Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Taste Of The Nightlife - Sarah Zettel

A Taste Of The Nightlife
A Vampire Chef Mystery
Sarah Zettel

It’s been ten years since the Equal Humanity Act passed, but there are still plenty of people who don’t want to accept the fact that paranormal creatures walk among us.  Chef Charlotte Caine finds it pretty hard to ignore that fact, since her younger brother, Chet is a vampire.  The siblings co-own the new New York restaurant Nightlife.  Nightlife caters to the paranormal and the normal eaters.  It turns out that vampires can, in fact, ingest various protein-based liquids (but serving human blood is illegal) so it’s always a challenge for a chef to come up with new and exciting ways to serve them.
During a particularly hectic Saturday night dinner service, Chet bursts into the kitchen to announce the arrival of Anatole Sevarin, a well-known paranormal food critic.  And at this, the worst possible time, a disgruntled diner demands to see the chef about a ‘problem’ with the meal.  It’s a human woman, dining with a vampire.  During the embarrassing (for Charlotte) scene that follows, a drunk man staggers into the dining room, tries to pull the woman away from the table, and ends up exploding a fireball in the air.  He’s a warlock, it’s chaos, it’s awful, and it all happened in front of a critic that could make or break the place.  As if that isn’t enough, when Charlotte returns from an early-morning trip to the farmer’s market, she finds a dead body in Nightlife.  It’s the warlock, who happens to be from a very influential family of vampire hunters.  Now the restaurant is a crime scene and Charlotte and her brother are both suspects.

The adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ must be invoked here.  The title and artwork make this look (to me, anyway) like a cutesy paranormal-lite.  It is not. The mystery is intricate and the paranormal elements are appropriately dark. This novel, the first in a series, is labeled a mystery, but it could quite easily be considered urban fantasy.  The author does a great job of world-building, bringing this alternate reality into sharp focus.  Vampires and warlocks/witches are a fact of life.  Not everyone likes that, and there’s a lot of politics and personal agendas at work during the story.  Through it all, Charlotte seems like a real woman who just wants to cook and run her restaurant while juggling the requisite family and social wrinkles of life.  As either mystery or urban fantasy, this one is a cut above the rest and a more-than-solid debut.
Rating: 7 ½
July 2011
ISBN# 978-0-451-23407-0 (paperback)


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