Fatal Reservations (Key West Food Critic Series #6)

Fatal Reservations (Key West Food Critic Series #6)

by Lucy Burdette

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451474827
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/07/2015
Series: Key West Food Critic Series , #6
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 192,830
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib, aka Lucy Burdette, has had thirteen previous mysteries published, including Death with All the Trimmings, Murder with Ganache, and Topped Chef in the national bestselling Key West Food Critic Mystery series. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She is a past president of Sisters in Crime.

Read an Excerpt

PRAISE FOR THE KEY WEST FOOD CRITIC MYSTERIES

Other Key West Food Critic Mysteries by Lucy Burdette

OBSIDIAN

For Barbara Thomason, Donna Johnson, and Sheila Dolan, for their gifts of my furs, Yoda and Tonka

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Lucy Burdette

Key West, Florida

February 22, 2015

1

Sometimes spaghetti likes to be alone.

—Joseph Tropiano and Stanley Tucci, Big Night

The first time Miss Gloria almost died, she came out of the hospital rigid with fear.

The second time, just before Christmas, she came out fighting. In spite of having been jammed into a small space for hours, with hands and feet bound and mouth taped shut, she was determined to embrace life with all the risks that entailed. For weeks, she’d brushed off my concerns about conserving her energy, going out at night alone, and piloting her enormous Buick around the island instead of calling a cab. Good gravy, wasn’t she almost eighty-one years old? And besides that, she could barely see over the steering wheel.

I took a deep breath and lowered my voice so the entire marina wouldn’t hear us squabbling on the deck of her houseboat. “Your sons will have conniptions if they hear you’re driving again,” I said. “Lots of things can go wrong—the traffic is terrible this time of year—”

She gripped my wrist with her tiny fingers. “When you look at it without your blinders on, Hayley Snow,” she said, “isn’t life just one big series of close calls? We all have to go sometime,” she added with an impish tilt to her head. “And I’ve realized that I don’t want to go feeling any regrets. And I’d definitely regret spending the rest of my life acting like a scared old lady.” She grinned and patted my hand. “My training shift at the cemetery starts at three. You’re coming for a tour at four so I can practice, right? How about we compromise and you’ll drive me home? That way you can walk over to the cemetery, burn off a few calories, and earn points with your gym trainer,” she finished with a sly wink.

I sighed and nodded my agreement. I’d been had and we both knew it.

She hurried down the dock to her metallic green car and I buried myself in my work in order to avoid watching the big sedan back and fill. When she’d extracted the vehicle from its tight parking space, she careened across the Palm Avenue traffic, tires squealing and horn blaring.

I plugged my ears and tried not to look. I had my own problem to attend to: roughing out a plan for my latest restaurant review roundup, tentatively called “Paradise Lunched.” My new boss, Palamina Wells, was turning out to be a lot more hands-on than any of us working at Key Zest had expected when she assumed half ownership of the magazine in January. Instead of the cheerleader I’d anticipated, she was watching me like a pastry chef eyes salted caramel. Like I might turn on her at any moment.

“I know I’m giving a lot of suggestions right now. I’ll back off once I get a handle on things,” she’d told us in a staff meeting yesterday. “In the meantime, let’s work on making our lead paragraphs truly memorable. Think tweetable, think Buzzfeedable, think Instagram envy. Let’s make them irresistibly viral, okay?”

Irresistibly viral felt like a lot to ask from an article on lunch.

At three thirty I put my overworked, underperforming first paragraph aside and told the cats I’d be back in an hour, lord willing that Miss Gloria allowed me to drive home. If the lord didn’t will that, I couldn’t promise anything.

By the time I fast-walked from Houseboat Row to the Frances Street entrance of the cemetery, I was sweaty and hot, which meant my face had to be its most unattractive tomato red. I took a selfie on my phone and texted it to my trainer, Leigh, as proof of my aerobic exertion. She had been on the money last week when she pointed out that my fitness program had lots of room for improvement. “Increasing your walking from zero miles per week to any positive number would be good,” she’d said, snapping her iPad shut with a flourish.

The Key West Cemetery sits in the center of the island on its highest point, where it was moved after the hurricane of 1846 washed the graves and bodies into the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the tight space on this island, many of the burials are now handled in aboveground crypts—which makes for an interesting and spooky landscape. That—along with some interesting inhabitants—makes the cemetery one of the biggest tourist attractions on the island.

I’d put off agreeing to this tour for as long as I could. It’s not that cemeteries scare me exactly. It’s that the idea of people dying makes me sad, especially people like Miss Gloria, who’s probably closer to that transition than most of the people I know. I love her like a grandmother, only more so, because she’s a friend, so our relationship is free from the baggage that family relationships can hold. And now here she was, training to be a volunteer guide at the cemetery, where the radio station would play all dead people, all the time.

She was waiting for me at the gate, positively vibrating with excitement. “How much time do we have?” she asked. “I’ve learned so much, I’d like to tell you all of it.”

I laughed. “I have to be at the city commission meeting by six o’clock sharp. And I definitely need something to eat before—the commissioners have a reputation for running hot and late. So let’s say half an hour?”

She straightened her shoulders, the serious expression on her lined face at odds with her cheerful yellow sweatshirt, which featured sweet bunnies nibbling on flowers. “In that case, maybe we’ll start in the Catholic part of the cemetery, since it’s closest.” She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. The hinge at the left temple, still held together with silver duct tape, caught on a clump of white hair. She had gotten the lens replaced after it was crushed in the scuffle last December, but she refused to spring for new frames. “I like old things,” she’d said, laughing. “They go with me.”

