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Beat Until Stiff    by Claire M. Johnson order for
Beat Until Stiff
by Claire M. Johnson
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Recently divorced Mary Ryan is the pastry chef at an elite five star San Francisco restaurant. As if her life wasn't already in the cellar (she didn't want the divorce), she finds a fellow worker's body stuffed into a laundry bag. Things go downhill from there.

Normally not one to let life just happen around her, Mary rouses herself and determines to find out what she missed while in her blue funk over her ex-husband's marriage to another woman - with kids yet. Ryan is pursued, attacked, and shot at when she trips into the murder scene. Action is packed into almost every page.

The back stage workings of a restaurant show a far different picture than the front of the house ... the long hours; hot, hot kitchens; tensions building between people working closely together in stressful situations. Also evident is the author's love of good food and drink. I enjoyed her description of a flute of Veuve Cliquot - 'it was as fresh and light as a first kiss.' And she extols the virtues of junk food as a way to sustain life when eighteen hours in a restaurant kitchen leaves no energy left to cook for herself.

Johnson writes from experience - her own. She worked as a pastry chef in San Francisco and Oakland for eight years and brings her expertise to Beat Until Stiff, her first novel. If she bakes like she writes, her family is lucky indeed. I do hope she will make Mary Ryan a regular in the publishing world.

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