Book Review, Excerpt, and Giveaway: The Witless Protection Program by Maria DiRico

The Witless Protection Program (A Catering Hall Mystery)
by Maria DiRico

About The Witless Protection Program

The Witless Protection Program (A Catering Hall Mystery)
Cozy Mystery
5th in Series
Setting – New York
Kensington Cozies (March 26, 2024)
Mass Market Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1496744624
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1496744623
Digital ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0C9W8W668

Mia Carina has steered her Italian-American family’s Astoria, Queens, catering hall, Belle View Banquet Manor, into becoming the borough’s premiere party site, and nothing could make her happier—except her boyfriend proposing. There’s just one presumed-dead obstacle in the way . . .

A strong, independent woman and respected entrepreneur, Mia never imagined she’d pine for a marriage proposal. Yet lately, with her beloved Shane, she’s on tenterhooks. It’s especially surprising, considering Mia’s first husband, Adam, was a philandering grifter, assumed lost-at-sea after a boating disaster. But everyone knows what happens when you assume . . .

While working a huge wedding expo in Manhattan, Mia is shocked to spot the man who nearly destroyed her life. The one who’s supposed to be sleeping with the fishes. But she loses him in the crowd. And when it happens again the next day, it’s time for an emergency meeting with the family—and the Family. Because if Adam is alive, Mia is still married . . .

Everyone wants Adam dead. Everyone except Mia. She’s dealt with enough police for a lifetime. Mia needs to be a divorcée, not a widow. But someone out there disagrees, and if Mia doesn’t discover who, she may never be free to marry Shane—or anyone else . . .

Italian recipes included!

Mia Carina has worked to make Belle View Banquet Manor a premier venue for weddings and events. Sadly, though, so far she’s had no cause to plan her own wedding. So when her boyfriend Shane finally pops the question, her answer is an enthusiastic “yes!” And let the party planning commence! But her former husband, Adam Grosso, is back from the presumed dead, back in town, and talking about winning her back. That simply will not do.

Mia tells her family (and the Family) that she needs to be a divorcée posthaste, and she needs their help tracking Adam down so she can once and for all secure that divorce. But when Adam turns up dead and Mia and Shane are among the (many) suspects, the wedding may be put on hold indefinitely.

Y’all, this book is a riot! I can imagine the challenges in trying to run a business that has any connection at all to the Family and keeping it strictly on the up and up. But Mia walks that line and does it with style. She keeps her nose clean, even if some of the people in her life just can’t.

DiRico populates her book with marvelous characters. Mia is a delight – smart and savvy, and she’s a cat person (that gets her bonus points in my book). Her grandmother, Elisabetta, oh my goodness, everybody needs a Nonna like Elisabetta! She tackles issues head-on, whether by offering up her wedding dress for Mia or baking cookies to sell to a horde of fans descending on the house she bought for Mia and Shane next door to hers that just happened to belong to a famous cartoonist. She dispenses love, advice, and sarcasm, and I think she may be my favorite. Mia’s best friend Cammie is a treat, too, with the way she’s determined to keep spending her ex-husband’s money in order to get him to marry her again (cheaper to keep her, you know) and with her over-the-top wedding plans that Mia has to constantly rein in.

As it happens, Cammie’s ex is Pete Dianopoulis, NYPD detective (and author of the Steve Stianopoulis books, which draw heavily on real life). He’s charged with investigating Adam’s death, and with all the mob connections in Mia’s life, he’s got PLENTY to investigate.  But he doesn’t focus just on the Family. There’s also Adam’s new sweetie, Annarita; Mia’s former friends Ruth and Rose, who were more than just friendly with Adam; and a host of people Adam ripped off and scammed along the way. DiRico tempts us to follow red herrings and then yanks them away gleefully, taking us right back to square one. The only thing we’re sure of is that Mia didn’t kill him! I especially love how Pete doesn’t actively discourage Mia’s own inquiries into Adam’s death. As the story says, “the detective and the mobster-adjacent event planner had developed a mutual respect for each other,” and it works.

The mystery is engaging. The characters are ones you can cheer for or jeer at, as you wish. There are several story threads in play, and DiRico ties them all together in a neat bow to bring the story to an incredibly satisfying conclusion. And bonus, bonus, bonus, there are recipes, too! I see Nonna’s ricotta sugar cookies in my future. This was a five-star read for me, and I highly recommend it!

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy from Great Escapes Book Tours. I was not required to write a review. All opinions here are my own, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

Scroll on down for an excerpt and see if this is your kind of book!

Once word got out that comic strip legend Dan Fee was the late homeowner of Elisabetta’s wedding present, fans began making a pilgrimage to the hallowed site turned. A trickle of them into a stream and then a flood. “Circusman, Circusman, does whatever a circus can,” they sang in sepulchral tones. Luckily, complaints from neighbors on the block evaporated when they realized there was money to be made off of the mourners. Food stands popped up, turning 46th Place into an international food fair with scents of calzone, spanakopita, falafel and more mingling in the air.

But Mia had bigger problems.

Ever since word of her engagement got out, her inbox had exploded with congratulations and expectations of a wedding invitation. Given her family – and the Family’s – must-invites, paring down the wedding guest list was proving a daunting challenge. “This is turning into the goombah event of the year,” she muttered one night, deleting a name, then after a brief hesitation, reinstating it.

She soldiered on but after another fruitless hour, she gave up. Stiff from too much time hunched over her keyboard, she stood up and stretched. Mia checked the ornate wall clock she’d inherited from a neighbor who’d moved to a senior facility, along with all the elderly woman’s gold-gilded and red velvet upholstered furniture which would look more at home in a bordello than Mia’s unassuming apartment. “Bedtime for dollies and kitty cats,” she said to Doorstop, in what was their evening goodnight ritual. Having fallen asleep long ago, he didn’t respond.

Mia started for the bathroom to get ready for bed. Then from outside came the squeak of the back gate slowly being opened. She froze. Despite her grandmother’s security additions to their home’s exterior, Mia had opted not to grease the gate. She considered its squeak a cheap and effective alert to an intruder… which seemed to be happening at this very moment.

She stood in silence for a moment, waiting for confirmation. The gate squeaked again and then shut. Mia grabbed the souvenir Pete Alonso bat that Shane had given her as a birthday present and snuck onto the back staircase landing. A shadow moved in the yard below. “Yo,” she called down. “I know you’re there. And I called the police.”

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About Maria DiRico

Maria DiRico is the pseudonym for Ellen Byron, author of the award-winning, USA Today bestselling Cajun Country Mysteries. Born in Queens, New York, she is a first-generation Italian-American on her mother’s side and the granddaughter of a low-level Jewish mobster on her father’s side. She grew up visiting the Astoria Manor and Grand Bay Marina catering halls, which were run by her Italian mother’s family in Queens and have become the inspiration for her Catering Hall Mystery Series. DiRico has been a writer-producer for hit television series like Wings and Just Shoot Me, and her first play, Graceland, appears in the Best Short Plays collection. She’s a freelance journalist, with over 200 articles published in national magazines, and previously worked as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing. A native New Yorker who attended Tulane University, Ellen lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs.

Author Links – Website Chicks on the CaseFacebook Twitter

Purchase Links – AmazonB&NKoboBookshop.orgKensington


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2 Responses to Book Review, Excerpt, and Giveaway: The Witless Protection Program by Maria DiRico

  1. Ellen Byron says:

    Thanks so much for a great review! So glad you enjoyed the book.

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