Pearl receives a surprise present from her mother, Dolly: an early summer break at a riverside manor house that has been recently transformed into an exclusive hotel - the newly named Villa Pellegrini. Pellegrini - the Italian word for pilgrims - reflects the fact that the building lies on the old Pilgrims Way into Canterbury, and Pearl is looking forward to the break, not least because DCI Mike McGuire has been neglecting her due to his work. But when she discovers that she's actually booked in for a cookery course from the Italian celebrity chef Nico Caruso, she begins to think again.... Pearl doesn't welcome instruction on cookery at the best of times, and certainly not from an arrogant chef like Caruso.
She goes along, intent on challenging Caruso's egotism - and a long tradition of men dominating gastronomy - but soon finds herself distracted, not only by her enchanting surroundings but by the disparate selection of guests. She even begins to enjoy Caruso's attentions - and his cookery - until one of the guests goes missing and it becomes clear that murder is on the menu.