MURDER A LA CARTE
If all goes according to plan, Connie Buckridge's culinary empire will soon boast a state-of-the-art cooking academy and restaurant in her home town of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Unfortunately, just when the kitchen queen and her bickering entourage hit town on a publicity tour, so does a bestselling investigative writer who is hot on her scandalous trail.
Primed by an anonymous e-mail informer, Marie Damontraville is preparing to cook Connie's goose with a major expose of her strategies for success. The one missing ingredient in this unsavory stew is murder, and when food critic Sophie Greenway finds a cooking colleague stabbed with his own kitchen knife, a fire that has been smoldering for forty years suddenly bursts into flame. . . .
SPECIAL AUTHOR INTERVIEW INSIDE
About the Author
Ellen Hart's other novels include This Little Piggy Went to Murder, For Every Evil, and The Oldest Sin, as well as the Jane Lawless mysteries: Hallowed Murder, Vital Lies, Stage Fright, A Killing Cure, A Small Sacrifice, and Faint Praise. A two-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Mystery/Detective Fiction, Ms. Hart is like her fictional heroine Sophie Greenway in two respects: both have had food related careers (the author was a chef for twelve years) and both have college degrees in fundamentalist Christian theology. She lives in Minneapolis.
Read an Excerpt
Sophie had hoped that after a couple of martinis and a plate of the
Belmont's famous tiger shrimp on a bed of spicy couscous, Bram would be in
a good enough mood for her to drop the bomb. She'd been preparing her speech all
afternoonever since she'd talked to her son, Rudy. Rudy was currently
biking and backpacking his way across Europe with his partner, John
Jacoby. On the phone, they'd made an important decision, one she needed to
tell Bram about right away. However, not only were the tiger shrimp no
longer on the menu, but the usually prompt and friendly service at the
restaurant was tonight a study in indifference. Any good mood the drinks
might have engendered had been destroyed by the annoying boy-waiters
buzzing about the dark, intimate dining room.
Neither Sophie nor Bram had eaten at the Belmont since last fall. Almost
all the old wait staff was gone, replaced by a more youthful crew, lads
who seemed to think having fun was the essence of their job description.
They clumped together at the wait stations, chuckling at little in-jokes,
and occasionally, when the mood struck, wandered off toward one of the
gilt-edged mirrors to check their look. They were exceedingly adept at
pouring water, but that was about the extent of their skills. Initially,
Sophie and Bram were so amazed by the staff's bustling inactivity that
they hardly noticed that their waiter had hardly noticed them.
Twenty minutes after their arrival, having received nothing more than two
glasses of water and a couple of menus, Bram reached his limit. At first
he tried some polite arm-waving, but when that was ignored, hestood,
placed two fingers between his teeth, and gave a piercing whistle. Not
only did that catch their waiter's attention, but every other eye in the
place as well. Most of the other diners nodded their approval. Some even
According to local restaurant scuttlebutt, the Belmont, an institution in
downtown Minneapolis, was currently having problems. This was clear not
only from the lax service but also from the wilted rose on the table, as
well as the pile of dry toast and a slice of bland pétÈ the waiter brought
them when he finally sauntered over to take their order.
"What the hell's happened here?" muttered Bram as the young man strolled
off toward the kitchen.
Sophie just shook her head.
Harry Hongisto, the owner of the Belmont since the early Fifties, was an
old poker-playing buddy of her father's. They were both Finlanders from
the Iron Range, both born and raised in Hibbing. During the past winter,
Sophie had been sad to see a restaurant review in the Times Register trash
the food at the Belmont. She couldn't believe the place had sunk that low,
especially since she knew the bias of the reviewer, a man with whom she
rarely agreed. And yet, perhaps in this one instance, the review had
foundation. For the first time, Sophie felt as if she was sitting in the
faded glory of what had once been a premier restaurant in the Twin Cities.
That wasn't to say that Harry hadn't done his best in the last few months
to stem the tide of decline. First, he'd hired David Polchow as the new
head chef. Arriving with the highest of recommendations, David was a
graduate of the New Orleans Cooking Institute and had studied under some
of the best chefs in Europe. He'd worked at Sur la Mere in Boston before
coming to Minnesota. His attempts to improve the food service at the
Belmont, however, didn't seem to be working. Sophie couldn't understand
how a chef of his caliber could have produced such an insipid pétÈ, though
perhaps it was an off night. Or, more likely, the rest of the kitchen
staff wasn't working at his level. He could do his best to
educate and make demands, but he couldn't do all the work himself.
Harry had also begun to modernize the interior, though interior decorating
seemed to be the least of the restaurant's problems. It was true, of
course, that the wine-colored leather booths, once the height of elegance,
had begun to look a bit tired. So had the pool-table-green walls and the
heavy-handed gold accents. In an earnest attempt at modernity, Harry had
replaced the carpeting, a bold playing-card design of clubs, hearts,
diamonds, and spades, with a dreary putty color, all wrong for the more
aggressive Las Vegas-style ambience. And plants, totally unnecessary
greenery, seemed to be starving for light in every corner of the room. The
Belmont had history and tradition going for it. It had a flavor, a style.
