News Flash: Pat Christensen is the lucky winner of Maria DiRico’s giveaway! Please check your email, Pat.
Edith here, happy to hang out under any auspices with Ellen Byron, one of my favorite author buddies.
Ellen’s second Catering Hall Mystery released Tuesday. Long Island Iced Tina is written as her alter ego Maria DiRico, and she’s here to tell you all about it. And give away a copy, too!
In the second installment of Maria DiRico’s Catering Hall Mystery series, Mia Carina is back in the borough of Queens, in charge of the family catering hall Belle View Banquet Manor and keeping her nonna company. But some events–like murder at a shower–are not the kind you can schedule…
Mia’s newly pregnant friend Nicole plans to hold a shower at Belle View–but Nicole also has to attend one that her competitive (and mysteriously rich) stepmother, Tina, is throwing at the fanciest place in Queens. It’s a good chance for Mia to snoop on a competitor, especially since doing a search for “how to run a catering hall” can get you only so far.
Mia tags along at the lavish party, but the ambience suffers at Nicole’s Belle View shower when a fight breaks out–and then, oddly, a long-missing and valuable stolen painting is unwrapped by the mom-to-be. Tina is clearly shocked to see it. But not as shocked as Mia is when, soon afterward, she spots the lifeless body of a party guest floating in the marina . . .
My Big Fat Italian Functions
The Catering Hall Mystery series, which I write under the pen name Maria DiRico, is very much inspired by my own life. (“Maria DiRico” is actually my late nonna’s maiden name.) The series revolves around an Italian-American family that runs a catering venue in Astoria, Queens. In real life, cousins by marriage ran not one, but two banquet halls in Astoria. I spent many weekends of my youth at engagement parties, weddings, showers, anniversaries, and yes, even funeral luncheons at these locations.
Have you ever heard of the Italian term, bella figura? Technically, it’s defined as “fine figure: fine appearance or impression.” A less technical definition would be “showing off.” In my family, bella figura translated into lavish events that seemed to one-up the lavish events that preceded them. One cousin’s wedding included a set by a comedian, a performance by a dance troupe doing to a number to the song “Memories” from Cats, and a framed blessing from the Pope. But this bride merely plighted her troth at a local Astoria church, so when her cousin got married, she upped the stakes with a High Mass at Manhattan’s St. Patrick’sCathedral, departing the ceremony in a white Rolls Royce while fascinated tourists looked on. Another wedding featured an oyster bar, waiters juggling pepper mills to the theme from the movie Rocky, and fireworks. The event was so over-the-top that it inspired a one-act play on my part.
While my relatives generally put the most bella figura effort into weddings, no function was completely spared. I was at a cousin’s baby shower when men wheeled in two giant boxes on dollies. The cousin’s mother-in-law had bought her a brand-new washer and dryer as a shower gift.
The plot of LONG ISLAND ICED TINA, my new Catering Hall Mystery, is kicked off by a series of circumstances involving baby showers. One shower is tame – aka, normal – but the other, plotted by a competitive stepmother, is bella figura on steroids. I had a blast coming up with Extreme Baby Shower moments. A band, an endless parade of food, an entire gifted room of nursery furniture wheeled out like on a game show, and yes, fireworks. As over-the-top as this shower may seem to the average reader, I can totally envision a family member hosting one just like it.
My husband and I had our East Coast wedding reception at one of the two venues my family ran, which happens to be the location that inspired the Belle View Banquet Manor of my series. I’ll end this post with a photo of us posing next to our wedding cake. Pretty impressive, huh? Sorry, but no bella figura here. If this was one of my cousins’ weddings, the cake would have been three times as big. And probably brought into the banquet room by a dance troupe.
Readers: Have you ever been to an over-the-top event? Comment to be entered to win a copy of LONG ISLAND ICED TINA.
Ellen Byron’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. She writes the Catering Hall Mystery series, which are inspired by her real life, under the name Maria DiRico. Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME, and FAIRLY ODD PARENTS. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart.