In this entertaining and delightful mystery, an Italian chef and her cousins start their own investigation to clear their grandmother’s name after she’s arrested for murder.
At Miracolo Northern Italian restaurant, one can savor brilliantly seasoned veal saltimbocca, or luscious risotto alla milanese, but no cannoli. Never cannoli. Maria Pia Angelotta, the spirited seventy-six-year-old owner of the Philadelphia-area eatery that’s been in her family for four generations, has butted heads with her head chef over the cannoli ban more than once. And when the head chef is your own granddaughter, things can get a little heated.
Fortunately, Eve Angelotta knows how to handle what her nonna dishes out. But when Maria Pia’s boyfriend is found dead in Miracolo’s kitchen, bludgeoned by a marble mortar, the question arises: Can a woman this fiery and stubborn over cream-filled pastry be capable of murder?
The police seem to think so, and they put the elder Angelotta behind bars, while Eve, sexy neighborhood attorney Joe Beck, and the entire Miracolo family— parenti di sangue and otherwise—try every trick in the cookbook to unravel a tangle of lies and expose a killer.
About the Author
Shelley Costa’s stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Presents 13 Tales of New American Gothic, The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for an Edgar Award in the Best Short Story category, and she chaired the Best Paperback Original category for the 2011 Edgar Awards. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Edgar Allan Poe, and she has lectured on Poe at various events. She has a PhD in English and is on the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where she teaches fiction writing and screenwriting. A former New Yorker, she lives in a Cleveland suburb.
Read an Excerpt
You Cannoli Die Once
It was 11:53 p.m., and the late-night regulars showed no sign of leaving.
As I lovingly dried my utility knife, I shouldered open the kitchen’s double doors and peeked into the dining room of Miracolo, our family-owned Italian restaurant. My great-grandfather had opened it back in 1937, and to hear the stories, you’d think he arrived by covered wagon instead of in a 1931 DeSoto.
Apparently Great-Granddad Alberto Camarata just had to get out of the wilds of Brooklyn and travel across the hostile territory of New Jersey before settling in Quaker Hills, Pennsylvania, forty minutes north of Philly. He felt such deliverance from whatever was driving him to leave New York that he named the place Miracolo, “miracle.”
And the miracle business has been driving successive generations of cooking Camaratas and Angelottas crazy ever since. I now watched my grandmother, Maria Pia Angelotta, single-handedly provide the atmosphere here at Miracolo. To get the picture of Maria Pia, think Anne Bancroft with more wrinkles and bigger boobs. At nearly midnight, after a ten-hour work day, my seventy-six-year-old nonna—Italian for grandmother—was dancing.
This consisted of swaying her hips and waving her arms experimentally, because she’d once watched a movie about Isadora Duncan. “Che bella ragazza”—what a beautiful girl—she opined, “even if she wasn’t Italian.” Nonna didn’t wear the perpetual old-world widow’s weeds that pretty much resemble a Hefty bag with a white lace collar. Her black-clad hips were much more fashion forward, making it all the way to 1955 and those belted, full skirts sported by Lucy Ricardo.
I watched contentedly in the afterglow of my saltimbocca alla Eva—that’s me, Eve Angelotta, head chef here at Miracolo—the veal special that had sold out early. It always does, which I attribute to the fact that I substitute tarragon for sage. Tarragon is user-friendly. Sage is . . . well, like a dancing grandmother who believes your purpose in life should be to find a nice Italian boy, get married, and produce future chefs for Miracolo.
While I inhaled the lingering aroma of the caper-tarragon gravy, Leo, one of the regulars, launched into a mandolin version of “Three Coins in the Fountain.” This was bad news, because that song always undid Maria Pia to the extent that she’d start flinging herself around the dining room in full circles, which was alarming if you happened to be glassware.
“Is she weeping yet?” My cousin (and sous chef) Landon Angelotta slipped behind me, craning to peer into the dining room.
“Almost.” Nonna always sobs at the line “Each heart longing for its home.” Two lines later the songwriter rhymes home with Rome—that place in the south—so we suspect she must have had her heart broken by a Roman.
Landon reported: “And . . . there she goes.”
