HOME OF THE BRAISED by Julie Hyzy

White House Chef Mystery #7
Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: January 7, 2014

At this point, organizing a last-minute, high-profile state dinner is something White House executive chef Olivia “Ollie” Paras should be able to do in her sleep. When you factor in a near-death experience, seven murdered men, a spur-of-the-moment wedding, a petty yet powerful secret service agent, and a melodramatic personal chef with delusions of grandeur, though, negotiating world peace starts to seem like the easier task…

Make no mistake: despite their cozy trappings, Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef Mysteries are thrillers to the core, and this, the seventh addition to the series, is the most gripping to date. Ollie’s faced more than her fair share of terrorists, kidnappers, assassins, and grudge-bearing federal employees, but she’s always gotten by with a little help from her friends. Home of the Braised, however, finds our heroine more or less alone in her plight, giving the story a darker, more desperate feel and creating a narrative drive so strong you simply can’t turn the pages quickly enough.

No matter how punishing the pace, though, Hyzy never sacrifices character for the sake of story; to the contrary, she actually relies on her characters to help build tension and enrich plot. Home of the Braised has a cast so well realized and fully fleshed that you can’t help but become invested in their tale. And while Ollie’s always been among my favorite protagonists, she’s never been stronger or more self-assured than she is here. Part of that is situational, but it’s also a byproduct of the marvelous relationship Hyzy’s crafted between Ollie and Secret Service Agent Leonard “Gav” Gavin. Unlike most other mystery series couples, Ollie and Gav don’t just care about each other deeply and trust each other implicitly – they respect each other and consider themselves equals. The bond they share is as much a partnership as it is a romance, and that not only makes them stronger as a couple – it makes them stronger individuals, as well.

I intended to savor Home of the Braised over the course of a long weekend. Apparently, however, my will is too weak to overcome the sheer awesomeness that is this book, because I somehow managed to consume the entire thing in a single sitting. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made my heart beat so darned fast that, I, for one, would love to see what Hyzy could do behind the wheel of a no-holds-barred thriller. Until that day comes, however, I’ll continue to greedily devour the addictive adventures of Ollie the White House chef just as quickly as Ms. Hyzy can write them.

-Katrina Niidas Holm