All it needed was some retouchingnot a whole new look. Ferns and minimal
furnishings belonged in a more self-conscious Uptown bistro. A less
self-conscious, more overt Fifties take on opulence was the name of the
game here. Why not appreciate it for what it was?
"A piece of rancid pétÈ for your thoughts," said Bram, gazing at Sophie
over the rim of his martini glass.
Her smile was wistful. "Oh, I was just thinking about what this place used
to be like."
"You came here with your parents a lot when you were a kid, right?"
"In those pre-cholesterol-conscious days of yore." She sighed.
"Well, at least there's one upside to the evening. We're not here so that
you can review the place. That headache is finally behind us."
Sophie did her best to hide her startled look. "You never told me you
hated my reviewing."
"I didn't hate it, but on those rare occasions when you convinced me I had
to come with you, you insisted I wear one of those silly disguises, too.
It made me feel like a freaknot, I might add, the best way to enjoy an
evening out with one's wife."
"Come on," she said, smiling and chucking him on the arm. "Restaurants
today are theatre. You simply have to think of yourself as one of the
He grunted. "I never understood how you could enjoy eating a meal dressed
like a biker's moll."
"I had other costumes."
"Right. The professor with the beard and pipe. Very sexy."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
SLICE AND DICE, quite probably the strongest and most complex novel to date in Ms. Hart's 'Sophie Greenway' books, is an expertly-crafted, utterly satisfying addition to a rock-solid series as well as a moving, stand-alone thriller. By way of sheer lagniappe, the icing on this particular cake is a sizeable expansion of Ms. Hart's always knowledgable insider's take on the culinary world itself: gourmet cooking as big business, the role of the critic in the restaurant scene and the in's and out's of the hospitality industry which adds an especially intriguing depth and dimension to the fast-moving plot action and makes for an unforgettable read. SLICE AND DICE finds Sophie and her husband Bram faced with crises in both their marriage and their professional lives. Sophie has spent a hectic winter trying to adjust to taking-over as owner-manager of the Maxfield Plaza Hotel while still keeping up the occasional restaurant reviews which have now brought her an offer she doesn't want to refuse: the food editorship and primary restaurant critic status for the Times Register newspaper. With the hotel beginning to shape up nicely and her son and his life partner away on holiday in Europe, she's eager to tackle this new challenge, but Bram, despite his own successful career as a radio talk show host, is already feeling pushed-aside by the demands of her career and strongly opposes the idea. In the meantime, the 'circus'...media, that is...in the form of America's culinary royalty, the dysfunctional Buckridge family which includes Nathan, one of Sophie's former beaux (who would like nothing more than to rekindle that old flame), has come to town and is headquartering at the Maxfield Plaza. There to promote a new cookbook and possibly expand her already sizeable academy/restaurant empire into the St. Paul area at the expense of Sophie's family friend, Harry Hongisto (owner of the financially-troubled Belmont restaurant), culinary diva Constance Buckridge...a Martha Stewart-type...is being trailed by professional scandal-monger, Marie Damontraville, who is plotting a no-holds-barred, tell-all expose of Connie and her family and thinks Bram would be exactly her cup of tea. The fat is really in the fire when Sophie finds the Times Register's restaurant critic (who savaged the Belmont making it ripe for takeover) stabbed to death, and Harry is arrested for his murder. Things happen fast and furiously from that point on as Sophie is forced to search deep into the past to find answers in the here and now and eventually risk her life to uncover the real proof of the pudding...and her marriage...while unmasking a cunning and desperate killer. This mystery is bound to please even the most discerning palate and has only whetted my appetite for more of Sophie and Bram's adventures.
Connie Buckridge is the matriarch head of a culinary empire that includes her son, daughter, and stepson. Connie feels elated because she is coming home to Minneapolis-St. Paul to open up a cooking academy. However, on the eve of Connie¿s biggest personal triumph, Pluto, a Deep Throat like character keeps sending E-mails to investigative reporter Marie Damontraville. The missives state scandal and nasty skeletons prominently lie in the Buckridge closet. Perhaps it is her belief that this Betty Crocker clone could not be so perfect or just her natural cynicism that comes with her job, but Marie believes the messages. She plans to expose Connie¿s darkest secrets that will in turn crumble a growing culinary empire. Meanwhile, the biggest detractor of the Buckridge kitchen is local food critic George Gildemeister of the Tomes Register. However, someone kills George and newly hired food critic Sophie Greenway finds the body. Suddenly a scandal that dates back to 1963 threatens to boil over and destroy the Buckridge empire. The latest Sophie Greenway culinary mystery, SLICE AND DICE, is an entertaining story that will thrill genre fans. The fast-paced story line is filled with negative relationships that appear ready to explode at any moment. Though there are too many charcaters to keep up with (thank goodness a score sheet exists), most are fully developed with their motives understandable. One does not have to be a food critic to enjoy Ellen Hart¿s tasty morsel. Harriet Klausner
The story was interesting. There are so many typos that it made me want to stop reading. There are at least two or three mistakes on every page.