Claire M. Johnson. Beat Until Stiff (2002) 203 pp.
Pastry chef Mary Ryan is thirty-four years old, divorced, and in a bad mood. She works at American Fare, a trendy San Francisco restaurant owned and operated by celebrity chef Brent Brown, and is still grieving over her failed marriage to a S.F.P.D. homicide detective. When she arrives at work early one morning and discovers the body of one of her employees stuffed into a laundry bag, Mary feels compelled to investigate—much to the chagrin of her ex-husband Jim, his former partner, Inspector O’Connor, and her worried mother. Mary’s investigation takes her all over San Francisco and uncovers some of the dirty secrets hidden in the American Fare closet—Brown’s philandering, the hiring and manipulation of illegal aliens, blackmail, and creative accounting.  She eventually discovers that the murder was more than just a random crime—and puts herself squarely in the path of a killer.