But then our aged bartender, Giancarlo Crespi, dressed in his traditional red jacket, stepped out from behind the gleaming teakwood bar and stiffly approached my grandmother with a white linen napkin in his left hand. Some of the late-nighters whistled and pounded the tables that they always rearrange for the entertainment, and they all chimed in, singing the lyrics, a game I refer to as Find the Key. Was Giancarlo surrendering? Was he a matador with a death wish, approaching the bullish Maria Pia?
But no. Like the proud Genovese immigrant he was, he caught Maria Pia in a one-armed clasp, saving our glassware, and they improvised some wannabe sexy spin, circling his white linen napkin overhead. A real crowd-pleaser.
My friend Dana Cahill, who usually sings with the grappa-drinking music makers, was absent that night. When she’s there, roaming around with her cordless mic, she and Maria Pia end up as dueling divas, their smiles frozen in place, but really trying to top each other with boisterous renditions of “Those Were the Days.” Most evenings there are a couple of acoustic guitars, a mandolin, a homemade string bass, a tambourine, and bongos. Occasionally the clarinet shows up.
I gave skinny, dear Landon a quick hug and sent him out through the double doors. “Buona notte, bellissimo,” I whispered. He melted as nicely as the butter in his saucepan.
Dancing quickly across my beautiful black-and-white-tiled floor, I dreamed about my upcoming trip to the American Culinary Federation’s annual convention in Orlando in three weeks. Nonna had seemed positively airy and magnanimous when she told me she’d pay for me to go.
As I placed my precious utility knife back in the block, I happened to glance out the long window behind the cavernous stainless steel sinks—and couldn’t believe my eyes.
In the light of the half-moon, a man in floral swim trunks was standing on top of our compost bin. The five-foot-high wood enclosure is at the very back of the property, behind some flowering bushes at the end of the expansive dining courtyard that we open for dining every June first.
It looked like the guy had pulled over a wrought-iron patio chair to help himself up. And, from what I could tell, he was barefoot and edging his way around the front of the bin with something in his hands.
I silently opened the back door. The thumping bass from the open dining room windows, and the group bellowing a big finish to the Fountain song—“Make it mine! Make it mine! Make it mine!”—was why the compost man didn’t hear me creep up on him, armed with the first thing I could grab near the kitchen door.
“What the hell are you doing?” I barked in the voice I usually reserve for housebreaking pets.
He whirled, lost his footing, and went over with a whoop. Whatever he’d been holding in his hands clattered to the patio.
I pulled a tiki light over and saw him clinging to the inside rim of the compost bin. “I see you,” I actually said.
“Well, I know you see me.”
“Get out of there this instant.”
His bare back was resting on what looked like rotting lettuce and potato peels from a couple of days ago. “Can you give me a hand?” he sputtered.
“You got yourself into this mess,” I told him, stepping back and crossing my arms.
The next thing I knew, he was trying to haul himself up with a majestic grunt. In the moonlight there was something sinister in the way he slapped first a forearm and then a leg—a nicely shaped one, I might add—over the top of the bin. I held my breath as the rest of him came into sight like some creature emerging from the kind of sludge in those movies where everyone’s hysterical in dubbed English.
“I’ve got a weapon!” I warned.
He squinted at me. “You’ve got a parasol.”
I looked at my right hand. So I did—the pretty paper and bamboo one my dad had given me after a business trip to Japan, when I was fourteen. I scrambled over to his own weapon that had fallen onto the patio, and picked up . . . a metal detector. He was going through my compost in floral swim trunks with a metal detector? What kind of roving weirdo does that? I held on to the metal detector just in case.
As he rested on the rim, he asked, “Could I have the chair, please?”
Hmm—was that safe? Well, whatever was going to happen was going to happen. In the time it took me to run inside for the phone, he could be all over me. Besides, there was something about his comfort with the word parasol that worked in his favor.
I tugged the patio chair over with my leg, hopping on my other foot. I thought he said thank you, but only the compost could say for sure.
“Are you hurt?” I didn’t want a headline like that one a few years ago, where a burglar sued the homeowner because he got hurt during the commission of the crime.
“Well.” I widened my eyes at him. “And who brought that on?”
“And frustrated.” He let out a huge sigh.
