LUCY BURDETTE: I do so love introducing readers and book groups to my Key West series. Earlier this fall, I received an email from a Connecticut acquaintance. She told me that her book group was reading AN APPETITE FOR MURDER and wondered if I could “visit” by Face Time? Of course I could! I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the group, and the Key West decorations, and the hostess’s menu. I thought it would be fun to show you what they did. Luckily, Cindy Cartier, the hostess, agreed!
It makes sense to choose the first book in a series if many of the members aren’t familiar with the series, which is what Cindy did. I asked her a few questions about the evening–you will really enjoy reading what she cooked up–she’s amazing!
Lucy: How did you choose AN APPETITE FOR MURDER?
The book club (Cindy is 3rd from left)
CINDY: I LOVE culinary mysteries because I LOVE food!! Growing up in an Italian household, I truly benefited from standing at the apron strings of my mother who excelled at both cooking and baking. There was always something cooking on the stove and baking in the oven. I also love to read murder mysteries. Having a demanding career (I am an attorney/partner at my own law firm) and juggling children 14, 5 and 2 (yes, I am changing diapers at 50 – more later,) when I can escape with a good book, it is truly a treat. So, when I started looking up books for our meeting, I came across your books and loved the character and location. It being summer, I thought this would be a nice escape for everyone as well. I had no idea that you lived so close to us – a real bonus!!
LUCY: Tell us about the fabulous menu and decorations that you cooked up!
Lucy’s Leaning Tower of Eggplant
CINDY: As I love food (did I say that), I also enjoy watching Giada on the cooking channel – in fact, I have her on in the background as I am chasing my little ones – she reminds me so much of my mom (who I lost too young – she was 43 when she passed) and it makes me feel a little connection to her. So, Giada had an episode where she cooked a meal for her book club around the theme of the book. So, me channeling Giada, I wanted to do the same. I did go a little overboard with the food, decorations and drink – but I also love to entertain and share my love of food (I do so love food). I had the members bring some appetizers (fruit platter including pineapples and coconut; various dips with a Caribbean theme), drinks (Mojitos, Hemingway Cocktails – apparently he loved to drink these and Smore Martinis), and dessert including a key lime pie of course and a key lime dip with fruit.
Decorations included a hot pink/lime green theme. I haven’t been to Key West yet, but from the description in your book and others who have described the area, I imagined bright colors. I included plates, napkins, etc. keeping with this theme. I also had jelly beans (pink/green) in large glasses on the table, drink glasses with straws in the same color theme, flowers, etc. In addition to appetizers, drinks and dessert, menu was as follows:
1. Key West Chicken – I combined a few recipes
2. Caribbean Rice
3. Eggplant Towers from your book, but I grilled eggplant instead of frying. (I had a health moment.)
4. Watermelon/Arugula salad
5. Tossed salad
Recipe – Caribbean Rice:
• 2 cups long-grain rice
• 14 ozs unsweetened coconut milk
• 2 garlic cloves (minced)
• 11/2 tsps sea salt
• 1/2 tsp allspice
• 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
• 1 tbsp butter
• 1 1/2 cups yellow, orange, red and purple bell peppers (diced)
• 1/2 cup diced red onions
• 15 ozs pineapple (canned, tidbits, drained and juice reserved)
• 41/2 ozs Old El Paso™ chopped green chiles
• 1/4 cup jalapeno chilies (Old El Paso Sliced, diced)
• 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1. Add the rice, coconut milk, garlic cloves, salt, allspice, cayenne, and reserved pineapple juice to a medium sauce pot. Use the coconut milk can to add 14 ounces water to the rice. Stir well. Set over medium heat and cover. Bring to a boil, then stir and lower the heat. Cover and allow the rice to cook until the liquid is absorbed and air holes form in the surface of the rice, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Meanwhile, add the butter to a large deep skillet and set over medium heat. Add the diced bell peppers and onions. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, to just barely soften. Then remove from heat and add the pineapple tidbits, Old El Paso Green Chiles and Sliced Jalapeños to the skillet.
