In this suspense novella, a master chef will stop at nothing to prevent a deadly illness from threatening his family.
Carlo Zaratti is head chef and owner of Z, the newest gourmet Italian restaurant in town. Business is growing: What sets Z apart is Carlo’s hands-on approach with his guests, although his impeccable taste in ingredients certainly helps. He runs the restaurant with Mali—his loving wife and the future mother of his child—and Attilio and Enzo, two assistants vying for favor. The enterprise seems poised for success until Mali wakes one night in wracking pain—the onset of a rare and terminal illness known as Kagen’s Disease. The news utterly devastates Carlo; Attilio finds him that morning sprawled out on the restaurant floor, drunk on the cellar’s prize wine. When Carlo later visits Mali in the hospital, a doctor brings encouraging news: The only documented survivor of this rare disease was also pregnant, although her treatment was extremely expensive. Carlo resolves to gather the $5 million necessary for the treatment by any means possible, so he turns to a wealthy patron’s mysterious business associate for assistance. The associate’s plan forces Carlo and his team to create the ideal dining experience for an event so exclusive it will cost thousands of dollars per plate. Unaware of the dark deed this mystery man has in store, Carlo sets to work on his menu. Williams’ (Grass, 2011) prose throughout this tight plot is very economical. Each of Carlo’s dishes reveals Williams’ extensive knowledge of the culinary arts, although the mouth-watering description is unfortunately sparse. More careful control of pacing might have generated more suspense, but The Check’s brevity is a virtue—by the end, the reader can still vividly remember the tense opening scene in which a gunman threatens Carlo with a silenced weapon. Readers may not always find themselves at the edge of their seats, but they will certainly feel their stomachs rumbling.
A fresh atmosphere and taut prose make this novella an enjoyable read.