“Look,” I said, shoving the chair right underneath him, “I don’t know what kind of fetish you have going on, but I want you to stay out of my garbage. Are we clear on that? You’re trespassing—”
He showed a certain amount of grace—and an attractive bare chest—as he lowered himself to the chair. “Am I really, Eve?” He gave a quick push through his short hair, then looked me straight in the eye.
Violins blared like sirens. Hitchcock films crowded around. “How do you know my name?”
“You’re Eve Angelotta, Miracolo’s head chef.”
Did he catch me on that Good Neighbors show on WYBE TV 35? Was I famous?
Then he went on kind of sheepishly, “To tell you the truth, I was here last night.”
“What are you talking about?”
“With, well, you know, your cousin . . . ”
Ah, my cousin, the organic farmer Kayla. I should have known.
Unless he meant Landon. I eyed him.
Brushing coffee grounds out of his hair, he told me his name was Joe Beck, lawyer brother of the hunky florist James Beck three doors up from Miracolo. (He didn’t actually say “hunky.”) He had just moved out from Philly a couple of months ago and was helping in the shop this week whenever he could fit it in between clients. He had met my cousin Kayla during one of her early-morning power walks. I didn’t want to tell him that Kayla had probably seen him around, fancied him, and spun him a tale about regular exercise that I knew never happened.
“One thing led to another—” he said.
“And you ended up here.”
On the leather couch in the office, was my guess.
He squinted at me in the glare of the tiki light, but since I stood in the shadows, he wouldn’t be able to see my face clearly. His own was pretty good, if you overlooked the bit of zucchini on his forehead. Everything about him was wry—the mouth, the eyes, even the nose, which veered off a little at the end. The hair just did a trim dark blond thing with a golden assist from the moonlight.
“Well, it’s kind of embarrassing.”
“For you, maybe.”
“Kayla didn’t think you’d mind,” he said.
“No, Kayla didn’t think I’d know.” She just might lose key privileges over this. “How many nights?”
He seemed to study the trumpet vine on the stockade fence. “Three.” Then he said, “It seemed to run its course,” which was an uncannily accurate way of describing my cousin’s viral love life.
I finally handed him his metal detector. “What were you looking for?”
He slung the metal detector over his shoulder, then gave me a two-fingered salute. “My wedding ring,” he said, and disappeared through the gate.
I twirled my pink paper parasol and headed back to the kitchen.
From inside the dining room came the opening finger picks of “My Heart Will Go On,” played on two guitars. It sounded like someone had actually brought a pan flute—although I had often witnessed the mandolin-playing Leo cup his hands to his mouth and make a sound like a loon. Pretty, either way.
On the morning of May 27, my life seemed to be scored by an Oscar-winning composer:
A good-looking compost invader at midnight.
A job I loved, although I’d never admit it to Nonna.
A new satin-and-lace camisole in chocolate brown from my favorite boutique down the street, Airplane Hangers.
A new shampoo that delivered shine, volume, and coverage—everything I like in a man but with fewer complications.
So it felt particularly unfair when I let myself into Miracolo at 1:21 p.m., singing Lionel Ritchie’s “Endless Love” in a lavish falsetto, and strode into my kitchen. Whereupon something looked terribly out of place.
Maybe it was the body on the floor.
What looked like an older man, sprawled on his stomach, wearing khaki pants and a yellow short-sleeved summer shirt. When I tried to see past all the blood, I noticed that his head was bashed in. Skulls that look like that are pretty much done working the Times crossword puzzle, not to mention finding any kind of a hat that fits.
I started shaking.
I staggered over to the wall, where I meant to turn on the lights, but flipped the switch that started the loop of Sinatra music. “My Way” started, and my eyes slid back to the dead guy.
Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . .
Melting against the wall, I killed the music and looked around the empty Miracolo kitchen, trembling.
Who did this? And why here, in my place?
My nonna might own the restaurant, swanning around chatting up the regulars and sampling my sauces while trying to convince me I’ll never “catch a man” wearing pants (to which I counter, “How about one wearing a skirt?”), but Miracolo felt like mine.
