The Secret Poison Garden (Rita Calabrese Culinary Mysteries)
1st in Series
Setting – New York
Chesapeake Books (May 28, 2018)
Paperback: 332 pages
Kindle ASIN: B07CMMXYKG
Rita Calabrese is the guardian angel of Acorn Hollow—and of her lovable but exasperating “famiglia.” She’s always fortifying her down-on-their-luck neighbors with secret deliveries of home-grown vegetables and ravioli alla zucca, sneaking cannoli into her gruff husband’s lunch, and meddling in (or, as she would say, “improving”) the lives of her three grown children.
But now, on the eve of her sixty-sixth birthday, Rita’s looking for a meaningful second act—and finds as a reporter for the local paper. Her profiles of Acorn Hollow’s eccentric citizens, including the soft-spoken biology teacher with a secret poison garden, soon make her the toast of the town. But when the beloved football coach is murdered and Rita’s investigation uncovers not only a messy love triangle, but also rumors of her ne’er-do-well son Vinnie’s involvement, she finds her newfound journalistic zeal on a collision course with her fierce maternal instinct.
Set in New York’s bucolic Hudson Valley and sprinkled with Italian phrases and customs, “The Secret Poison Garden” includes eight mouth-watering, garden-to-table Italian-American recipes.
Rita Calabrese is about to turn 66 and after overhearing something her children said she decides it is time to follow her dream. She gets a job as a reporter for the local newspaper. While at a party she sets up an interview with the high school biology teacher to do an article about her secret poison garden. When the football coach is poisoned and later murdered Rita puts the blame on herself because in her article she laid out everything a murderer would need to kill, even the address of where to get the deadly flowers. Taking on her own quest to find the killer she uncovers secrets and lies and finds her own son could be involved. Like a mama bear out to protect her young she will do everything she can to catch the real killer and clear her son.
Our protagonist Rita Calabrese is an acquired taste. There were things I loved about her – her wonderful Italian dishes and the way she secretly delivered meals for a family going through a rough patch – but there were also a couple of things I didn’t like – she really didn’t give her future daughter-in-law much of a chance at first – she goes behind her husband’s back to find one of his employees a new job after she heard him mumble something in his sleep. She also jumps quickly to conclusions when she overhears things without all the facts. Eavesdropping is a common trait of most amateur sleuths but you need to be careful what you do with what you hear. She loves her kids, she loves her husband, family is very important to her, and she cooks like a dream. I just wish she would back off on her snap judgments a bit. Her saving grace is that by the end of the story I knew her heart was in the right place.
The author takes our sleuth on quite a journey to solve the mystery. Many secrets are uncovered, some within her own family. Giving Rita a personal stake really took the story up a notch. Acorn Hollow is a small town so all the residents know each other and their lives are intertwined. The way Rita worked through the clues was very interesting and kept me captivated from start to finish.
I can’t end this review without telling you about the food. This girl loves her some Italian cuisine. 🙂 Oh, my stars! The descriptions had my mouth watering! I am delighted that the recipes were in the back of the book. Gnocchi, cannoli, cheesecake, sauce, and more. I have already added them to my recipe file.
This series is off to a splendid start! I am looking forward to visiting Rita and her family again soon!
Maureen Klovers has held numerous positions in government, including a stint as a U.S. intelligence officer, and was a political commentator on DC 101’s talk radio show “Neighborhood Stuff.” Ms. Klovers has traveled extensively in the United States, Europe, China, India, and Latin America. She’s hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, been escorted through a Bolivian prison by a German narco-trafficker, and fished for piranhas in Venezuela. She received a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations (with a focus on Latin American politics) from the College of William and Mary in 1999 and a Master’s of Public Policy and Master’s of Business Administration from Georgetown University in 2006. She lives with her husband, Kevin, in Arlington, Virginia.
For more information or to sign up for her newsletter, please visit www.maureenklovers.com.
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