State of the Onion
A White House Chef Mystery with Olivia Paras by Julie Hyzy
Review: Julie Hyzy provides an inviting behind the scenes look at the life of a White House chef in State of the Onion, her debut mystery featuring Olivia "Ollie" Paras that ultimately proves to be something of a disappointment.
The current Executive Chef in the White House is retiring and Ollie is a strong contender to be his replacement. There are only two things standing in her way: a former staff chef who is now a television personality is also under consideration for the position, and a potential threat against the President in which Ollie played a key role: she knocked out an unauthorized intruder with a frying pan. But as Ollie is drawn deeper into the assassination plot she finds her dreams of being the first female Executive Chef slipping further away … and her life increasingly in danger.
State of the Onion is marketed as a cozy (it's in the "cozy" section on the publisher's website), has a clever play on words title, and includes recipes for a complete presidential menu. All this suggests a book that might be fun and light-hearted with a bit of wry humor. But it's really more of a "hard-boiled cozy" and at that, rather depressing. The problem is squarely on the central character, Ollie. She goes on and on about how critical the job of a White House chef is, how desperately she wants the job of Executive Chef, and that a meaningful relationship with the man in her life is important to her happiness. And yet she does everything in her power to jeopardize all that and more. She constantly states that she should be doing something (related to one of the many things that she claims are important to her) and yet she cannot resist doing something else. Of course that something else is in direct conflict with everything she wants and believes in but if she didn't do it, there wouldn't be a story. As a result of all this irresponsible behavior, Ollie comes across as a not very likable character. And in something of an ironic twist, the "evil" characters introduced to play off of Ollie engender a sympathetic response in return.
Ollie aside, State of the Onion is a well-written book with a reasonably credible plot. And the inner workings of the White House kitchen are absolutely fascinating. It's possible that this is simply a case of an author attempting to accomplish too much in the first book of a new series and trying to appeal to too wide an audience. For cozy readers to enjoy this series the narrative needs to be lighter in tone and Ollie is advised to take a fresh, more positive, approach towards the important things in her life.
Acknowledgment: Breakthrough Promotions provided an ARC of State of the Onion for this review.
Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Grace Under Pressure
Berkley Prime Crime (Mass Market Paperback), June 2010
ISBN-13: 9780425235218; ISBN-10: 0425235211
Location(s) referenced in State of the Onion: Washington DC
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State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy — A White House Chef Mystery with Olivia Paras
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Publication Date: January 2008
List Price: $7.99