio Roberto, his friend Alfonso, and Stinky Pete were quickly forgotten. Which turned out to be a mistake, because Stinky Pete was right: He
have a story to tell—one with more twists and turns than any mystery I’d ever written.
* * *
The last week in August would mark seventy years that the Casa Lido had been serving homemade Italian food to tourists and townies alike. Our plan was to have an outdoor celebration, and on the morning before the party, the restaurant garden was abuzz with busy servers, short-tempered chefs, and harassed-looking party-store employees. (My grandmother was directing them as they set up the tables. It wasn’t pretty.)
Behind all the bustle, though, was a hint of unease. The delivery guys glanced at the cloudy sky as they unloaded; our servers moved double time setting up, as though something was chasing them. Something was—a hurricane making its way up the coast from the Carolinas; there had been storm warnings all week. Originally, it was supposed to have moved out to sea, but the latest predictions had it heading inland. Nonna, however, who saw herself as a fair match for Mother Nature, denied all weather reports and plowed ahead with plans for an outdoor gathering. I checked the weather app on my phone, which hadn’t changed from the last time I’d looked, roughly two minutes ago. I stared at the tiny map of New Jersey on my screen and the swirling red image that represented the storm:
Yup, still heading our way
I searched out my mom in the swarm of figures; she wasn’t hard to find. My mom was sixty, but looked at least a decade younger. And let’s just say that her fashion choices were memorable, to say the least. She still wore her curly hair long, and last month’s purplish auburn had lightened to more of a strawberry red—a color that was just as unnatural but a lot less jarring. Today she was sporting a yellow sundress in a vintage floral pattern that was visible from one end of the garden to the other. The halter top only emphasized her already generous curves. I waved her over, and she tottered toward me on four-inch platform wedges. “Hey, Mom,” I asked, “are you at all worried about the weather?”
She pushed a stray curl off her face and sighed. “Of course I am. But Nonna and your dad won’t hear of moving the party inside.”
“Do we at least have a backup plan?”
She nodded briskly. My mom had lived for too long with Frank Rienzi, bettor of long odds, not to have backup. “Yes,” she said. “Lori and Florence will have the whole dining room set up and ready to go—linens, silver, everything. We’ve got some extra servers lined up so we can clear the outside at the first raindrop or gust of wind. If we have to hurry inside, we’ll have diners carry their own plates, we’ll gather linens in bags, and the staff can store the rented tables in the shed. Last year we had hurricane screens installed for the big windows in front, so we’ll be safe inside. And as we speak, your father is getting the generator ready in case the power goes out.”