Cooking the Books: A Disguise to Die For by Diane Vallere

I finally went back and read the first in this series, and oh man, I definitely missed out by not starting here first. The second and third books are each enjoyable standalone experiences, but I have to say that this first novel in the Costume Shop Mystery series really sets the stage for everything that follows—especially when it comes to the interior life of our heroine, Margo Tamblyn.

In A Disguise to Die For, Margo’s dad, Jerry, has just suffered a heart attack, so she’s taken time off from her job as a magician’s assistant in nearby Las Vegas to come tend to the family business. Disguise DeLimit is a store that has specialized in costumes for decades, stocking not only the relatively inexpensive items you can purchase from your average party store but also deluxe costumes that you can either rent or buy, which many do, even ordering from far away or in bulk for themed events.

One of the latter is Blitz Manners’s upcoming birthday party. The wealthy young man-about-town wants a detective-themed blowout—and quickly too after his original plans fall through. He throws money at Margo and her adoptive mother figure, Ebony Welles (who runs the town’s premier party planning business), to set it up for him; no small task, as Blitz’s party needs to be spectacular in a town well-known for its costume parties. It certainly turns out to be memorable when Ebony is later found at the party holding a knife while standing over Blitz’s dead body.

Margo finds herself investigating, partly to clear Ebony’s name but also because evidence seems to keep falling into her path. In addition, she has to deal with all the unexpected emotional fallout of caring for her sick dad—who refuses to act like an invalid—and maybe finally meeting some eligible men after a dismal track record in Vegas.

I really felt like A Disguise to Die For laid a terrific foundation for the rest of the series. While I enjoyed its sequels, I lost quite a bit of subtext by skipping it. I understood Margo better after reading this book, which probably goes into more depth with her personality and her relationships, whereas the sequels, quite rightly, build on those instead of explaining them again. The mystery itself was also quite good (even if my favorite whodunnit has definitely been Masking for Trouble’s so far).

The recipe section has three-and-a-half listings (the shrimp salad also has instructions for a fresh salsa roja), but I had to try out this fried rice recipe after reading so much about it over the course of three books:

Hoshiyama Fried Rice

*(serves 2-4, depending on hunger)


2 tbsp. sesame oil

2 tbsp. butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 scallions, sliced

2 cups cooked rice

½ carrot, diced

1 stalk of celery, diced

1 cup bean sprouts

Soy sauce

1 egg

Sesame seeds


Heat sesame oil and butter in skillet. Add minced garlic and scallions and raise temperature to medium. Cook for about 2 minutes. Push mixture to side of skillet.

Raise temperature to high. Add rice, stir-fry for 1 minute. Add vegetables. Add 1 tbsp. of soy sauce. Mix well and cook for additional 1-2 minutes. Push everything to sides of skillet, leaving room in center of pan.

Beat egg slightly and pour into center of skillet. When egg begins to set, scramble and combine with the rice mixture.

Add additional splash of soy sauce.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Oh, this was such a satisfying fried rice! I come from Southeast Asia, so I’ve sampled many, many different kinds of fried rice, and this was, without a doubt, the most satisfying. I think a lot of that has to do with the base of sesame oil and butter that Diane Vallere starts with, both of which bring a different kind of rich goodness to the dish.

I was a bit surprised to find celery included, and it did have a very distinctive but good, almost spicy flavor. Eagle-eyed readers may note that I totally forgot to add bean sprouts till after the egg as, for some reason, my brain doesn’t register bean sprouts as a vegetable. But I let them soften up a bit in the rice, and they came out perfectly.

I actually served the rice with shrimp that I skewered after this recipe, which I also enjoyed a while ago. This fried rice was so good, I was sorely tempted to eat my husband’s portion, but I satisfied myself by making more a day or two later. Many thanks to Ms. Vallere for the rigorous taste testing she does for her recipes!

Next week, we head to Minnesota to visit the first in a long-running series. We’re gonna make some cookies! Do join me!

See also: Cooking the Books: Dressed to Confess by Diane Vallere


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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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