Hot Stuff by Don Bruns is the sixth book in the Stuff series featuring private investigators James Lessor and Skip Moore (available November 16, 2012).
An attractive sous chef at the famous restaurant L’Elfe is murdered and half the employees are suspect. The lack of police progress toward solving the murder leads Chef Jean Bouvier to seek a quicker solution. He hires private eyes James Lessor and Skip Moore to go undercover and discreetly investigate his restaurant staff. But their investigation turns up far more than they bargained for.
Amanda, the victim, was a friend of Skip’s girlfriend, Emily. So Emily can tell them some things about Amanda’s background, but she hides a lot. Because Amanda once helped her out in a difficult situation, Emily now feels that she owes her something, so not only does she want Amanda’s murder solved, but also she wants to protect Amanda’s memory from rumors.
The investigation and time, however, will show that Amanda was no angel. She was overly ambitious, cunning, and willing to do anything to find her way to the top of her profession. And as it turns out she had more enemies than one would imagine. Actually more enemies than friends.
As it turns out James knows his way around the kitchen, so getting a job at the restaurant in order to investigate would be no trouble at all. He has a plan to follow and so does Skip.
“These are the suspects, Skip. This is the staff. If we can clear them all, we’ve done our job. If we suspect any one of them, I guess we just follow that hunch. Let’s hope that they all come out squeaky clean.”
Names and titles [on a piece of paper is all they were given]. No personalities. A brief note as to how long each of them had worked at the establishment. Nothing about relationships any of them may have had with Amanda Wright. Relationships were going to be our responsibility. James would have to find a way to ask some very sensitive questions.
He looked at me, hands flat on the table. “And what are you and the lovely Em doing all this time?”
“Following up leads on the outside.”
“Give me an example.”
I thought for a moment. “Okay, you come to me and say you’re suspicious of a commis or an expediter and—”
“Whoa.” James leaned back giving me an admiring look. “What do you know about a commis or expediter? You’re this guy who yesterday didn’t know what the hell a sous-chef was.”
“This guy is paying us three grand a week, James. I’d figured I better get familiar with his world.”
Learning things may be easy for Skip but that doesn’t mean that this is going to be an easy case to crack. If Amanda knew how to do one thing well it was how to piss people off, and some of them are not in the least shy to admit that they didn’t like her or even hated her.
As we follow the progress of the investigation we also come to learn a few things about the main characters: James, who wants to get job in a big restaurant some day; Skip, who’s quite content with his life and utterly in love with Emily; and Emily, the rich, beautiful, and stubborn Emily:
When she was right, she was right. And, she seldom was wrong. If you didn’t believe it, just ask her.
Emily is obsessed with the case, since she was the last person that Amanda talked with. Amanda told Emily that she felt under pressure and that someone was watching her. But who? And why? There were so many suspects, so many possibilities. What if it wasn’t a member of the staff who killed her but somebody else?
Well, James and Skip, with the help of Emily, have to follow all the leads, talk to all the suspects and even commit a minor crime in order to find the answers they are looking for. And they do have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen; one helping with the preparation of the food, the other washing dishes; one enjoying every moment, the other hating it, but still feeling that he was at a place where gastronomic miracles happened.
Steam and smoke were caught in a spiral, sucked up by the huge stainless steel hood exhaust system. Grease spattered, meat sizzled, and one of the line cooks expertly wrapped bacon around scallops, tossing them in a skillet with olive oil and what appeared to be minced garlic. The aroma was, for a moment, overwhelming.
Spanish words I did not understand were hurled at blinding speed, and it all seemed like organized chaos, but the food hit the plates, the lady making salads was creating visual masterpieces of red, green, yellow, and orange peppers along with tomatoes, and the waiters were picking up their meals in an orderly fashion.
The best thing about this book, apart from the food of course, is its eccentric characters, whether they are the owner, the cooks, or the people there simply to investigate the case. They are angry, funny, obnoxious, and lovely, and they all have something to add to the plot. In the end all I have to say is that Hot Stuff is a delicious mystery.
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Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter:@lakisf. He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.