‘Evil Under the Tuscan Sun’ is a tightly plotted mystery
“Evil Under the Tuscan Sun” is the third entry in the superior Tuscan cooking school mystery series from Cleveland author Shelley Costa, who writes here as Stephanie Cole.
After:Book Talk: comic novel for average readers set in suburban Cleveland
American Nell Valenti is in Tuscany to set up a cooking school run by a celebrity chef. His job is to design the program, renovate the kitchen and transform the former convent into a dormitory for the students. In the first book, “Al Dente’s Inferno”, a film crew comes to cover the school’s launch, and its leader, who happens to be Nell’s ex-boyfriend, ends up dead.
In the second book, “Crime of Ancient Marinara”, the first group of tourists arrive; now, in “Evil,” another group is planned, but there’s a switch: an American billionaire has bought out the entire 10-person sauce-making class for himself, his mother, and his sidekick Muffy. Mother Mimi lives in the memory care unit of an assisted living facility and often needs kind Muffy to remind her where she is.
The focus of the class was changed to Ziti Variations – all the ziti, all the time, for Mimi’s 80th birthday. Philip Copeland, the billionaire, is pleasant and the ladies are lovely, but Nell has planned to leave. The chef’s erratic behavior is more than she can handle, especially since Sous Chef Annamaria has gone to visit her mother in America. Now the chef expects Nell to step in as sous chef.
Who among these lovely people will be murdered? None, it turns out. Nell takes one last look at the guest accommodation when she spots two strangers in the nearby olive grove belonging to the chef’s son, Pete, who happens to be her boyfriend. Pete’s out of town, so these people must be trespassing. Nell meets them later when the group goes to town for a band and sees the woman again later tripping over her body – back in the olive grove.
It turns out the dead woman had cooked even more than the chef, and Nell sets out to untangle the threads. She’s distracted by the Chef’s requests for her help with making an audition video for ‘Hot Chef: Italian Style’, researching plans for the 16th century convent, and talking to Pete in prison, as he was arrested for the murder.
“Evil” displays devilish humor and the assumption that the reader is smart enough to follow the tightly wound plot. The comic persona of Chef, a meaningless culinary savant, is priceless.
“Evil Under the Tuscan Sun” (304 pages, softcover) is $8.99 from Penguin Random House. Stephanie Cole, as Shelley Costa, is the author of the mystery series Italian Restaurant (You Cannoli Die Once was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel), and she was also nominated for an Edgar Award for Best news. Shelley Costa earned a Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University and teaches creative writing at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
“In Pursuit of John Brown”
Joyce Dyer calls John Brown her neighbor. Fair enough; she lives in Hudson, and Hudson is impregnated with John Brown. When, in 2007, a visiting author asked her about the abolitionist, she realized how little she knew. His accompanying curiosity gave rise to “Pursuing John Brown,” an in-depth and thoughtful investigation into Brown’s odyssey.
The site of the church in which Brown swore, in 1837, to “destroy slavery” is a short walk from Dyer’s home. Hudson has a memorial, as does Akron; Brown lived in both places as well as in Richfield, where four of her children died within two weeks. Dyer visits all of these places.
She also travels to Harpers Ferry, site of the disastrous arsenal raid of 1859, and saves for the end his travels west to Iowa and Pottawatomie, Kansas, where he and six others dragged five men from home and killed them with swords.
Some of Brown’s trips were in the name of his crusade against slavery, but many were to establish a fresh start after his many bankruptcies. Dyer finds deep division in her reaction when she mentions Brown’s name, both in Hudson and in the places she visits; some calling him a hero and others a terrorist. Dyer is conflicted on the issue and addresses it in an in-depth analysis.
“Pursuing John Brown” (458 pages, softcover) costs $40 from University of Akron Press. Joyce Dyer is 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 1998 Appalachian Book of the Year award for “Bloodroot,” a collection of essays by female writers.
Loganberry Books (13015 Larchmere Blvd., Shaker Heights): James Brentar of Lyndhurst signs his novel “The Researcher,” 1 p.m. Sunday. Poet Kevin A. Risner (“Do Us a Favor”) reads excerpts from his work during a Zoom event from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday; visit loganberrybooks.com for more information.
Welcome to the farm (1054 Old River Road, Cleveland): Former “The Bachelor” contestant Jason Tartick signs “The Restart Roadmap: Rewire and Reset Your Career,” Sunday at 2 p.m. Purchase of books required for entry; list price $24.99. Sign up at visiblevoicebooks.com.
Visible voice books (2258 Professor Ave., Cleveland): Keith Allison reads “Continuity Flaws,” with fellow poets Daniel Nicole Nikki Dixon, Nailah Muhammad, aka Vision, and Adam Spells, 7 p.m. Friday; at 7 p.m. on Saturday the Bada Bing! Poetry Tour features 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 “Collecting Ghosts: The Antique Future,” 6:30-7:30 p.m. Monday. Register at akronlibrary.org.
Hudson Library and Historical Society: Novelist Phillip Margolin discusses “The Darkest Place,” the fifth in his Robin Lockwood mystery series about an Oregon lawyer who seeks justice for his clients, during a Zoom event at 7 p.m. 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 sick wife to remarry over his children’s objections, from 7-8 p.m. Tuesday. From 2-3 p.m. Friday, actress and Shaker Heights native Molly Shannon talks about her memoir “Hello Molly.” The $25 ticket includes a copy of the book. Sign up 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, during a Zoom event from 7-8 p.m. Wednesday. From 2-3 p.m. Thursday, English author Sarah Pinborough talks about her psychological thriller “Insomnia.” From 6:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts talks about “Brighter by the Day: Wakeing Up to New Hopes and Dreams.” The $24 ticket includes local pickup at a library branch or Mac’s Backs bookstore in Cleveland Heights; $29 includes domestic shipping. Sign up at cuyahogalibrary.org.
Supper Club Music Box (1148 Main Ave., Cleveland): Plain Dealer reporter Troy L. Smith and Live Nation box office host “No Sleep Till Cleveland: Northeast Ohio’s Legendary Music Venues,” with 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 conference is free. Go to musicboxcle.com.
Massillon Museum (121 Lincoln Way E.): Christopher Craft, museum exhibit and program specialist, signs “The River and the Wolf and Other Stories,” 6-7 p.m. Thursday.
Rocky River Public Library (1600 Hampton Road): Martin Gitlin signs “The Ultimate Cleveland Indians Time Machine Book,” 7-8 p.m. 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,” 6:30-7 p.m. a.m.: 30 p.m. 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 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Saturday. Register at morleylibrary.org.
Geauga Library (Chardon branch, 110 E. Park St.): A local authors’ fair will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Canal Fulton Public Library (154 Market Ave. NE): Former Beacon Journal columnist David Giffels reads from “Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America,” 2-4 p.m. 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 during a Zoom event from 2-3 p.m. Saturday. Register at cpl.org.
After:Book Talk: Green author Kathryn Long writes first book in new Paint by Murder mystery series