“Evil Under the Tuscan Sun” is the third entry in the superior Tuscan Cooking School mystery series by Cleveland author Shelley Costa, who writes here under the name Stephanie Cole.
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American Nell Valenti is in Tuscany to set a cooking school to be run by a celebrity chef. Her job is to design the curriculum, renovate the kitchen and fix up the ancient convent as a dormitory for the students. In the first book, “Al Dente’s Inferno,” a film crew comes to cover the launch of the school, and its leader, who happens to be Nell’s ex-boyfriend, ends up dead.
In Book Two, “Crime of the Ancient Marinara,” the first group of tourists arrives; now, in “Evil,” another group is scheduled, but there’s a switch: An American billionaire has bought out the entire 10-person sauce-making class for himself, his mother and her companion Muffy. Mother Mimi has been living in the memory care unit of an assisted living facility and often needs kind Muffy to remind her of where she is.
The focus of the class has been changed to Ziti Variations – all ziti, all the time, for Mimi’s 80th birthday. Philip Copeland, the billionaire, is pleasant and the ladies are lovely, but Nell has been planning to leave. Chef’s erratic behavior is more than she can take, especially since sous chef Annamaria went to visit her mother in America. Now Chef expects Nell to step in as sous chef.
Who among these charming people will be a murder victim? None, it turns out. Nell is taking a last look at the guest accommodations when she spots a couple of strangers on the adjoining olive grove owned by Chef’s son Pete, who happens to be her boyfriend. Pete is out of town, so these people must be trespassing. Nell meets them later when the group heads into town for a group, and sees the woman still later when stumbling over her body – back in the olive grove.
It turns out that the dead woman had been cooking up even more than Chef has, and Nell sets about untangling the threads. She is distracted Chef’s demands for her help making an audition video for “Hot Chef: Italian Style,” searching for the blueprints of the 16th-century convent and talking to Pete in jail, for it is he who has been arrested for the murder.
“Evil” displays devilish humor and the assumption that the reader is intelligent enough to follow the tightly coiled plot. The comic character of Chef, a vacuous culinary savant, is priceless.
“Evil Under the Tuscan Sun” (304 pages, softcover) costs $ 8.99 from Penguin Random House. Stephanie Cole, as Shelley Costa, is the author of the Italian Restaurant mystery series (You Cannoli Die Once was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel), and she has also been nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Short Story. Shelley Costa earned a Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University and teaches creative writing at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
‘Pursuing John Brown’
Joyce Dyer calls John Brown her neighbor. Fair enough; she lives in Hudson, and Hudson is steeped in John Brown. When, in 2007, a visiting author asked her for information on the abolitionist, she realized how little she knew. Her attendant curiosity resulted in “Pursuing John Brown,” a hefty, thoughtful survey of Brown’s odyssey.
The site of the church in which Brown swore, in 1837, to “destroy slavery” is mere steps from Dyer’s house. Hudson has a memorial, as does Akron; Brown lived in both places as well as Richfield, where four of his children died within two weeks. Dyer visits all these places.
She also goes to Harpers Ferry, site of the disastrous 1859 arsenal raid, and saves for the end her trips west to Iowa and to Pottawatomie, Kansas, where he and six others dragged five men from their homes and killed them with swords.
Some of Brown’s travels were in the name of his crusade against slavery, but many were to establish a fresh start after his many bankruptcies. Dyer finds a deep divide in reaction when she mentions Brown’s name, both in Hudson and in the places she visits; some calling him hero and others a terrorist. Dyer is conflicted on the matter and addresses it in a deep analysis.
“Pursuing John Brown” (458 pages, softcover) costs $ 40 from University of Akron Press. Joyce Dyer is a professor emeritus of English at Hiram College, and is the author of “Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town” and “Goosetown: Reconstructing an Akron Neighborhood.” She won the Appalachian Book of the Year Award in 1998 for “Bloodroot,” a collection of essays by women writers.
Loganberry Books (13015 Larchmere Blvd., Shaker Heights): James Brentar of Lyndhurst signs his novel “The Researcher,” 1 pm Sunday. Poet Kevin A. Risner (“Do Us a Favor”) reads from his work in a Zoom event from 7:30 to 8:30 pm Thursday; go to loganberrybooks.com for information.