3. Once the rice is tender and fluffy, dump it into the skillet and toss well to combine. Toss in the fresh chopped cilantro. Taste, then salt and pepper as needed. Serve warm as a side dish, or serve with shrimp of chicken on top!
Yoda recommends the book too
LUCY: Thanks again to all of your book club members for reading AN APPETITE FOR MURDER. And thanks to Cindy for her fabulous celebration suggestions!
If your group would like to discuss AN APPETITE FOR MURDER at one of your meetings, here are some questions to get you started. Also feel free to contact me about “appearing” at one of your book club events. LucyBurdette at gmail dot come
(Note to self: Review the book before you talk to the ladies so you know the answers to their questions LOL!)
And here are a few other book club posts to consider if you’ve already done AN APPETITE FOR MURDER:
I don’t think it has much to do with either the quality of the books or the sales. Lots of mass-market cozy folks are ending up in the refugee boat with me—it’s a mysterious corporate decision over which we have no control.
It’s happened before and I’ve survived and thrived.
I will most likely continue the series in another form in the future.
The support and enthusiasm of readers has been a huge comfort!
But I thought it might be interesting to look back on my reaction to the news that the golf lovers’ mystery series was not getting renewed. (Hint: devastated.) I called this essay “Character Assassination.”
Losing a special friend hurts, even if you’re mourning a figment of your own imagination.
I’ve been getting to know my protagonist, professional golfer Cassie Burdette, since scratching out the opening paragraphs of my first mystery in January 1998. As with most fictional detectives, Cassie wrestled with skeletons in her closet: her father’s desertion, a melancholy, alcoholic mother, a fog of self-doubt. Ambivalence infused her relationships with men and she tended to defer soul-searching in favor of the anesthetic effects of Budweiser. Notwithstanding these conflicts, I imagined Cassie eventually thriving on the professional golf circuit through a combination of talent, spunk, and the right friends.
With five golf mysteries in print by March 2006, Cassie and I have spent the better part of eight years together. I finally talked her into starting psychotherapy (with the help of a couple of other characters) to address her low self-esteem and self-destructive tendencies. She began to play better golf, choose kinder men, drink less, and reconnect with her dad.
Meanwhile, researching Cassie’s world took me on some amazing adventures. I spent most of my first (modest) advance paying to compete in a real professional-amateur LPGA tournament so I could absorb the correct ambience for book two.
And I played golf at Pinehurst, Palm Springs, and in the Dominican Republic—all tax-deductible without stretching the IRS code. I met and corresponded with professional golfers, and many fans—mystery fans, golf fans, and best of all, fans of both. These people worried about Cassie: how can she drink that much before a tournament? How can she eat like that and stay in shape? Lose the boyfriend—he’s a bum! Over coffee, my friends were more likely to ask what was new with Cassie, than with me. And reviewers hailed Cassie as “a character readers can root for.”
I’d begun plotting the skeleton for the sixth installment, involving a golf reality show, a hunky cop, and murder, of course.
Then the word came from my editor: “We’d rather see a new idea—the numbers just haven’t been that good…”
Surprised or not, I was flooded with sadness and disappointment. No more Cassie Burdette mysteries? Like the end of a souring romance, I wished I’d been the one to call it quits.
Days later, waiting to sign books at the Malice Domestic mystery convention, I sat next to an older man with a soft voice and a full beard. He introduced himself as H.R.F. Keating—the Malice honoree for lifetime achievement, including twenty-five novels in his Inspector Ghote series. In response to his kind interest, I spilled the news that Cassie’s series was being killed. I’m quite certain that I cried. He assured me that he’d often thought his series went on too long, that perhaps years ago he’d said all he really had to say, and that seven books might be the optimum length for a series. Then the doors opened and a crush of fans queued up to have him sign books that spanned forty years.
