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American/Cozy Mysteries

Buffalo West Wing, Julie Hyzy, Berkley Prime Crime, $7.99.

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I haven’t read one of these since State of the Onion, but that book made me a genuine Hyzy fan.  This one confirms what I already knew - she’s a wonderful, zesty writer who really knows how to put together a gripping story with the world’s most interesting work backdrop.  For the uninitiated, Hyzy’s books are set in the White House kitchen where her main character, Olivia “Ollie” Parras, is the executive chef.  Not only is the White House kitchen fascinating, but because the occupants of the house change every four years or so, Hyzy is more or less guaranteed a change of scenery every few years, which should keep this series fresh for a very long time.  This one opens on inauguration day.

Since State of the Onion, Ollie has parted ways with her secret service boyfriend, Tom (who has been promoted), and the new first family is an unknown quantity.  When some mysterious chicken wings are left in the kitchen on inauguration day, things get off to a rocky start when Ollie does her duty and refuses to serve them to the insistent first son, Josh, who is all of 9.  The wings are his favorite.  Instead, Ollie stashes them away to have the secret service take a look, but when she goes to look for them, they have vanished.  It turns out her assistant and pal, Cyan, has served them to the laundry staff.  When all of the laundry staff are rushed to the hospital, things really heat up.

The first lady is unhappy with Ollie for not serving her son the wings, as she doesn't know they were poisoned; her friend Cyan is in danger of losing her job; and to add to the mix, the fist lady brings in a personal chef to cater meals to the first family, leaving Ollie to handle state functions.  The new chef, Vincent, turns out to be an unpleasant whiny diva who had thought the job of executive chef was his.  He is not only not pleased, he is not a team player in any sense of the word.

The steady backdrop of an efficiently running kitchen makes clear that teamwork is, in fact essential, and the amount of planning, scheduling and tasting that goes into Ollie's job is not only interesting, it also serves the plot.  The necessities of the White House drive along the narrative like a steam engine, and the icing on the cake is the clever terrorist story Hyzy adds to the mix, as well as a possible new romance for Ollie, something that seems like it may come to fruition in another book.

The first lady's ongoing frustration with Ollie, and Ollie's mirrored frustration with her, is only matched by Ollie's professionalism.  When Ollie finally saves the day at the very exciting (and moving) conclusion of the book, it seems like a safe bet to assume that the first family has become a little more pleased with their executive chef.  This is a delightful read, pleasant but intelligent, sometimes unexpected, and nicely written and paced.  You can't really ask for much more.  There are also recipes for a state dinner at the end of the book - the mixed berry cobbler sounds wonderful!

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