Welcome to the Farm (1054 Old River Road, Cleveland): Jason Tartick, a former contestant on “The Bachelor,” signs “The Restart Roadmap: Rewire and Reset Your Career,” 2 pm Sunday. Book purchase required for entry; list price $ 24.99. Register at visiblevoicebooks.com.
Visible Voice Books (2258 Professor Ave., Cleveland): Keith Allison reads from “Continuity Flaws,” with fellow poet Daniel Nicole Nikki Dixon, Nailah Muhammad, aka Vision, and Adam Spells, 7 pm Friday; at 7 pm Saturday the Bada Bing! Poetry Tour brings New Jersey poets Damian Rucci, Cord Moreski, Tohm Bakelas and Rebecca Weber.
Akron-Summit County Public Library (Goodyear branch, 60 Goodyear Blvd.): As part of National Poetry Month, Jason F. Blakely Sr. reads from “Collecting Ghosts: The Antique Future,” 6:30 to 7:30 pm Monday. Register at akronlibrary.org.
Hudson Library & Historical Society: Novelist Phillip Margolin talks about “The Darkest Place,” fifth in his Robin Lockwood mystery series about an Oregon attorney who looks for justice for her clients, in a Zoom event at 7 pm Monday. Register at hudsonlibrary.org.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Parma-Snow branch, 2121 Snow Road): Sally Hepworth discusses “The Younger Wife,” a novel about a man who wants to divorce his ailing wife to remarry against his children’s objections, 7 to 8 pm Tuesday. From 2 to 3 pm Friday, actress and Shaker Heights native Molly Shannon talks about her memoir “Hello Molly.” The $ 25 ticket includes a copy of the book. Register at cuyahogalibrary.org.
Cuyahoga County Public Library: Jane Green (“The Friends We Keep”) talks about “Sister Stardust,” a novel based on the life of 1960s model Talitha Getty, in a Zoom event from 7 to 8 pm Wednesday. From 2 to 3 pm Thursday, English author Sarah Pinborough discusses her psychological thriller “Insomnia.” From 6:30 to 7:30 pm Thursday, “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts talks about “Brighter by the Day: Waking Up to New Hopes and Dreams.” The $ 24 ticket includes local pickup at a library branch or at Mac’s Backs bookstore in Cleveland Heights; $ 29 includes domestic mailing. Register at cuyahogalibrary.org.
Music Box Supper Club (1148 Main Ave., Cleveland): Plain Dealer reporter Troy L. Smith and Live Nation box office manager host “No Sleep Till Cleveland: Northeast Ohio’s Legendary Music Venues, featuring Deanna R. Adams, author of” Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Venues ” and Mike Olszewski, author of “Smoky, Sweaty, Rowdy, and Loud: Tales of Cleveland’s Legendary Rock & Roll Landmarks,” as part of the Cleveland Stories Dinner Party series. Dinner is $ 20; the lecture is free. Go to musicboxcle.com.
Massillon Museum (121 Lincoln Way E.): Christopher Craft, the museum’s exhibition and program specialist, signs “The River and the Wolf, and Other Stories,” 6 to 7 pm Thursday.
Rocky River Public Library (1600 Hampton Road): Martin Gitlin signs “The Ultimate Cleveland Indians Time Machine Book,” 7 to 8 pm Thursday.
Hoodletown Brewing Co. (424 W. Third St., Dover): Rick Armon, author of “Ohio Breweries” and “50 Must Try Craft Beers,” presents “Ales & Tales: The Story of Ohio’s Craft Beer Industry,” 6:30 to 7: 30 pm Friday. Register at doverlibrary.org.
Morley Library (184 Phelps St., Painesville): Thomas Masterson, author of “Operation Cua Thu: The Last Mission in Vietnam,” a novel about a CIA mission, presents “What to Do to Start Writing and To Get a Good Result,” 11 am to 12:15 pm Saturday. Register at morleylibrary.org.
Geauga Library (Chardon branch, 110 E. Park St.): A local author fair will be held from 1 to 3 pm Saturday.
Canal Fulton Public Library (154 Market Ave. NE): Former Beacon Journal columnist David Giffels reads from “Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America,” 2 to 4 pm Saturday. Register at 330-854-4148.
Cleveland Public Library: Northwestern University professor Susan J. Pearson, author of “The Birth Certificate: An American History,” talks about social and political history in a Zoom event from 2 to 3 pm Saturday. Register at cpl.org.
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