Published by Black Opal Books on May 27, 2016
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In 1990 some critics believe that America’s most celebrated chef, Joseph Soderini di Avenzano, cut a deal with the Devil to achieve fame and fortune. Whether he is actually Bocuse or Beelzebub, Avenzano is approaching the 25th anniversary of his glittering Palm Beach restaurant, Chateau de la Mer, patterned after the Michelin-starred palaces of Europe.
Journalist David Fox arrives in Palm Beach to interview the chef for a story on the restaurant’s silver jubilee. He quickly becomes involved with Chateau de la Mer’s hostess, unwittingly transforming himself into a romantic rival of Avenzano.
The chef invites Fox to winter in Florida and write his authorized biography. David gradually becomes sucked into the restaurant’s vortex: shipments of cocaine coming up from the Caribbean; the Mafia connections and unexplained murder of the chef’s original partner; the chef’s ravenous ex-wives, swirling in the background like a hidden coven. As his lover plots the demise of the chef, Fox tries to sort out hallucination and reality while Avenzano treats him like a feline’s catnip-stuffed toy.
First a confession, I watch a lot of the Food Network, so I couldn’t pass up a “culinary thriller.” Friend of the Devil turned out to be a fun thriller full of drugs, sex and food. Not a bad combination.
David is a writer who first meets Joseph Soderini di Avenzano while doing a story. He is then hired to write the famous chef’s biography and is summoned to the Chateau de la Mer, where the menu is amazing, the chef a brilliant, if often drugged-out, showman, and the hostess irresistible. Actually, that is my one complaint, how quickly David and Alessandra hook up. I guess they have to for the rest of the story, but it just seemed a little quick. Of course, everything at the Chateau is a little intense.
For me, it wasn’t a quick read. I’m not sure why exactly. The pacing was good and there was enough action to keep the story moving. I enjoyed the bits of history that Avenzano mused about. I guess maybe I just didn’t care about the characters. I think I was supposed to like David and be “rooting” for him, but I didn’t understand his obsession. It might just be me, though. It seems like it could be a page-turner for some people. It’s got all the right ingredients and it is a seasonal read. David heads to Florida for the winter, like so many people.
Overall, it’s a good thriller, and the food pushes it up a notch.
Several years after the opening of Chateau de la Mer, the triumvirate of Avenzano,Walsh, and Ross appeared to be one big happy family, although there were rumors of strains in the relationship.
One night, at the height of the Festival of Champagne, there was an incident. Ross, a notorious womanizer, was sipping Cristal with a redhead at the restaurant’s corner table. His wife slipped through the front door of the mansion, unannounced. Walking slowly through the dining room, past the Medieval memorabilia and dramatic cast-iron griffins,she strolled up to Ross’s table, took a revolver from her evening bag, and calmly shot him through the heart.
The ensuing chaos did more to establish Joseph Soderini di Avenzano in the American imagination than his designer pasta, his Bedouin stuffed poussin, his recipes transposed from Etruscan or Old Genoese, or his library of ten thousand cookbooks.
This was more than a good meal, after all. This was sex and death in Palm Beach. Even more intriguing was the chef’s refusal to comment on Ross after his death, except for informal and effusive eulogies in his famous baritone.
“Watch that Cristal,” David’s friend Bill Grimaldi told him before he left Manhattan to do an assigned story on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Chateau de la Mer. “It’s a killer.”