Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun setting and characters with a strong mystery
Cons: Language barrier not handled well for the reader early
The Bottom Line:
Nell starts life anew
Murder in foreign country
With strong mystery
Nell’s Move Comes Complete with Murder
I try to keep an eye on all upcoming books I think I will enjoy, but I almost missed Al Dente’s Inferno, the first in a new series from Stephanie Cole. With a culinary theme, but set in the Tuscany region of Italy, I had to pick up the book.
Nell Valenti has turned her love of food and her training as a chef into a career helping establish farm to table cooking schools. When she is offered a job setting up a school for Chef Claudio Orlandini in Tuscany, she jumps at the chance. Not only is she looking for some changes in her life, but Chef Claudio is her culinary idol.
However, Nell is shocked upon her arrival to discover that the villa Chef Claudio owns is in worse disrepair than she expected, meaning the transformation is going to be more work than she’d expected. Then comes the news that a kick off dinner with some local dignitaries is scheduled for the next evening. Even worse, the dinner ends with some of the guests dead and Chef Claudio missing. What has Nell gotten herself into?
The idea of a cozy series set in Tuscany was really appealing to me. I liked the idea of something set in Italy, and what’s not to love about that region? The setting comes to wonderful life. The scenery sounds beautiful, and the pace of life seems slower even as Nell is rushing around to get stuff done on a tight deadline or figure out who the killer is.
Writing a book set in a foreign country, especially one that doesn’t speak English, is tricky for an author. They have to balance writing a book we’d understand with the reality that not everyone is going to speak English. Unfortunately, this book doesn’t quite get the balance right. Nell is just learning the language herself, so she naturally has people translating for her. But there are still times that Italian is thrown out, and we are left to figure out the meaning in context, or not given the translation right away. It made the book a bit of a struggle to get into. Fortunately, this seemed to go away as the story really got going.
We’re treated to a good mystery with plenty of suspects and motives. I was surprised at who the killer turned out to be, and yet, as Nell was piecing it together at the end, it all made sense. The clues had been in plain sight but the red herrings were so confusing I completely missed them.
And the book is populated with good characters. We don’t get to know all of them well in this book, but there is a solid core that we come to care for before the book is over. Nell’s character growth feels like a natural part of the situation she’s found herself in. The other characters are interesting, and I’m sure we’ll come to know them better as the series unfolds.
There are some laughs along the way as well. A couple times, the events caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud. A few other times, I was smiling at what was happening on the page.
Of course, we get a recipe, too, and it sounds delicious. Then again, when doesn’t Italian food sound good?
While it took me more work to get into the book than I was hoping, I am glad I picked up Al Dente’s Inferno. The characters, plot, and setting of this debut are fun.
NOTE: I received a copy of this book.
Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of this book to give away. Because it is a physical book, the contest is limited to residence of the US.
Just leave me a comment with your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win. I will pick the winner Tuesday, February 25th, so please leave your comment before midnight Pacific Time on 2/24. You will have until midnight on 3/1 to get back to me, or I will choose a new winner on 3/2.