Title: State of the Onion
Author: Julie Hyzy
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime 
Series: 1st book in the White House Chef series
Olivia (Ollie) Paras is an assistant chef in the White House kitchen and on her way to work one day she inadvertently becomes involved in international espionage when she prevents an intruder from entering the White House. Ollie becomes the target of a world-famous hit man, has to fight an old enemy for the job of head chef, has a string of fights with her Secret Service boyfriend due to her continuing involvement in the investigation into the intruder’s purpose and must prepare menus and food for the most important political meeting in years.
I picked up this book purely because of the setting. As well as being a crime fiction nut I’m a political junkie and, despite being Australian, my favourite TV show of all time is The West Wing. I knew nothing about the author or the series but was pre-disposed to liking the book. I did enjoy the behind the scenes tidbits about life in the White House, such as the steps involved in preparing for State Dinners and running taste tests for the First Lady, which felt well researched and realistic. And the story was full of suspense and well plotted although a bit far-fetched in parts. But if all the security lockdowns that would probably take place in such a scenario were included the book it would have been about seven pages long and kinda dull so I didn’t mind the artistic license. I struggled far more with the seriousness of the book. It had a ‘we’re involved in the most important job in the world’ undercurrent that got a bit much after a while, although I imagine it would play better to an American audience. For better or worse we Aussies are more cynical about our leaders and I found myself eye-rolling at some of the dialogue.
As a character Ollie is rather likable and a bit more believable than some other amateur sleuths although in many series the first book is more credible than any that come afterwards so it remains to be seen if the believability factor can be sustained. Apart from an over-reliance on the public transport system in times of trouble she didn’t do anything ultra-dumb and she stood up for herself when it counted which I always like to see. The real character problem for me was that there weren’t any others who were terribly well developed (I found Ollie’s boyfriend a bit two dimensional) which would need to change if the series is to continue.
The uniqueness of this setting offers a lot of scope for interesting stories and there’s enough of the traditional romantic cosy elements to satisfy readers who aren’t so interested in politics. Personally I’d like to see a little more humour in the writing but I might be in the minority. All in all this is an above average book for the genre and I’ll look for the second one in the series.
My rating 3/5