Title: Friend of the Devil
Author: Mark Spivak
Publisher: Black Opal Books
Genre: Culinary Thriller
What a charismatic story. If a story can be such a thing. I was charmed and amused by the character’s and the intricate plot.
I don’t imagine journalist David Fox had any idea what he was stepping into when he flew to Palm beach to do an interview with Chef Joseph Soderini di Avenzano. It’s rumored by many that Joseph made a deal with devil. He came out of nowhere and quickly rose to the top in the culinary venue.
David’s encounters with the eccentric, and possibly psychotic, Joseph, felt like a trip to the dentist to get a tooth pulled. The man alternates between mumbling diatribes and boisterous shouts, never really telling David anything. David does manage to get his story, but he’s not done yet. Joseph invites him to spend the winter and write his autobiography. David accepts the venture and rubs shoulders with a cast of characters I can’t even begin to describe. A couple of them are still a mystery to me.
While reading this book, I alternated between drooling over the descriptions of the exquisite cuisine, tripping through the convoluted mystery, and chuckling over the many fun scenes and innuendos.
The writing is precise. If I didn’t have a clue about some things, that was my bad. The author grabbed me and led me where I needed to go when things felt heavy.
They say,”The devil is in the details.” I’m still not sure whether the chef made a deal with the despicable one.
A lot more fun than I was expecting.
In 1990 some critics believe that America’s most celebrated chef, Joseph Soderini di Avenzano, sold his soul to the Devil to achieve culinary greatness. 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.
For More Information
- Friend of the Devil is available at Amazon.
- Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Enjoy this glimpse inside.
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.”
About Author Mark Spivak
Mark Spivak is an award-winning author, specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants, and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and was honored by the Academy of Wine Communications for excellence in wine coverage “in a graceful and approachable style.” Since 2001 he has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group, as well as the Food Editor for Palm Beach Illustrated; his running commentary on the world of food, wine and spirits is available at the Global Gourmet blog on www.palmbeachillustrated.com. His work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Men’s Journal, Art & Antiques, the Continental and Ritz-Carlton magazines, Arizona Highways and Newsmax. From 1999-2011 Spivak hosted Uncorked! Radio, a highly successful wine talk show on the Palm Beach affiliate of National Public Radio.
Spivak is the author of two non-fiction books: Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation: The Art of Creating Cornbread in a Bottle (Lyons Press, 2014). Friend of the Devil is his first novel. He is currently working on a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq.
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