Thursday, August 1, 2019

Book Review: Penne Dreadful by Catherine Bruns (Italian Chef Mysteries #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong mystery and characters
Cons: A few nitpicks, especially Tessa’s love life
The Bottom Line:
A husband murdered
Darker tone to fast paced book
Couldn’t put it down

This Debut is Anything but Dreadful

I can’t seem to pass up a culinary cozy, so when I saw a chance to win an ARC of Penne Dreadful, the first in a new series from Catherine Bruns, I didn’t hesitate to enter.  I’m glad I did because this turned out to be an enjoyable book.

Tessa Esposito has had her life turned upside down.  Her husband has been killed in a car accident, leaving her a widow at 30.  It’s only been five weeks since it happened, and she is still struggling with getting up every day.

However, she is about to get another shock.  Her cousin, Gino, a cop, stops by to visit and drops the bombshell on her – the police don’t think the accident was an accident at all.  Instead, they think it was murder.  And he suggests that someone at Slice, the local pizza parlor where Dylan had lunch most days, might be responsible.  After all, he was last seen alive leaving the restaurant.  Tessa loves to cook, and Slice just happens to be advertising for a cook, so she snags the job, hoping to get a clue about what really happened to her husband.  But her co-workers don’t seem to happy to see her.  Is she going to be able to get anything out of them?

While cozies deal with murder, it is rare that the victim is so close to the main character.  That started the book out with a somber tone, and lead to some unevenness in tone as the book progressed.  Some scenes and characters were intended to lighten the mood, but they just didn’t quite work for me.

However, I was completely hooked by the book.  It took a little bit to fully set the characters and story in motion, but once it did, I was holding on.  Like the onion that Tessa puts in her award-winning tomato sauce, there are layers to the mystery, and each time she peals one away, we get a surprise twist to the case.  By the time Tessa has things completely figured out, everything makes sense and we have reached a satisfying conclusion I certainly didn’t see coming.

Likewise, the characters are strong.  It is easy to understand everything that Tessa goes through as the story progresses; I know I would have felt as upset as she did by what has happened to her and what she is learning.  We don’t get to know all the people in her life super well yet, but that is a function of how little time they spent in the book.  Instead, the time is used to build the suspects.  And, there is always time to get to know the series regulars better as the series progresses.

As much as I enjoyed this debut, I do have a couple of nitpicks.  There are a couple of timing issues on the last day of the book, but they are minor.  My bigger issue is that Tessa’s love life seems to be heating up already as she is still mourning the loss of her husband and trying to process everything she learns here.  While she is saying it is too soon for her, or maybe especially because she is saying that, the time spent on it felt wrong to me.  I wish it had been downplayed more.  That’s what future books in the series are for, right?

But don’t misunderstand me for a minute.  Overall, I completely enjoyed this book.  The plot was strong and the pages flew by all too quickly.  I’m definitely interested in spending more time with Tessa in the future.

Naturally, there are some delicious sounding recipes at the end of the book.  In addition to Tessa’s tomato sauce, there’s pizza dough and Stromboli recipes.

I have seen Catherine Bruns’s name before, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to read one of her books, and I’m glad I picked up Penne Dreadful.  This is the start of a promising, fun new series.

NOTE: I won an ARC of this book.

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