Those who know me know I have a definite weakness for Florida books, especially those written by Florida writers, especially those that revolve around murders and romance and the Gulf Coast of Florida. And most especially, those in which the heroine finds a dead body.
Tara Lush — locals know her as AP reporter Tamara Lush — checked all those boxes and had me hooked from the start of her latest, “Grounds for Murder” (Crooked Lane, available December, 2020; pre-order now.) Lush self-publishes romantic fiction, although this isn’t her first conventionally published book.
Lana Lewis has returned home to Devil’s Beach somewhere on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Victimized by the ever-shrinking newsroom, she’s left a career in journalism at a Miami paper to run her late mother’s coffeeshop. She has a crush on a police chief, nicknamed “Sheriff Hunk” by her new barista/best friend. Her dad dabbles in smoking medical marijuana, selling real estate, and new age endeavors. There’s a black market for alligator meat, a mysterious giant eyeball on the beach, and a puppy named Stanley. Also, mermaids, more than most people know or care to know about coffee, and a latte art throwdown.
The Florida cozy offers readers something cozy mysteries set in other locales can’t: Florida. Amid the sand, sunshine, and small beach towns, there’s the tantalizing “anything-can-happen” air of mystery in Florida books. The latte art competition gets normalized by the mermaid tail maker and the guy trading in black market gator meat, two plot nuances not often found in books set in Ohio.
Lush manages to braid the Florida-osity of things into a solid murder mystery that has a dash of romance, and she does so without making Florida into a mockery of “Florida Man” headlines. Added to her storytelling skills, it’s a compelling read, easily accomplished in less than a weekend. This book marks the first in a series, and one I can’t wait to read.
Who should read this: Do you love cozy mysteries, dogs, kitschy Florida beach towns, and coffee? Read this. Lush weaves all these things together in a delightful story, inasmuch as an Instagram-star barista found dead in an alley can be delightful.
Who should not read this: If you don’t like cozies, Florida, or puppies, this is not the book for you.
Bonus: Lush lives in the St. Petersburg area, and while she doesn’t name names, it’s fun to figure out where she gathered ideas for some of the locations in the book.
Can’t wait for “Grounds for Murder”? Lush has the free prequel available – which includes a town called Moose Knuckle – on her website, if you sign up for her newsletter.