I always have a song in my head; my mind is like a jukebox, and I never know which tune is going to play next. When I was growing up, my parents used my song du jour to gauge my mood. If I told them it was “Wide Open Spaces,” or some other happy Dixie Chicks ditty from my adolescent years, they knew I was in a perky frame of mind. But if I was humming “Yesterday” or any of the Beatles’ more melancholy tunes, they sometimes felt the need to stage a cheerful intervention.
Today the song in my head happens to be “Lilah,” by Don Henley, which is the main reason my parents named me Lilah Drake—they thought the song was beautiful. I guess they think I’m beautiful, too, but they’re biased in my favor.
I live in Pine Haven, Illinois, and until recently I made my money working two part-time jobs. By day I worked in my parents’ real estate office, earning money to help support my true passion of cooking. I’ve developed all sorts of fun and easy covered dishes that work well at parties, and this is how I attracted my very particular clientele: people who are obligated to bring a covered dish to some event or other, but who don’t have the time or talent or inclination, so they hire me. I am essentially an undercover food creator, and my dishes have won me anonymous acclaim.
I can’t complain about my life, which is almost ideal. I have a wonderful canine companion named Mick, who always makes me feel that he’s listening when I talk to him. I live in a sweet little caretaker’s cottage behind the giant, expensive residence of Terry Randall, my landlord and friend, an Internet entrepreneur who makes money helping rich people buy things. I have loving parents and a protective older brother who teaches Italian to college kids in the city. Cameron and I both grew up loving Italian culture, but I’ve not been as big a fan since I broke up with Angelo, my boyfriend, a restaurateur and chef in Pine Haven. Angelo is beautiful and sexy, but my brother is fond of saying that men named for angels seem determined to prove they are the opposite.
But back to my secret cooking and the way it got me into trouble. Recently I made a pot of chili for a woman in the parish. We’ve had an arrangement for a long time; I make the chili, and she gets tons of praise from her friends at bingo night. This time was no different, or so it seemed, but one innocent pot of chili led to murder, and to a police investigation by a man with incredible blue eyes, and I was forced to decide whether I could maintain my anonymity (and my clientele) while still cooperating with the police and helping them find a murderer.
It’s a long story, and you can read it in The Big Chili, my memoir of the crazy events in Pine Haven on the night that a local woman was murdered before our eyes and the whole town was turned upside down with fear and suspicion. I only made it through those trying times with the staunch support of my family, my loyal dog Mick, my best friend Jenny Braidwell, her wonderful nephew Henry, and a few other people that I didn’t even realize were my friends until we endured the stress of uncertainty together.
It all started when I delivered one of my secret assignments, a casserole, to Ellie Parker, a woman I had befriended at a Tupperware Party. Walking through Ellie’s door that day sealed my fate in a number of ways . . . but that’s a story for another time. A story called The Big Chili.
You can read more about Lilah in The Big Chili, the first book in the NEW “Undercover Dish” mystery series, published by Berkley Prime Crime.
About The Big Chili
Lilah Drake’s Covered Dish business discreetly provides the residents of Pine Haven, Illinois, with delicious, fresh-cooked meals they can claim they cooked themselves. But when one of her clandestine concoctions is used to poison a local woman, Lilah finds herself in a pot-load of trouble.
After dreaming for years of owning her own catering company, Lilah has made a start into the food world through her Covered Dish business, covertly cooking for her neighbors who don’t have the time or skill to do so themselves, and allowing them to claim her culinary creations as their own. While her clientele is strong, their continued happiness depends on no one finding out who’s really behind the apron.
So when someone drops dead at a church Bingo night moments after eating chili that Lilah made for a client, the anonymous chef finds herself getting stirred into a cauldron of secrets, lies, and murder—and going toe to toe with a very determined and very attractive detective. To keep her clients coming back and her business under wraps, Lilah will have to chop down the list of suspects fast, because this spicy killer has acquired a taste for homicide.
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Meet the author
Julia Buckley is a Chicago mystery author whose career started in 2006 with the publication of The Dark Backward. Since then her work has appeared on Kindle in the Madeline Mann series and the novel The Ghosts Of Lovely Women.
She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Romance Writers of America, along with the Chicago Writer’s Association. In addition, she has worked with the same writer’s group since 2000.
Julia has taught high school English for twenty-six years; she lives near Chicago with her husband, two sons, four cats, and one beagle.