Twenty-five novels, each one nudging back a little further the curtain obscuring Inspector Ghote’s personality: I realized there are many things I’ll never know about Cassie. Will she win a tournament? Have a relationship with golf psychologist Joe Lancaster? Get married? Overcome her fear of kids? Hey, I’ll never know if I’m a grandmother.
But life in the publishing business lumbers on: I’ve signed a contract for my next writing adventure. The new series will feature psychologist and advice columnist, Dr. Rebecca Butterman, a woman who made cameo appearances in several of the golf mysteries.
Cassie wasn’t crazy about her—I can hear her voice now: “You’re writing about a psychologist? Rebecca Butterman? Bor-ing.”
And PS, back to me in the present, wasn’t I so lucky to be seated next to that sweet man at the exact moment I needed his calm? And ps, Cassie did make a brief appearance in ASKING FOR MURDER and DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS. I am a fictional grandmother.
Meanwhile, I am working madly on several projects, but I’m feeling very superstitious. So I decided not to say much about them…I’m not being a tease, I swear, just nauseously nervously anxiously cautious.
LUCY BURDETTE: My hub and I are mad for cherries when they are in season, and trust me we’ve eaten pounds and pounds of them this summer. But we’ve never done anything except eat them from the bowl. I couldn’t imagine pitting all those little guys. But then I got the image of a cherry cobbler in my head, and it would not be denied. (Sadly, I went to the grocery store yesterday and the cherries were GONE FOR THE SEASON! I’m quite certain you can use this same recipe for blueberries or peaches. Back to the story…)
So I went in search of a cherry pitter and found this one on Amazon, which handles 6 pieces at a time. So it still takes a while (maybe half an hour) to pit enough for the cobbler, but this time it’s worth it. Be careful because one diner did find a pit in her portion. You don’t want your guests cracking their molars on your dessert! (Recipe has been adapted for low-sodium diets.)
For the cherry filling:
Six cups pitted cherries
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
Half a lemon, squeezed
Place the cherries in an 8 by 8 Pyrex pan, ungreased. Mix in the cornstarch and sugar, and squeeze the lemon over the top.
For the crust:
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon no sodium baking powder
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cream or milk
1/2 cup sugar
Combine the dry ingredients and then cut in the chilled butter, using a pastry cutter. When the lumps are pea-sized, stir in the cream or milk. Do not over mix. With a large spoon place blobs of the crust over the prepared cherries. Do not worry about smoothing the crust or covering every square inch.
Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. The cherries should be bubbling and the crust a light brown. Let the cobbler cool a bit and serve with almond-scented whipped cream.
For the cream:
1 cup organic whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring
1 tablespoon sugar
Whip the cream with the almond flavoring until thick. And the sugar and stir that in. Serve with the cobbler and swoon. (This is very rich–serves 6-8.)
It’s perfect for celebrations, like the publication of a new book! Or simply reading a great book.
From time to time I’m asked if I’d be willing to auction off a character naming opportunity in one of my mysteries to benefit a charity. I’m always happy to do so and enjoy figuring out how the new character will fit into the story. A few years ago, I was asked to contribute this kind of item for the Key West SPCA. Of course I agreed. The highest bidder chose to immortalize her schnauzer, Schnootie. So in Death With All the Trimmings, the dog became a character on the houseboat adjacent to the one where my food critic lives in the Key West mysteries.
Schnootie was a lot of fun to write, and so I offered the same opportunity to the SPCA the following year. Schnootie’s mother bought the naming rights a second time, and asked that her elderly black feline, Dinkels, be added to the mix. But later I heard that a couple in my neighborhood was distressed that they hadn’t bid high enough to win for their elderly feline, so I layered Jack into the story, too. (In photo above, Jack is on the left, Dinkels on the right.)
I thought you might enjoy reading this scene from Killer Takeout, which hit bookshelves last month. The scene takes place on the houseboat where Schnootie, Dinkels and Jack now live. If you follow the Key West series, you will remember that both Hayley and Miss Gloria have cats who live on the boat next door. (Don’t even think about all those litter boxes on the high seas!)
