Jan 1, 1994

The Trouble with Thin Ice

The Trouble with Thin Ice
A Simona Griffo Mystery
by Camilla T. Crespi
1994, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-06-109554-5, Harper Paperbacks, ISBN 0-06-109154-5

Where I Get My Ideas

I visited a friend in Ridgefield, Connecticut, at Christmas time. Her house overlooks a small lake. I looked out of the window at a peaceful scene of misty snow. It was incredibly beautiful. What better place to kill someone?

Coming from New York City I was surprised not to see any African-Americans so I thought, what if an African-American wanted to buy the estate next to the home where she grew up, the daughter of servants to an influential, often unsavory family? What if the ice covering the lake (read lake as metaphor for the past) is so thin, the slightest pressure will make it crack open? I had fun weaving in choking family ties, secrets created from love and hate. The past plays a strong role in all my stories.

In Thin Ice I try to deal with prejudice, with our preconceptions of who people are, with the delicate balance needed to make any relationship work.

It's my first hardcover!


Fieldston, a made-up town in Connecticut between Danbury and Ridgefield; the Danbury hospital and mall; and the Upper East Side of New York City.

It's Christmas time. Simona and Stan go to the Sleepy Hollow Inn to spend their first vacation together and to attend the New Year's Eve wedding of their friends Kesho and Richard. The first problem that arises is that Stan, at the last minute, decided to bring along Willy, his precocious, hostile 14-year-old son. Not exactly the romantic vacation Simona had in mind.

The second problem is that Simona, trying to save a doe from drowning in the half-frozen lake, uncovers the body of Elisabeth Dobson with Kesho's earring nearby. Kesho is accused of the murder. much to the satisfaction of the Dobsons who do not want her as a neighbor. Simona wonders if one of the Dobsons wasn't in fact the murderer. They stood to inherit Elisabeth's home, a Frank Lloyd Wright estate called RockPerch. Why did Elisabeth's husband vanish without a trace eight years earlier? What is Myrna Dobson hiding by getting drunk every night? Why does Charles Dobson dislike his son so intensely?

When Stan is called away to his mother's bedside in Florida, Simona and Willy form an uneasy alliance to help Kesho and uncover the story that led to two deaths in a quiet, snowy village.

In Defense of the Female Amateur Sleuth: One of the characters resists Simona's questions.

"You're not the police. You have no authority to ask anything of me. You're not even some private investigator."

Simona answers: "Women have never waited for authority, have we? We just go ahead and do whatever has to be done century after century. Even when we don't get recognition or a share of the authority, we still keep doing what needs to be done."

Recurring Characters

* Stan Greenhouse


Brisk and continuously engaging. Rich in atmosphere and buoyed by wry wit, Crespi's briskly paced narrative calls for an encore. -- Publisher's Weekly (a starred review)

An unusually well-hidden killer. -- Kirkus Reviews

The imprint of architect Frank Lloyd Wright enhances this fourth Simona Griffo mystery, who loves to cook and solve murders, is delightful even when problems increase as she tries to help a friend. -- Oklahoman

Simona exercises her adorable ways with a vengeance. It is Simona's keen intelligence, however, not her bubbly personality, that wins the boy's respect, keeps the bride-to-be out of jail and resolves the old, bitter feuds of a socially hermetic community where the daughters of black servants are not meant to get too uppity. -- The New York Times

Simona Griffo is an appealing protagonist, and the frozen woods of rural Connecticut come alive in Crespi's writing. -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Beginning

"Where did you throw my pajamas?" I surfaced from a whirlpool of sheets and quilts on the four-poster bed, hands searching. Greenhouse, naked under the sheets, kept busy with various parts of my body.

"Ouch." I was stalling for time.

"Yum!" was Greenhouse's reply.

We were on our first night of what was to be a week's vacation at the Sleepy Hollow Inn in Fieldston, Connecticut. It was also my first extended vacation with Greenhouse after two years of on and off dating and my first ever with Greenhouse & Son. Too many firsts for relaxation.

Recipe -- Comfort Pasta

Serves six hungry stomachs

* 4 tbsps. olive oil
* 1 large carrot, minced
* 1 celery stalk, minced
* 1 large onion, chopped
* 4 garlic cloves, peeled
* 2 lbs. beef chuck, cut into bite-sized pieces
* 2 cups flour
* 2 cups white wine (optional)
* 1 tbsp. tomato paste
* 5 plum tomatoes, quartered
* 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
* 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
* 1 1/2 lbs. rigatoni
* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 1/4 lb. fresh spinach

Select a heavy-bottomed pan with lid in which all ingredients can fit. Sauté garlic cloves in oil until lightly browned, stirring well. Put flour in a paper bag. Discard cloves and raise the flame to high. In batches drop meat in the paper bag and shake. Flour meat right before adding to pan or else it will get gummy. Add meat to hot oil in batches and brown well on all sides. Add the wine and cook over high heat until almost evaporated. Remove the browned meat and set aside. Lower flame and add onion, scraping the bottom of the pan. Sauté onion until translucent. Add tomato paste, stir and cook 2 minutes. Add a tablespoon of broth if onions are too dry. Add celery and carrot, stir and cook 3 minutes more. Add the meat and accumulated juices. Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir. Add broth. When broth starts to boil, lower flame, partially cover pan, and simmer meat for 1 1/2 hours.

Can be prepared ahead of time up to this point. Stew can be frozen.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Cook stew 1/2 hour more at a low boil before serving. Wash and stem spinach.

Add rigatoni to boiling water. When al dente, drain. Add spinach to stew and stir. Spinach will wilt with the heat. Pour half of the stew into a big pasta bowl. Add half the Parmesan. Stir. Add the drained rigatoni. Stir. Add the rest of the stew and Parmesan. Stir again and serve.

Buon appetito!