A Dinner to Die for

Susan Dunlap, Author St. Martin's Press $15.95 (211p) ISBN 978-0-312-01019-5

Jill Smith returns to duty as a homicide detective in this exhilarating addition to the series set in chi-chi Berkeley, Calif. Killed by aconite slipped into his private stash of horseradish, Mitchell Biekma was in the kitchen of his wildly popular restaurant ""Paradise'' when he swallowed his lethally spiced soup. Smith interviews Laura, Biekma's wife, the chef and everyone else present at the crime scene, including a truculent dishwasher who knocks down the investigator and escapes, making himself the chief suspect. But there are others: a rival restaurateur and a neighbor who had tried unsuccessfully to limit the bistro's late hour, consequently producing an uproar from patrons. And there is, Smith discovers, a secret to learn from Earth Man, a hippie left over from the '60s, living on handouts provided by Laura to the rage of her stingy husband. This is an appealing mystery with tangy details on the Bay Area's changing environs and characters. (November 24)