From Killer Takeout:
As I puttered up to the parking lot in front of Tarpon Pier, feeling the breath of relief and gratitude that always greets me when I realize I’m at home, I heard a huge ruckus on the dock. The racket radiated from Schnootie the schnauzer, whose barking echoed hysterically from the Renharts’ houseboat. As I strode up the finger, I spotted Miss Gloria on the Renharts’ deck. This never happens because Mr. Renhart abhors socializing. Over the incessant yapping of the schnauzer came the shrieking and growling of what sounded like hyenas. A lot of them.
I was pretty sure I recognized Evinrude’s angry cat voice among the yowls.
I broke into a trot, arriving just as Miss Gloria dove into a cartoon maelstrom of spinning legs and feet and fur and emerged with my tiger cat.
And that break in the action gave enough space for Miss Gloria’s black cat Sparky to rush back into the fray. So much was happening that I wasn’t certain who was fighting—or how many of them. But when Schnootie lunged into the whirling fur, I saw my chance and snatched Sparky out. Her chest heaving, Mrs. Renhart wrestled down two other long-haired cats, one pure black and one furry gray with a white face and neck and striking green eyes.
“Oh my gosh,” she said, her voice squeaky with exertion. “What a way to meet the new neighbors. And I so hoped my new kitties could be friends with yours.” She looked utterly bedraggled and forlorn, the two big cats clutched under her arms.
“These belong to you? Let us put our guys away,” I said, gritting my teeth as I smiled. “Then we can have a proper introduction.”
A few years ago, one of my friends mentioned that the foodie mystery series I’ve been writing since 2012 is really a love letter to Key West.
I hadn’t thought about it in exactly that way, but she was right of course. In all seven books, I’ve been excited to share the food and the setting and the people I’ve grown to love since John and I first visited the island ten years ago.
And since that conversation, we’ve had many wonderful moments. The Key West Island Bookstore (where I’ll hold a signing with some of my “characters,”) has a hard time keeping the books in stock.
This winter, the series was included in a feature in Key West magazine about the best Key West beach reads. (I had to giggle seeing the young beach beauty on the cover reading AN APPETITE FOR MURDER–in large print!)
Of course, most of all I love hearing from readers who’ve become fans, whether because of the characters, the island, or the food. Let me tell you a little bit about the new book…
KILLER TAKEOUT: #7 in the Key West food critic series
Killer Takeout takes place during Fantasy Fest, a zany ten-day festival beginning with the unofficial zombie bike ride, and ending with an enormous, creative parade winding from the Truman waterfront across the length of Duval Street.
As always, John was a super good sport, as we got our faces painted like zombies for the bike ride, trotted around town in tutus (no body paint costumes for us though), and served as Fantasy Fest parade ambassadors. We also ate every kind of takeout we could get our hands on–because what seasoned food critic tries to elbow her way into a restaurant with 90,000 visitors crammed onto the island? The only research we avoided was experiencing a hurricane, which to me would be much more scary than zombies or people wearing body paint only.
I’ll be doing some signings to celebrate the new book–and hope to see you at one of them! Any of these stores will be happy to send you a signed book, or two…
I’m so pleased because the third book in my advice column mystery series (written as Roberta Isleib) is finally out as an ebook! Dr. Butterman (AKA Dr. Aster), the main character in this series, including ASKING FOR MURDER, is an advice columnist. Even though I’m a psychologist and an advice column junkie, I found that writing her columns was not so easy. After cranking out three of her books, I figured out how she would describe her approach: “Most people have a pretty good idea of where they’re already headed when they ask for advice. A wise friend simply shines a flashlight on the path.”
But it didn’t come naturally to me, and I realize that other advice-giving professionals struggle too.
