Book 13 in the Angie Amalfi series, published January 2006.
Dilettante chef Angie Amalfi doubts if she'll actually survive her engagement to San Francisco homicide detective Paavo Smith, what with her meddling mom micromanaging the whole affair. So Angie leaps at the chance to spend some time away with her fiancé in the sun-drenched Arizona desert town where he'd spent time as a boy -- and maybe explore the possibility of a Southwestern-themed wedding feast.
But her groom-to-be is going back there to help a friend investigate the murder of a wealthy local -- and it seems this tiny desert community is a hotbed of deadly secrets. And when a second course of murder is served up, suddenly Angie's tasty getaway with her lover is starting to look more and more like her final meal.
When Paavo is called by a childhood friend whom he hasn’t seen in years, about a suspicious death, he is determined to go back to Jackpot, Arizona, to take a look around. Angie is just as determined to go with him, not only to spend some quality alone time with her fiancé, she is also looking for a unique wedding locale. And she is very curious about this glimpse in Paavo’s childhood. He is a very private person, and sometimes that drives her nuts. After the gorgeous engagement party her mother arranged for her, the wedding will have to top that. What a shame she can’t just run away with Paavo.
Paavo made an appointment with Ned in the only diner in town, but he never shows up. Only a young woman, also looking for Ned comes in. Paavo is not happy that Ned has told he was coming, he hoped to stay low profile. After a nice dinner, they drove on to their guesthouse at the Ghost Hollow Guest Ranch, which belonged to the richest man in town, Hal Edwards. He is something of a legend locally, as he build his own wealth starting with one little Halmart shop. He used to help a lot of local people, by employing them, or encouraging them to start their own business. At a young age, he got a stroke, and was nursed back to health. But his wife divorced him, getting the Halmart emporium as her winnings. Hal was furious, but there was little he could do as an invalid. He still had the hacienda, and turned that in a successful Guest Ranch. A lot of people escaping the harsh winter climate come to Arizona, and leave when the heat gets too much. A few months ago, he was found murdered in one of the caves on his hacienda, and the local Doc, the friend Paavo and his Finnish stepdad used to stay with, has voiced his concerns to Paavo. The local sheriff quickly ruled it an accidental death, but Doc is not happy with that. Hal was very wealthy, and as his will has not been found yet, Doc as executioner is unwilling to settle the estate, much to the dismay of Clarissa, the ex-wife, and her son Joey. Joey is a very weak figure, totally under the thumb of his screw of a mother.
And then, on an outing to the caves were Hal was found, they find the murdered body of Ned. And this the incompetent female sheriff can’t rule it accidental. Paavo is furious with her disrespectful treatment of his old friend, and how she and her even less competent deputy (and her cousin) trample all over the crime scene. The sheriff, Merry Belle Hermann, is even less pleased to find a bona fide homicide cop from the big city in her little town. She certainly does not need his help! But Paavo is not willing to back up. As she is an elected sheriff, her records are public so he can have access as much as he wishes! And as she is clearly not going to exert herself overly much, he will do some investigating of his own. With the happy and capable help of Angie of course.
Well, where to start. It was fun meeting up with Angie and Paavo again. And as they are in Arizona instead of San Francisco, all the other characters in the book are brand new. And strange. And secretive. They just won’t tell what they know or suspect. And suspects galore. Was Hal killed for his fortune? Was he working with illegal immigrants? Why did he buy a 100 female ostriches shortly before he died? Why did he go missing for 5 years, and was killed shortly after his return? Did he indeed marry?
Paavo and Angie sure have their work cut out for them. And Angie of course cannot help but volunteer her professional cooking services when she finds out there will be a big cook out for the whole town the next weekend.
Angie is looking good as usual in her designer clothes, and the deputy sheriff is much taken with it. He is secretly loving designer clothes, and would not more than to be one himself. But he knows he is lacking the funds and intelligence for an education, and the real talent to make it. But he still admires it all. Angie never thought she could be bored talking about clothes and designers, but in this book, she learns otherwise. The cook/owner of the local diner is convinced she is a gourmet cook, just like Angie, and makes special dishes for her, made of local produce. Well, be sure, no sane person would want to eat some of those ingredients!
It was fun, and I have to admit, I was totally wrong in the who and why of the killer. Joanne Pence got me on the wrong foot completely, and I love it when that happens in a mystery. I liked the ending, and everything that happens, and one special ostrich sure saved the day!
This book qualifies for my reading challenge of reading one book a month that has been on my shelves for over a year. And also for the challenge of reading at least 2 cozies a month. I’ll start the last one in this series tomorrow, which will be the second cozy.