Evil Under the Tuscan Sun (A Tuscan Cooking School Mystery) by Stephanie Cole #Review @BerkleyMystery

Evil Under the Tuscan Sun (A Tuscan Cooking School Mystery)
Cozy Mystery
3rd in Series
Setting – Italy
Berkley (February 1, 2022)
Mass Market Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0593097831
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0593097830
Kindle ASIN ‏ : ‎ B093YQKMY3

Nell Valenti is at ease when managing a farm to table cooking school in sun-dappled Tuscany, but begins to feel the heat when tasked with catching a killer, in this engaging Italian-set cozy mystery series.

When a wealthy New York philanthropist pays top dollar for a private, four-day ziti workshop, Nell Valenti wants everyone at the Orlandini cooking school focused on the task at hand. But complications abound when Nell’s boyfriend Pete Orlandini rushes to Rome for an unexpected business trip, Chef Orlandini is more preoccupied with a potential spot on an American cooking show than preparing for the workshop, and an uninvited woman sneaks into the villa to inspect Pete’s olive grove. The last disturbance proves deadly, and when the woman’s body is found in the grove, Nell must investigate before her hopes for the workshop, like the olives, are crushed.

Nell now has another item on her checklist–keep the Orlandinis out of trouble and the wealthy ziti-lovers happy while she looks into the stranger’s past. When Nell discovers that for one of the Orlandinis, at least, the murder victim was not such a stranger, after all, she’ll learn that when a detective goes digging in Italy, she’d better be ready for truffle.

Dollycas’s Thoughts

It’s Ziti time at the Tuscan Cooking School. A New York philanthropist, Philip Copeland has bought out the entire four-day class for himself, his mother, and her friend.

Nell has really wrapped up what she was hired to do but now that she is in a relationship with Chef Claudio’s son, Pete, Pierfranco Orlandini, she doesn’t want to leave so she takes on the task of keeping Chef focused on teaching and not on the American cooking show he has set his sights on. With Pete out of town, she feels the pressure to make this trip perfect for their guests. But while getting ready for their arrival she notices a man and a woman trespassing in Pete’s Olive grove. Later the woman is found dead in the same grove and Pete becomes the prime suspect.

All this means Nell’s plate is overflowing. She has to try to clear Pete while keeping her guests happy, entertained, and cooking ziti. She has also learned more about the history of the cooking school property and is trying to find items to display that will illustrate how the place was used in its past lives but she may have bitten off more than she can chew.

The author has packed this book full of life, mystery, and food. Nell continues to try to hold things together at the cooking school and with Chef Claudio that is no easy task. Her relationship with Pete hits a bit of a snag but she pushes forward to keep all the other plates she is juggling high in the air. At the end of the previous book, Crime of the Ancient Marinara, a key part of the staff leaves. Thankfully that is addressed early in this story as Nell is almost forced to take on an even larger role at the school. She is written very realistically and some of her reactions are priceless.  Again, Chef is quite a character. A lovable, over-the-top character that can make you laugh out loud, shake your head, and want to scream, sometimes all at the same moment.

In this story, we meet Philip Copeland, his eighty-year-old mother Mimi, and her friend Muffy Onderdonk. Their four-day luxury trip to Tuscany was a treat for ziti obsessed Mimi’s birthday. Sadly, Mimi is dealing with the onset of dementia but she sure loved her trip and all the ziti she could eat. It was easy to root for Mimi and I was happy that her trip was filled with fun events.

Surprisingly, the victim had many more enemies in Italy than was originally thought. She had big plans that ruffled a lot of feathers. This mystery was cleverly plotted and I enjoyed the way it played out. The subplot of the school history really grabbed my interest as well. I had part of the mystery of it figured out but was taken aback by a sudden turn of events that twisted the whole story up delightfully.

The Tuscany setting never disappoints. Ms. Cole describes everything so well that it is like a virtual vacay. And the food, oh my! I was hoping for a new special ziti recipe at the end of the book but that was not to be. My husband does make a great baked ziti and we enjoyed that the night after I finished this book to take care of my cravings.

Evil Under the Tuscan Sun was filled with engaging characters wrapped up in a fine mystery that included some very interesting history all in a spectacular setting. I am really looking forward to the next Tuscan Cooking School Mystery just to see what Nell has thrown at her next.

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About the Author

Stephanie Cole is an active member of the mystery writing community. Writing as Shelley Costa, she was nominated for both an Edgar and an Agatha award, and she co-founded the Northeast Ohio chapter of Sisters in Crime. She teaches creative writing workshops and lectures on American literature in the greater Cleveland area. For fun, she takes violin lessons, studies Art History—and eyes them both for murder plots.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”