Dr. Phil, for example, is not one to stand by on the sidelines holding a flashlight. In 2006 while visiting Los Angeles for the “Sisters in Crime Goes to Hollywood” conference, I attended the filming of one of the shows in the doctor’s live studio audience. A pair of sisters who’d been estranged by boyfriend/husband issues fought like cats and dogs for the better part of their fifteen-minute segment. Even Dr. Phil, an expert on handling catfights, looked defeated by the end of the show. These women had come to Dr. Phil for help as a last resort, but darned if they were going to let him get a word in edgewise. After several attempts to expose the bones of the problem and redirect the sisters, he slumped on his barstool, chin in hand, and rolled his eyes at the audience—as if asking the question “where did I go wrong?” And Dr. Butterman (aka Dr. Aster) has a very young editor who always wants the columns a little more chipper than feels right to Rebecca. Here’s a little excerpt from ASKING FOR MURDER, showing how she sometimes struggled to hit the right note too:
I used the remaining minutes of my aborted lunch hour to choose a question for my advice column and rough out an answer. I’m a clinical psychologist by day, but in the off hours, I whisk on my advice columnist cloak and write the Ask Dr. Aster column for Bloom! ezine. Sometimes the column feels downright silly; other times, profound. I love it most when it evolves into a Greek chorus of my life, that I didn’t consciously intend.
This month, my twelve-year-old (a slight exaggeration) editor, Jillian, had asked for columns that fit the category “Bloom! In spring!” In other words, no downers, no freaking stages of grief, no miserable housewives in housecoats abandoned by their freshly-vital, chemically-driven husbands. The advice should be uplifting, encouraging, bursting with new life and new possibilities. Sigh again.
“Happy people don’t ask for advice,” I told her.
“You’ll come up with something!” she chirped back. “I’ll check in with you later in the week.” (Scroll all the way to the bottom to read the column she came up with.)
LUCY AGAIN: I read every advice column I come across, but my favorite is Philip Galanes, who writes “Social Q’s” for the New York Times Style section every Sunday. He’s funny and sensible and pulls no punches. Dr. Aster could definitely learn from him!
PS My favorite advice column fangirl moment? Our friend Pat Kennedy introduced me to Margo Howard, Ann Landers’s daughter, and a stellar columnist herself. She kept writing as she was reading DEADLY ADVICE, wondering if she’d sussed out the murderer: “I think it’s XXX. No it must be YYY.” And so on. And here was her blurb:
A really plummy mystery, flawlessly plotted, that I especially loved because the heroine is an advice columnist – and a good one! Margo Howard
“Dear Margo” on Yahoo! News and in 200 newspapers.
(Formerly “Dear Prudence”)
Dear Dr. Aster:
I volunteer at a local charity that fights mental illness. I got involved because I believe in the cause, but I also hoped it might be a way to meet a nice guy with similar interests. (Isn’t that what you always recommend to your readers?) The people on my committee are smart, caring, dedicated–and all married, except for one widower who’s slightly older than me though smart and attractive. Lately the married folks take every opportunity to push us together. There’s a lot of winking and elbowing going on, and it’s very embarrassing. He’s a nice guy, but there’s no chemistry between us—certainly not on my side! What can I do to stop the matchmaking? I’d hate to ditch the committee to escape the man.
Yenta’s Volunteer Victim in Vermont
Dear Yenta’s Victim:
Gold stars are in order—I do recommend exactly the path you’ve taken. But oh dear, I had not anticipated this particular roadblock. One question: does Mr. Wonderful seem to feel the same lack of chemistry that you do? If so, it might be easy enough to enlist his help in shrugging off the well-meaning nudges. However, if he appears to have feelings for you, you’ll need another tactic. How about dropping a few not-so-subtle hints about the recent social whirl your new BOYFRIEND has swept you up in?
And here’s one more thought: Since you signed your letter “Volunteer Victim,” don’t overlook your possible contribution to the drama that’s unfolded. Your fellow workers might be reacting to your subtly-sawing violin strings. Check to be sure you haven’t been moaning about your single status without being aware of it! If that’s the case, dost thou protest too much?
Keep up the good works and Happy Spring!
