By Tamara Lush
A beautiful dead woman. A fierce and curious sister. A bold little girl.
When Letty Carnahan discovers her sister dead in a Manhattan townhouse, she grabs her young niece Maya and flees south. The wounded pair stop at a mom-and-pop motel in Florida after Letty finds a tattered magazine story in her sister’s belongings.
It’s a clip about The Murmuring Surf, a rundown beachfront motel on Treasure Island. Letty can’t figure out why her gold-digging sister would’ve saved such a mundane, random article.
Letty finds the usual in the quirky Gulf Coast community: ornery retirees, stunning sunsets, raucous shuffleboard games. But she soon uncovers a myriad of secrets, almost all involving her sister’s shady past.
While caring for the grieving child and sifting through the wreckage of her dead sister’s life — and while trying to keep her niece away from her sister’s conniving, sleazy ex — Letty slowly weaves her way into the colorful fabric of beach life. A handsome local cop adds a dash of spice to the already suspenseful narrative.
“The Newcomer” by Mary Kay Andrews is a perfect beach read, entirely addictive with its fast-paced plot and its cozy descriptions of Treasure Island.
Andrews is no stranger to the area. She’s a St. Petersburg native and former journalist, and she’s taken her investigative reporting skills and transferred them to her inquisitive, realistic characters.
“Find your truth in every story,” Andrews writes in “The Newcomer.”
Letty Carnahan discovers the truth, and so much more.
The Gabber recently spoke with Andrews about her childhood in St. Petersburg, her blend of genres, and the nostalgia of beach motels.
Q: You write a blend of women’s fiction, romance and mystery. What’s the ultimate message of “The Newcomer”?
MKA: The murder is never the point of the book. That’s what’s the difference between what I’m writing now – I just call it pop fiction, or beach books. Whodunit is not really the point. The point is, what does (the heroine, Letty) want, what is keeping her from getting it, how does she get it and, in the end, how does she end up. That’s the point of all these books: reinvention.
Q: You grew up in St. Petersburg. What goes through your mind when you visit this area now? It’s changed so much.
MKA: Oh my gosh, if it had been like this when I got out of college, I never would’ve moved away. Downtown when I was a kid was dead. Williams Park was where you caught a bus. It’s completely changed. Mostly I think for the better.
Q: The motel in “The Newcomer” is almost a character of its own. Is that based on a real place from your past?
MKA: It’s named after a motel I used to stay at up in Destin back in the late 80s, early 90s. All the motels on the Gulf beaches when I was a kid, too. We used to stay in one out at Indian Rocks every summer. I was one of five kids, so every year in July or August we’d rent the place on Indian Rocks. It was called O’cee Villas, and it’s long gone. Those were the most magical two weeks of our lives. It was a two-bedroom cottage, and it was air conditioned. We didn’t have air conditioning at our house. There was a pool, right on the Gulf, and they had a rec room, kind of like the rec room in the book.
Q: Sunrise or Sunset?
MKA: Sunset, definitely. Nothing’s better than a Gulf sunset.
Tamara Lush is an Associated Press journalist-turned-fiction author who lives in St. Petersburg. Her second cozy mystery, “Cold Brew Corpse,” will be published by Crooked Lane Books in December under the pen name Tara Lush. More at taralush.com.