Picture this life: You live on a houseboat in Key West, with the love of your life, pets, and great neighbors. Your job is to eat food and write about it. You have great neighbors.
Occasionally you find a dead body, but hey, that’s the price of paradise, right?
This is how the most recent Lucy Burdette cozy mystery starts. Actually, it’s how every one of her wonderful Key West Food Critic mysteries start. One would think that at some point, law enforcement would have some sort of meeting about why this woman keeps stumbling over dead bodies, but that’s also true of almost every popular cozy series and most British procedurals. Nevertheless, Lucy Burdette’s books make me happy and, honestly, right now we can all use a little light reading.
What’s so delightful about the Key Lime Food Critic mysteries? The setting. The characters. The food. And, of course, the writing.
Burdette sets the books in Key West, which, for about the last century, is not uncommon. But she crafts a sense of place that puts you in line at Cuban Coffee Queen, or zipping along on your scooter to Houseboat Row. You cannot read one of her books without being a part of the moment – or without wanting to plan a trip to the Keys.
As for the characters, Hayley Snow – the food critic who finds dead bodies like a dowsing rod finds water – starts the series a little bit of a hot mess, but by her 12th book – “A Dish to Die For” – she’s a seasoned food critic, married to a police officer (and yes, the department, by this point, has noticed her propensity for finding dead people), and a fully developed character who takes you along for her ride. She’s not the only character you’ll come to love: There’s her neighbor, Miss Gloria, an 80-something bespangled buddy who helps solve murders, and her mother, a caterer who follows Hayley to the island, round out the “strong women” cast of characters. Of course, the book has men, too – Lorenzo, the fortune-teller, Hayley’s husband, her shrink friend, and a tertiary character, David Sloan, who actually exists and may just be the definition of a 19th-century Florida booster in real life as well as the book.
The restaurants are also real – and well-worth a visit. Unwittingly, Burdette’s writing an insider’s guide to Key West restaurants. Burdette has persuaded me to try Bad Boy Burrito and Cuban Coffee Queen, and Geiger Key Marina – an off-the-beaten-path favorite with the best cole slaw I’ve ever tasted – makes an appearance in this book.
Finally, Burdette’s books are fun. She clearly doesn’t take things too seriously – there’s a sly knock on Tim Dorsey in the book which, as I (temporarily) abandoned “Mermaid Confidential” to read Burdette’s, made me chuckle. She embraces tropes without veering into the ludicrous, and I can’t think of a book more worthy of your summer afternoons.