You’ve probably heard me say on Facebook that I was working on KILLER TAKEOUT, the seventh Key West food critic mystery, coming out April 5, 2016. This book takes place during Fantasy Fest, a giant, crazy costume party running over the week leading up to Halloween.
I’ve just turned the copyedits into my brand new editor, now comes the nail-biting wait for publication. (Here’s my other editor, Yoda. He says: You’re going to make this pile of notes into a book?)
Jennifer paints John’s base coat
While I was doing the research for this, John and I participated in one of my favorite Key West events, the zombie bike ride. And where I go, of course, Hayley goes. We went to get our faces painted by a professional face painter—Hayley does too.
This is a very crazy scene—10,000 people on bikes, most of them dressed up and made up like zombies. I made the decision early in the draft that the crime should occur during the bike ride. I had no problem setting this up. The questions came later, when I was trying to figure out what kind of murderer would attempt such a thing in an enormous crowd—and how! And why?
You might think it ridiculous that someone would begin writing without those answers, but I assure you that I do it every time. And interesting to me that Nathan Bransford (former literary agent, now novelist, and yes, the namesake for Hayley’s detective heartthrob) addressed this very question in his recent blog. His advice (which thank goodness I was already stumbling through) is first to identify what you’re trying to solve, and then create some structure around it. What needs to happen before you can reach that solution? Break it all down into manageable steps and it starts to feel possible.
zombies have brains too
And here’s a bit from that scene in KILLER TAKEOUT:
We got onto our bikes and began to pedal. The crowd pressed in on either side. I dodged a wobbly elder zombie on a three-wheel bike to my left and three tricycles loaded with the Andrews sisters zombies on my right. A radio in one of their baskets played a tinny version of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. I snapped photos to the left and the right, and held my phone up to take a short video of the crowd following behind me. Two very drunk zombie girls in black dresses whose hems fluttered dangerously close to their bike spokes approached from either side of me ringing their warning bells.
“Zombie on the left!” cried one.
“Zombie on the right!” said the other.
“Zombie down!” came another call from behind.
“These people are having too much fun. They have to learn to pace themselves over the week,” I muttered to Connie. “You go on ahead, I think it’s safer to ride single file.” Not that I hadn’t done my share of partying back in the day, but I’d learned my lesson. There was a good reason that one of the liquor stores in town was called The Lost Weekend.
I spurted ahead of the others, staying to the right of the pack, concentrating on not getting run into the curb.
“Zombie down!” echoed a call through the crowd.
This time, the “zombie down” was not a cry of wolf. I stopped riding and spun around to see what was wrong. A zombie was splayed out on the pavement. The two tipsy girls swerved past, barely missing the figure in the road.
“Zombie down!” the shouts grew louder and more shrill as the costumed revelers passed their call up the slow-moving bicycle cavalcade to the front of the parade, like a twisted version of telephone.
As none of the zombies around me were stopping to help, I got off my bike and crouched beside the person on the ground. Her face was painted mostly white, with patches of black and red almost the opposite of my pattern. She was dressed in a flowing white gown that made the most of her buxom figure, streaked with the requisite blood stains and red glitter. Her headdress, which looked like a Cinderella tiara, zombie-style, had been knocked off her head and scattered a foot away. I snatched up the crown so it wouldn’t get trampled and shouted over the noise around us.
“Are you all right?” I asked. “Can you get up, or should I call for help?”
She answered with a low groan. My gaze flicked over her body, her arms splayed out, her legs akimbo. So much fake blood had been painted on the costume that it was hard to tell if she was really in trouble. I took her hand, which was cool, bordering on icy. Her pulse was racing.
And then I noticed a froth of red in the corner of her mouth. This problem was no fake.
Every once in a great while, an idea for a short story pops into my head. I don’t find these easy to write, and of course the idea has to be a perfect jewel—something that can draw the readers in quickly, not overwhelm them with characters and backstory, and get wrapped up in a short time. Ha, nothing to it! But I do have one that came out in November in the Level Best Books’ anthology, RED DAWN.
