Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review: Basil Instinct

Basil Instinct (Italian Restaurant Mystery - Book 2) by Shelley Costa

Publication Date: 04/24/2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Imprint: Pocket Books
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: 368

(Received for an honest review from Pocket Books)

Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, itunes

Shelley Costa on the WEB: website, twitter, goodreads

Books in the series

Italian Restaurant Mysteries

1. You Cannoli Die Once
2. Basil Instinct

Coverart: Click the Image for a larger, clearer view of the covers in this series.

Excerpt from, Basil Instinct, courtesy of Amazon's Look Inside feature.


In this second cozy mystery series that started with You Cannoli Die Once, a chef and her cousins launch their own investigation when a new sous chef turns up dead in their Italian restaurant.

When Chef Eve Angelotta’s grandmother, Maria Pia, is invited to join Belfiere, a secret all-female Italian culinary society, Eve is concerned. Rumor has it that membership is lifelong—whether you like it or not. Eve and her cousin Landon try to research Belfiere, but all they come up with is a two-year-old blog entry warning against the two-hundred-year-old society that centers around meals inspired by famous female poisoners.

Soon after, Eve’s new sous chef turns up dead just inside the front door of Miracolo, Eve’s restaurant. When they discover the sous chef had connections to Belfiere, Eve and her Italian cousins start a mission to find out what happened—before Maria Pia is made an offer she can’t refuse.


Eve and the gang from Miracolo are back in Shelley Costa's, second book in the Italian Restaurant Mystery series. This time Maria Pia has been given the opportunity to join a very selective and secretive group of female chefs, but murder may be in the offing. Costa has an innate ability to write a good mystery with tons of eclectic characters and more humor than a good slap stick comedy. Readers looking for a great offbeat family will find the Angelotta's more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

What I liked:

The first book in this series, You Cannoli Die Once, was funny, but nothing like Basil Instinct. Shelley Costa has really amped up the humor in this one and readers will have some serious "Weekend at Bernie's" moments. I love that old movie and when Eve and Landon try to hide a dead body to save Maria Pia's dinner and then try to move it, you can't help but belly laugh... a lot. I think Costa's use of humor was spot on here. It took all of the tension out of the murder and managed to still keep the mystery right on track.

The secret society of chefs and their interesting traditions and rituals were entertaining and had me thinking Masons or some sort of underground community. It gave this addition to the series a sinister sort of quality that wasn't present in the first book. Maria Pia going out to get a tattoo was both funny and a testament to how far these kinds of societies can stray towards cult like behavior and I thought Costa did a fantastic job of developing this very unique group. There was a lot of humor involved with it, but also that underlying manipulative energy. Good stuff!

There were still an inordinately large amount of characters in this book, but it was easier to follow the second time around. This is a large family and I understand that, that is an Italian trait, but it gives the reader too many people to have to keep up with and if the characters only appear now and then it's easy to forget who they are or how they have been incorporated into the story up to this point. I think the author would have benefited from spending more time on a few characters then so much time on so many.

I continue to be impressed with how Costa is able to get the family dynamics so accurate in her writing. This is exactly what I expect from a big Italian family. There is a lot of love, a lot of tolerance and good times and bad. I love Eve as the main character and the way she goes about investigating the strange things that seem to keep happening at Miracolo. She is gutsy, funny and very inquisitive. I didn't figure this one out right away, but when I did, it was easy to look back and see how the author led up to everything and provided plenty of clues if the reader was paying attention.

Bottom Line:

This was a good second book in a series. The author brought in a double dose of humor and kept the reader interested from the beginning to the end. With secret societies, murdered sous chefs, culinary students, a corpse to hide and plenty of clues, this was one intriguing mystery. Can't wait to see what happens next with this big ol' Italian family.

Basil Instinct is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

About the Author:

Shelley Costa’s stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Presents 13 Tales of New American GothicThe World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for an Edgar Award in the Best Short Story category, and she chaired the Best Paperback Original category for the 2011 Edgar Awards. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Edgar Allan Poe, and she has lectured on Poe at various events. She has a PhD in English and is on the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where she teaches fiction writing and screenwriting. A former New Yorker, she lives in a Cleveland suburb.

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