Welcome to Fiction Friday, my opportunity each week to post an excerpt from one of my own books or those of my friends and colleagues.
Today’s excerpt comes from Shelley Costa, another of my brainstorming partners. Shelley was a friend of Casey’s and she’s one of those people you like immediately. I’m so glad to know her now and to enjoy her wit and wisdom.
I’ll let Shelley introduce herself and the first mystery in her new series, You Cannoli Die Once.
A 2004 Edgar nominee for Best Short Story, Shelley Costa is the author of You Cannoli Die Once (Simon and Schuster 2013). The second in the series, Basil Instinct, comes out in June 2014. Her mystery stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Blood on Their Hands,The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, and Crimewave (UK). Shelley teaches creative writing at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Find her at www.shelleycosta.com.
You know you’re in good hands here, right? Here’s what Shelley says about the novel and the series it lauches.
At Miracolo Northern Italian restaurant, one can savor brilliantly seasoned veal saltimbocca, or luscious risotto alla milanese, young head chef Eve Angelotta routinely butts heads with Maria Pia, her grandmother who owns the Philadelphia-area eatery that’s been in their family for four generations. Fortunately, Eve knows how to handle what her nonna dishes out. And her cooking cousins do pretty well, too. But it’s one thing to argue over whether they can put the Sicilian treat cannoli on the specials board (Maria Pia absolutely forbids it), and quite another thing altogether when murder turns up on the menu. There’s nothing quite like a sudden and unexpected corpse in your upscale Italian restaurant to bring families together. And along with a sexy neighborhood attorney, the wait staff, and other neighboring shopkeepers, the entire Miracolo family tries every trick in the cookbook to unravel a tangle of lies and expose a killer.
I’m hooked, how about you? Let’s read the excerpt, to reel it in. In this early scene, Eve’s the first to arrive at Miracolo Restaurant one morning, soon to be followed by her beloved cousin and sous chef, Landon. She stumbles upon a body. . .
The guy’s lifeless face had a kind of hard, rubbery look, like one of those medicine balls at the gym, a place that hadn’t seen my sweat pants in almost a year. His eyes were glazed, like he was trying to look out from behind frosted glass. And his mouth was frozen in a look that seemed to say, Well, now, I’m not sure this is quite what I had in mind for today, May 27th.
One thing for sure: I didn’t know him.
Had never seen him.
This was, needless to say, an immense relief.
So why were my hands still shaking?
“‘Someone’s in the kitchen with E-e-eve,’” sang out Landon. “‘– someone’s in the kitchen, I know-oh-oh-oh,’” and then he flipped on all the overhead lights. Bright lights didn’t make Mr. Medicine Ball look any better. Maybe Landon would get so busy checking out his moussed brown hair in the mirror that he’d fail to notice our guest.
Apparently, the mousse was insufficiently interesting.
Landon’s shriek filled the space, which is really saying something considering even our Nonna’s opera CDs, cranked up to the max, can’t.
“Landon, Landon, calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down.” His eyes looked wild.
“Stop shrieking,” I said, grabbing his arms.
Landon was wearing a turquoise unitard under the regulation black pants that’s part of the Miracolo “look.” He’s got a Tuesday morning theater dance class in Philly, where he signs in as Landon Michaels, his hopeful stage name. But at this particular moment he looked like he couldn’t remember any of his names.
I pointed to the only one of the three of us who resembled furniture. “Can we focus, please?”
He ventured a few steps toward me. “Who’s the poor unfortunate?”
“I don’t have any idea. He was here when I arrived.”
He sucked in about a quart of air and then jiggled his fingers, mutely.
“What?” I whirled.
“There’s the – the – weapon.”
And then I saw it. About a foot away from the body was the black marble mortar I use for grinding spices. I heroically thrust out an arm to hold Landon back, as if the mortar was capable of independent movement.
“Well,” I said sagely, “that changes things. It means, Landon,” I intoned, “he wasn’t dumped here.”
“No. He was killed here,” I announced, violating my own rule about not speaking with authority about anything I’m clueless about, which pretty much sets me apart from the rest of the family.
I sent Landon out front to call 9-1-1 and to leave informing our grandmother, Maria Pia, to me. If I delegated that to him, Landon and the Nonna we had in common could together give hysteria a bad name.
I stepped away from what Landon had called the poor unfortunate, wondering how he – and his killer – had gotten into our fine Italian restaurant. Northern Italian, as my Nonna would say in that superior way even old age can’t dampen. Although – here I stroked my chin reflectively – I was tempted to let her come sashaying into the kitchen the way she did every day to enjoy our habitual argument over the specials.
One glance at the poster boy for What Not To Do With a Mortar and Pestle might be all it would take to get Maria Pia out of my hair once and for all. . .