Here’s a little about how it came to be…
A couple of years ago, a friend Jack Getze, had an idea about a cat in a story. He said I could have it, as it was cozy by nature, something he would never use. I filed this away. (I know, I’m being coy but I don’t want to spoil the ending.)
And then I saw a group of women in Key West playing mah-jongg by the pool. This was already an activity that Miss Gloria loved. I could imagine that in between hands, the women would gossip about unusual events on the island. I joined the real players one morning to watch them play, to learn a bit about the game, and to take notes on the exchanges between the ladies, and the setting. Into the file went those pages.
Next, John and I went to Utah for a wedding a year and a half ago, and returned via Las Vegas. The fellow sitting next to John on the plane turned out to be a professional gambler. It was so interesting to hear him describe how he studied his competition—what he noticed and then how he used these observations in his betting. I took furious notes. And then filed them away.
And then the wonderful editors of LEVEL BEST BOOKS, who publish an anthology of crime fiction by New England writers every year, announced that this November’s issue would be their swan song. I sure wanted to get a story in that collection!
I thought of a title that I’d pitched more than once for one of the Key West mysteries: LAST MANGO IN PARADISE. Neither my editor nor the rest of the staff liked it. So now I had motive, characters, action, setting, and a title. All I had to do was write and submit. Ha!
I’m thrilled that the story was accepted and published. It features Hayley Snow, my series protagonist, and her senior citizen roommate, Miss Gloria. And here’s how it begins:
Last Mango in Paradise by Lucy Burdette
Even after Mrs. Silpat was poisoned to death in her Key West conch cottage, the mah-jongg players would not eschew refreshments. Or so insisted my geriatric houseboat-mate, Miss Gloria. If anything, she added, the shock was likely to render the ladies ravenous.
The tragedy had unfolded the week before when Miss Gloria went to pick up her friend for their regular game. Mrs. Silpat had not been her favorite friend–she wasn’t loyal. She put herself first in any situation. And anything she baked ended up tasting like sawdust or old chicken fat. All that aside, years of clacking tiles together, chatting about families scattered to the winds, and exchanging recipes, meant something important in Miss Gloria’s book.
Miss Gloria had knocked loudly several times on Mrs. Silpat’s door and finally went in without an invitation. When she found the woman collapsed in her kitchen, by all appearances dead, her first call was to me–a food critic, not a cop.
“I’m too shook up to think,” she’d said.
“Hang up and call 911 right away. I’m not in the police department, remember?” I told her gently. “I’ll take a cab over ASAP so I can drive you home.”
By the time the pink cab dropped me off in the narrow one-way street in front of Mrs. Silpat’s eyebrow-style house with gingerbread trim, two police cars with their lights flashing flanked Miss Gloria’s old Buick. A fire department EMT van had nosed into her driveway. I hurried onto the porch but was instantly repelled by a cop in polyester blue.
“My roommate’s inside,” I said. “She found her friend–”
He held up a paw the size of an oven mitt. “You need to wait out here.”
As I settled into a wood rocker, an enormous fluffy cat the color of salted caramel leaped onto the porch and wound in figure eights around my legs. Miss Gloria burst out of the house; the screen door slammed behind her.
“I’m sprung, at least for the time being. Let’s scram before they change their minds.”
The words sounded tough from an old lady who’d just lost a friend, but I could see the tremble in her lower lip. The big cat approached Miss Gloria and meowed.
“Oh, Mango,” said Miss Gloria, tears filling her eyes. She leaned over to ruffle the tufts of fur behind his ears. “I’ll have to let Miriam know he’s here. She lives nearby and she loves cats and I bet she’ll want to take him in, poor guy. And oh lordy, the other girls will be wondering if I up and croaked. Anytime I’m a little late, they think I’ve been called to the great Beyond.” She whipped out her cell phone and began texting the news of the cancellation of the game and more importantly, Mrs. Silpat’s death.