I pushed myself off the wall and looked more closely at the dead guy, afraid it was somebody I knew—some delivery guy, a regular customer, ex-boyfriend, or maybe even my so-called father. He’d been gone for so many years I wasn’t sure I’d recognize him. We were pretty sure his farewell note, “I can’t take her anymore,” referred to his mother, Maria Pia.
The guy had short, thick white hair and his face had a kind of hard, rubbery look. His eyes were glazed, like he was trying to look out from behind frosted glass. And his mouth was frozen in a look that seemed to say, I’m not sure this is quite what I had in mind for today.
One thing was for sure: I didn’t know him. Had never seen him before.
This was an immense relief.
So why were my hands still shaking?
Just tell yourself it’s like having a misdelivered package. Call someone who can come take him away, preferably in the next five minutes, before Landon—
“Someone’s in the kitchen with E-e-eve,” sang out Landon.
“Someone’s in the kitchen, I know-oh-oh-oh.” Then he flipped on all the overhead lights . . . and shrieked.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
How Did the Stranger Get Murdered in the Kitchen? After an accident ended her dancing career, Eve Angelotta has returned to Pennsylvania to become the head chef at her family’s Italian restaurant. Well, she and her grandmother, Maria Pia have their tussles over who is really in charge; for example, Eve is not allowed to offer cannoli as a dessert option since it comes from the wrong part of Italy. One morning, Eve arrives at the restaurant to find a dead man in the kitchen. She doesn’t recognize him, but one of her cousins does – the man is Maria Pia’s current boyfriend. How did he get in the kitchen? And can Eve keep Maria Pia out of jail for the crime? The book boasts a large crazy cast of characters, and it certainly delivers. In fact, that was my biggest complaint about the book was the cast was so large it took me a while to get everyone straight. As the book progressed, I did begin to put everyone in the family tree, but it could have been easier. The love and teasing between the characters did provide for some fun moments. The plot? Here the book shines. Things started and progressed quickly, and it always kept my interest. The ending was logical yet surprising at the same time. Now that I have met the characters, I’m looking forward to the next murder to involve Eve and her family.
Finding a man in your dumpster and a body in the kitchen might seem unusual, but not for Eve Angelotta and the crew from Miracolo Italian Restaurant. Shelly Costa's, You Cannoli Die Once will have readers laughing, right along with solving the whodunit, in this well written cozy mystery. With an over-the-top Italian family, a ban on cannoli's and a murdered boyfriend it couldn't be anything but... eccentric and exciting! What I liked: The Italian Restaurant mystery series starts off with a bang, in You Cannoli Die Once. Shelley Costa's wit and humor take center stage as she creates an Italian American family that will have readers laughing one minutes and crying the next. Eve was once a dancer, but now she's the head chef in her families Italian restaurant outside Philly. She not only has to contend with her customers, but her formidable Nonna, Maria Pia and let's just say she's a hand full. Costa does such a good job building this family, from their eccentric grandmother, right down to the last cousin, and there are a ton of them. Each character was well defined, even if they were a little hard to sort through. With all the customers, friends, new acquaintances and everybody else that stopped into the restaurant it took me a while to keep them all straight. One of the hazards of a large cast in the first book in a series. But once Costa gets the reader through that it was mostly smooth sailing into the mystery. When Eve's grandmother's boyfriend ends up dead, she has a hard time trying to figure out a way to keep her out of jail. In fact she gets herself into a situation that could land her there as well. I liked all the hustle and bustle of the restaurant and the way finding the body was almost anticlimactic after finding out Eve's cousin might have been banging a married man. The whole dynamic of the family was just as interesting as the mystery. I thought Costa used the idea of what American's think of as an Italian family to her advantage here. It added a great element of humor to the story and kept the mystery light and fun. I found myself a little concerned about how they described the jail in this one, only because it reminded me a little bit of Mayberry instead of Philly. You don't usually get to talk to prisoners through the bars in a big city and I found that slightly disingenuous compared to the rest of the book. I found most of the situations in the book believable other than that and I thought Costa did a good job of making parts of the mystery hard to figure out and other parts kind of self explanatory. A good tactic overall. Bottom Line: Overall this was a good read. The big Italian family was a hoot and I found them very endearing. I did have some trouble figuring out who was related to who, who was a friend, who was one of the musicians, who ran the business next door and so on, but once I got that down I liked this one a lot. I liked the idea that some parts of the mystery were easy to figure out while other parts were more complex and took some time. A good start to the series!
