Tomato sauce isn’t the only thing that runs red...
Local chef Tessa Esposito is struggling to get back on her feet following her husband’s fatal accident. And when the police knock on Tessa’s door, things just get worse. They’ve discovered Dylan’s death wasn’t an accident after all, and they need Tessa to start filling in the blanks. Who would want her beloved husband dead, and why?
With the investigation running cold, Tessa decides it’s time to save her sanity by reconnecting with her first love—cooking. And maybe the best way back into the kitchen is to infiltrate Dylan’s favorite local pizza parlor, which also happens to be the last place he was seen before he died. But the anchovies aren’t the only thing that stink inside the small family business, and with suspects around every corner, Tessa finds that her husband’s many secrets might land her in hot water.
Penne Dreadful is anything but dreadful
Penne Dreadful, a new mystery series by Catherine Bruns, is a full-bodied novel with a spicy finish that leaves you excited for more. In this emotional opener, the reader meets Theresa Esposito, Tess or Tessa for short — just like yours truly. Her husband recently passed away in a car accident, and Tessa is determined to find out who killed him no matter the cost. The answers aren’t always what she expects, but it all comes together into a story that is as satisfying to the reader as the right wine is to an Italian meal.
What I liked:
There is an emotional journey story that exists over and above the who-done-it tale. I loved that the reader can experience Tessa in such a vulnerable place. She is a woman recently widowed and going through a mixed bag of emotions while trying to process the death of her husband and get to a place where she can move forward. In cozy mysteries, it is typical for the characters, including the main character, to be rather 2-dimensional. The characters don’t experience deep emotions. When you read Penne Dreadful, you go on that turbulent roller coaster of emotions that only grief can cause and get to know Tessa on a much deeper level.
Tessa Esposito has a lot of moxie. Even through the grief, the reader can tell that Tessa is spunky and that she has the potential to turn into a fun amateur detective. I look forward to book after book as she moves away from her grief and shows her full personality.
The recipes and Tessa’s cooking only play a minor role and does not take over the book as I have seen in other series. Tessa is a chef, and she makes a prize-winning tomato sauce, so the reader expects there to be cooking, and if we are lucky —recipes —though this never takes over the story and that is appreciated. I loved this story and would have been disappointed if my attention had been split between the story and cookbook qualities.
What I wish:
I would love to see the series continue and develop the other characters as profoundly as Tessa’s character is. Gabby, Gino, and Justin have stories that need sharing, and I am looking forward to seeing their stories play out as the series continues.
I would also love to see a character introduced in future books that adds a touch of humor to the stories. Gabby has the potential of being that comic relief, but she needs more development. The comedy wouldn’t have fit into this story since grief plays such a central role, but I look forward to it as the series progresses.
To Read or Not to Read:
Penne Dreadful is a must-read, no matter what genres you prefer! There is something in it for all readers.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Debut of An Italian Chef Mystery series
Penne Dreadful is the first book in An Italian Chef Mystery series. Tessa Esposito is from a large Italian family and she is known for cooking up a delectable tomato sauce. She lost her beloved husband, Dylan five weeks ago and she has been holed up in her home ever since. When her cousin and police officer, Gino Mancusi tells that Dylan’s car had been tampered with, Tessa is determined to find out who committed the crime. As Tessa searches for the guilty party, we are introduced to a variety of characters (townspeople, Dylan’s co-workers, Tessa’s friends and family). I liked Gino, Gabby, Vince, and Justin. They enhance the story especially Gabby. Tessa also owns a tuxedo cat named Luigi. Tessa was a hard person for me to like from the way she acted in Penne Dreadful. She is determined to get answers no matter what the cost. We follow her as she makes enquiries and “sneaks” around looking for clues. Tessa is blunt when she asks questions and her snooping is not sneaky. Tessa frequently gets herself into sticky situations and takes unnecessary risks. I did not know if she had a death wish or was oblivious to the danger. I did not find some of the situations to be unbelievable, but, of course, this is fiction. I hope Tessa improves her questioning technique in future books along with her stealth. The mystery was multifaceted with red herrings, multiple suspects and a twist. Those who are not avid cozy mystery readers will be surprised by the guilty person’s identity. I thought Penne Dreadful was a slow starter, but the action does pick up in the second half of the book. There were repetitive details that could have been eliminated along with the foul language. I was surprised there was a love interest for Tessa so soon. I hope that the author will let the relationship progress at a relaxed pace. I enjoyed the descriptions of Tessa’s Italian dishes and there are recipes at the end of the book. Penne Dreadful has pizza pies, family meals, unexpected revelations, simmering sauce, suspicious suspects, and one determined widow.