I found this post in my draft folder–better late than never I suppose! A few weeks ago, I had lunch and went walking with a dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She remarked how much my life has changed since we first met–back when I was a psychologist and an avid tennis player. And well before writing fiction was even a glimmer in my eye…
And she’s right, my life has changed. It is rich with writing friends who console me on the agonies of the business and celebrate the ecstasies. And it’s rich with people I’ve never met who read my books and are kind enough to write about their reactions. And rich with my new friends in Key West, both real and imaginary. My neighbor describes this series as a love letter to the island. And she’s right, too!
So on the birthday of the sixth book in the Key West series, the most important thing I want to say is THANK YOU! From the bottom of my heart, thanks to every single friend, reader, librarian, writer, bookseller!
On to the events of the day: FATAL RESERVATIONS, the sixth book in the Key West series is in bookstores today. You heard during our last “What We’re Writing” week that Hayley Snow’s great friend Lorenzo has been accused of murder. Then he disappears, leaving his new kitten with Hayley and Miss Gloria. And that only makes him look more guilty. So Hayley plunges in, trying to discover the secret he’s hiding.
You know by now that I can’t seem to help weaving real details into my stories. I’ll tell you about a few…
While I was writing this book, I saw this tattooed on a young man’s arm in the Miami airport: I used to disregard regret, but there are some things I can’t forget. I was so taken by the words, I had to ask him about it. He said it was a line from a song.
Of course I Googled it when I got home, and learned it’s from a song called NO WORDS, written and performed by MAKE DO AND MEND, a band I’d never heard of. I wrote the songwriter for permission to use that line and it’s become one of my Favorite Clues Ever.
photo by Carol Tedesco
And there was the matter of the cemetery burglar in Key West. Over the period of a year or more, again while I was writing this book, a series of unsolved, nighttime burglaries plagued the town, scaring the residents who lived in homes around the cemetery and baffling the police. The cemetery is a beautiful, spooky, historic place—a perfect mystery setting. I decided that Hayley’s houseboat-mate, Miss Gloria, would take a job as a cemetery tour guide so that she and Hayley would have reason to visit more than once. And that way I was able to echo the real suspense of the cemetery burglar in my fictional mystery.
And the food…yellow cake with raspberry cream cheese frosting, blue cornmeal pancakes, walnut-spinach pesto, nocciolato fudge…it’s a good thing I don’t gain weight just by writing about these things. (Nor will you gain by reading!)
And finally, I can’t help leaving you with one of my favorite cameo characters, Snorkel the Pig. I love this guy–he’s one of the street performers at Mallory Square. Here he is, performing in his full glory! He doesn’t do much more than this in the story, but really, should he have to?
Lucy celebrates at RJ Julia Booksellers with a Fatal Reservations Cake
So happy to report that sales are going well with FATAL RESERVATIONS–and even more important, reviewers are delighted with the book.
With no further ado, here’s what they’re saying about FATAL RESERVATIONS:
Complete with a clever plot, a cast of familiar and amiable characters, a buffet of food and all the wackiness of Key West, “Fatal Reservations” displays Burdette at peak form and whets the appetite for Hayley’s next case.–Jay Stafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Final Thoughts: Reserve your time to read this series, it’s delightful. Fatal Reservations digs into the community to create an entertaining book full of characters that jump off the page and mouth-watering food. Jennifer Rummel, YA BookNerd
Fatal Reservations is a fast paced, well plotted mystery full of quirky characters and local color. Between the setting, the guilt-free pleasure of reading about amazing food, and the cats, this has become one of my favorite mystery series. Ingrid King, The Conscious Cat
Hayley’s knowledge of the psychology behind diners’ choices is just the final seasoning on this fun, smartly plotted mystery. Cynthia Chow, Kings River Life
Burdette is clearly on a roll here — like her most recent two books in the series, Death With All the Trimmings and Murder With Ganache, FATAL RESERVATIONS is tightly plotted, quick-paced, and full of unforgettable characters, dead and alive. Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books