Let Them Eat Stake, by Sarah Zettel, is an interesting example of the second book in a series being noticeably better than the first.
In the first book, A Taste of the Nightlife, the author was trying to worldbuild and establish her characters at the same time; creating both the master chef Charlotte Caine, and how various supernaturals exist in the Unmasqued World of the setting. Both elements of the story suffered because of that. The various types of supernatural creatures came across as rather flat and “we’ve seen this before”, and while the details of haut cuisine were amazing, Charlotte was sometimes too busy explaining a world detail crucial to solving the plot to be as interesting as she should have been.
In this sequel, though, with the basics established, Charlotte’s high-class restaurant skills come to the forefront, massively improving the plotting, pacing, and how she goes about investigating the deaths, thefts, and what starts as a bewildering vampire-witch high society tangle.
What’s intriguing here is that by relaxing and focusing on Charlotte’s skills and knowledge as a chef, the supernatural world becomes more plausible and interesting. We see the various paranormal abilities and vulnerabilities as they intersect the high-pressure world of fine dining and a catered wedding. This grounds the magical elements in down-to-earth details such as how to cook for a vampire (gazpacho seasoned with bull’s blood is one option), the NYPD’s newest branch of forensics (toxithautomy), and why no sane being, supernatural or otherwise, threatens a chef in her kitchen. (Think garlic, sharp things, wooden spoons….)
I have to give extra kudos to the author for the bit of “there’s no way to poison just one person in a high-class restaurant.” It’s a nice change from the usual “guy was poisoned, suspect the cook” plot.
I also like that the supernatural characters have motives like everyone else – greed, love, envy, pride, and sometimes blood feuds. What’s an innocent chef got to do to get her catering fee? Outside of nearly get killed tracking down a murderer….