Couldn't get through 50 pages. Found it very dull.
No substance at all to this book.
I enjoyed reading this book.
I enjoyed this book, I like the main character and most of the cast. My only drawback was that I didn't get the best friend Dana, to me there seemed to be more an acquaintance than friendship, not sure about the grandmother either, I'll make that decision in later books. Other than that, I enjoyed the relationship with the other family members, possible romance and employees. The possible romance conversations had me laughing in quite a few areas. The mystery was good and me guessing with a few side twists, I figured it out about the same time she did. I will definitely continue on with the next in the series.
Eve Angelotta was a dancer who after an injury returned to her hometown to work at the family restaurant with her somewhat forceful grandmother (Nonna). However, when Eve discovers a body (later identified as her Nonna's boyfriend) in the restaurant's kitchen and all signs point to Nonna as the murderer, Eve has to take charge and save Nonna and the family business. This was a fun read with the Italian flavor both in food and family!
What a tasty debut!! Eve and her Nonna don’t agree with what’s on and not on the menu but she knows her grandmother didn’t kill anyone. Eve pulls her friends and family together to do whatever they have to so she is cleared of the crime and back at the restaurant where she belongs. Even if it means breaking and entering! When you pick up this book be prepared to laugh and laugh a lot. This is a true group of quirky characters and I was surprised at their depth for this being the first book in the series. This is a big Italian family so there are many characters to keep straight but as the story progresses they each come into their own and are very easily pictured in the reader’s mind. Don’t be scared off by the hard to pronounce or long Italian names, soon you will feel right at home at Miracolo’s. The story unfolds slowly with delectable dialogue, a few bites of tongue in cheek moments, some crumbs sarcasm, and references of some great operas. Then it picks up steam as the clues start to come together. There is also a little romantic tension we all love too. All together a yummy cozy mystery. I can hardly wait for my next reservation at this wonderful Italian eatery.
This mystery is fun, funny, and fast paced. It has characters with great "voices". The descriptive details are clever and engaging. I look forward to the rest of this series. Perfect summer read.
Loved this book! The characters are colorful and well drawn. I especially liked Ms. Costa's writing style, very tight. It's a funny, fast read.
Recommend. Interesting and entertaining.
I loved this book! I hope the book will be the first in a series written by the talented writer Shelley Costa. Full of quirky characters who find themselves in complicated, amusing and colourful situations. A real pleasure to read!
A funny mystery with engaging, quirky characters and an appealing setting, I thoroughly enjoyed this story and am looking forward to the next book in the series.
I love this book! Laugh-out-loud funny. A pure pleasure to read.
Creative and witty, You Cannoli Die Once is the first of a new cozy mystery series by Shelley Costa. Set in fictional Quaker Hills, PA the story revolves around Miracolo, the family-owned Italian restaurant run by matriarch Maria Pia Angelotta and her grand-daughter Eve. When Eve walks in one morning and finds a body on the kitchen floor, the fun begins. With Maria Pia jailed as a suspect, it falls to Eve and her crazy cousins and co-workers to solve the crime. Can't wait for the next book to see what trouble Eve will stir up.
This is the first book in a long time that I've come across that I just couldn't put down; what a pleasure! Though new to the culinary mystery scene, author Shelley Costa is clearly no novice when it comes to creating the perfect blend of humor, suspense, and emotion. My only complaint is that I cannot visit Miracolo, or meet the lovable, familiar, and knowable cast of characters. This book will be adored by dedicated mystery fans and readers who are new to mysteries as well. I can't wait for #2 in the series, and hope there will be more!
There's a new star on the culinary mystery horizon and her name is Shelley Costa! Meet the Angelotta family: chef, Eve, her cousins and her grandmother, Maria Pia, a force of nature and now . . . a murder suspect! Eve and company gather their many talents to track down the real killer. "Canolli" is fast-paced and well written, with sparkling dialogue and laugh-out-loud moments. The characters are engaging and I can't wait to read the next book in the series.