Neil, “the flamboyant, irrepressible chef” (Kirkus Reviews), hits the road in his food truck and drives right into a new case in the sixth book in The Neil Flambé Capers, the culinary mystery series celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey calls “good fun.”
Neil has lost his beloved restaurant. Though he misses it dearly, he and his friend Larry are headed on a new adventure. They are travelling to the Salsa Verde ranch in Arizona with their new food truck to participate in the legendary food truck gathering, the Broiling Man Festival. Once he arrives, Neil discovers that the Verde ranch is in danger of foreclosure, at the mercy of a developer who wants to turn it into housing and a factory farm. The only hope for the ranch is a treasure map left behind by the very first Verde, a chef who discovered a mine while escaping from a murderous army colonel. Neil and Larry are on a quest to find the treasure, but each time they think they’re close to finding something, they come up with nothing. Will the boys find the mine—and the treasure—in time to save Salsa Verde ranch?
Neil is back! When we last saw our intrepid chef and well-nosed detective, his beloved restaurant was being torn down, and he was left without a kitchen to call his own. Never fear, Larry is on the case, and the ‘Frankenwagon’ – a modified food truck with all the best parts of the restaurant is on the road, heading for Arizona. Neil in a food truck? Surprisingly, he’s quite enjoying it … until another mystery appears.
The Neil Flambé mysteries have evolved over the course of the series, and the mysteries have become more complex. Neil has learned to rely not only on his nose, but also on his friends for support and knowledge, and he’s become much more comfortable about not being the ‘know it all’ in the room. As I’ve mentioned before in previous reviews, I really appreciate how Sylvester has kept things fresh in the series by allowing Neil to grow up a little and to learn from his adventures. While he’s still a little insensitive at times, he’s learning to relax and to go with the flow at times. Case in point: when he finds out that the Broiling Man Festival isn’t the international cook-off he was led to believe, but rather a celebration of food and cooking, even Larry can’t believe how well Neil takes things in stride, and how much he throws himself into the fun of cooking for others. Neil even shares one of his recipes – and his spice mix! Neil knows that he’s reached a crossroads, and, like his mentor Angel, coming to the Salsa Verde ranch is just the retreat he needs to regroup and figure out where to go from here.
All joking (and punning) aside, this is truly a buddy road story. Neil and Larry are on the hunt for a mysterious gold mine, all the while being chased by a ‘Wyatt Earp-gone-bad’ lookalike who is determined to stop them by any means possible. Flash floods, donkey rides, desert storms, wild car chases and drone adventures abound, but I’ll give Sylvester credit – he manages to find not just one, but several innovative uses for a scuba suit in the Arizona desert. Larry’s unconventional aptitudes paired with Neil’s uncanny sense of smell manage to save them more than once, and it’s a fun ride to see how far the two of them have come and how well they work together.
One thing I always love about the Flambé stories are the innovative legends and back stories created to lead Neil into the heart of the mystery. This time around, we have not one but two versions of the same camp-fire family saga, and it’s up to Neil to figure out which story is closest to what actually happened. It’s a neat twist, as it does give Neil and Larry a chance to consider the other perspective and to question everything they’ve learned along the way. It’s a sign of how Neil has matured that he begins to re-examine the origin stories more closely, and to trust his instincts more and more. That’s a good thing, because the *spoiler* cliffhanger ending would indicate that Neil is in very deep and very much alone in the next (and final!!) book.
While I think this book is probably one of the more standalone friendly books in the series, I do feel that you’ll pick up on a lot of the history between not only Neil and Larry but also between the other characters if you’ve read the other books in the series. Not only have all the previous mysteries contributed towards Neil’s abilities to solve mysteries and suss out clues, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun to read about his travels, culinary discoveries and adventures. This is one of my favourites in the series, and a must-read for Flambé fans.
Now YOU can win a copy of Neil Flambé and the Duel in the Desert! To enter, simply click here to tell me the best thing you’ve ever eaten from a food truck.
A copy of Neil Flambé and the Duel in the Desert was provided by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase from Indigo, Amazon and Kobo, as well as your favourite indie booksellers. ISBN: 9781481410410, 306 pages.