She waved me forward. “So we’ll start on the right. Then we can work our way around the edges and I won’t forget where we left off.”

“How long are the tours you’ll be giving once you’re finished with your training?” I mopped my face with my sleeve and paused in the scanty shade of a coconut palm.

“It depends if it’s a special event. In that case, I could be here two hours. But most tourists don’t have that kind of attention span. They want to see the gravestone that says, ‘I told you I was sick.’ And maybe the double-murder-suicide grave.”

“The double-murder-suicide?”

“Yes.” She nodded enthusiastically. “He shot her and then killed himself. And the poor woman is stuck in the same grave site with him for eternity. What’s up with that?”

“Somebody with a sick sense of humor made that decision,” I said. “Though Eric always says you never know what’s going on in a marriage unless you’re living in that space. I guess it’s possible that she drove him to it?” My childhood friend Eric is a psychologist and, besides that, the most sensible man I know.

She cleared her throat and started to speak in a serious public-radio kind of voice. “Okay, in this right-hand corner that runs along Frances and Angela streets you will find the Catholic cemetery.” Miss Gloria wove through the mossy stones, pointing out the plot for the Gato family, prominent in cigar-manufacturing days; the English family plot, honoring school principal James English and his father, Nelson, Key West’s first and only African American postmaster; and a gravestone reading DEVOTED FAN OF SINGER JULIO IGLESIAS.

She adjusted her damaged glasses again. “I hope you’ll find something more personal to say than that when my time comes.”

“Definitely,” I said. “Miss Gloria, spark plug, wonderful roommate, and mother of fabulous sons. But that’s too wordy. How about—‘She was up for anything’?”

I glanced at my watch, hoping to change the subject. “It looks like we have time for one more.”

“Oh, I have to show you this one, then,” she said, and led me to the grave of Mario Sanchez, an artist who had recorded scenes of early Key West in his folk-art woodcut painting. “His artwork’s shot up in value. Can you imagine, I had the chance to buy one of his pieces, twenty years ago,” she said. “But my husband thought two hundred dollars was out of our price range.” She looked up at the sky and shook her fist. “Honey, you weren’t right about everything. Those paintings are selling for close to a hundred grand now.”

Then she hustled up ahead of me. “Here’s one more—isn’t it amazing? Their monument looks like a collapsed wedding cake.”

Tiers of cement pocked by dark patches of mildew crumbled from their redbrick base. “It was beautiful,” I said. “Too bad it’s falling into disrepair.”

She waved at two plots side by side, separated by a spiky metal fence. “Apparently these two families were feuding. Maybe they bought the plot before they started to fight? But anyway, now they’re stuck next to each other for eternity with only this fence to separate them.”

As we headed out of the graveyard to her car, Miss Gloria darted ahead of me so she could slide into the driver’s seat. She waved me to the passenger’s side. “Since I’m thinking of driving more often, maybe it’s a good idea if you check out my technique.”

Crossing my fingers behind my back, I got into the car and fastened my seat belt. Then I gripped the handle above the door with my right hand and the seat with my left. She looked over at me and laughed.

“I swear it won’t be that bad.” She put the key in the ignition, turned the car on, and revved up the big engine. We jolted away from the curb on Olivia Street and headed up toward White. At the intersection, cars, bicycles, and scooters roared by in both directions. The town definitely felt busier than usual, but with Miss Gloria at the wheel, all my senses were heightened. She turned on the radio and scooched up the volume so I could barely hear myself worry.

“I’m going to take a right here,” she yelled over the Beach Boys singing “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “because I’m afraid turning left will make you too anxious.”

“You could be correct,” I said with a pained smile.

She drove the few blocks from White to Truman without incident and pulled into the left-turn lane. “See now,” she said, craning her neck around to look at me. “I’m putting on my directional signal. And my hearing is perfectly good, so I’m not going to leave it on after I turn like the other old people do.” She cackled out loud, but I kept looking straight ahead through the windshield, praying she’d get the message and do the same.

“Green arrow!” Miss Gloria sang out, more to herself than to me. She piloted the Buick like a boxy Carnival Cruise ship from the left-turn lane onto Truman Avenue and lurched across the intersection to the right lane. “What are you working on today?” she asked.

I tried to ungrit my teeth and relax my jaw. “It’s an article on lunch,” I said. “I’m planning to include Firefly, and maybe Azur and The Café.”

“What about Edel’s bistro?” she asked. “Aren’t they serving lunch?”

“Everyone knows Edel and I are well acquainted after all that publicity,” I said. “I’m going to give her place a rest for a couple months.” Edel Waugh had opened a bistro on the Old Town harbor last December. A fire and a murder had almost tanked the restaurant—I’d been a little too involved in that situation to be considered a disinterested party when it came to restaurant reviews. “Besides, she’s gotten so popular lately, it’s hard to get a table.”

“Jesus Lord!” Miss Gloria yelped and leaned on the horn as a Key West police car cut in front of us. She slammed on the brakes and rolled down her window. “Where did you get your license, Kmart?”

“That’s a cop car,” I muttered. “Roll up the darn window and keep driving.”

“I don’t care who it is. He’s driving like a horny high school student late for his date.”

I goggled at her in amazement. As we reached the intersection of Truman and Palm avenues, where another left turn led to our marina, I noticed the flashing of blue lights from the water.

“The cops,” said Miss Gloria. “Let’s pull over and see what’s happening.”

Before I could protest, she had hurtled up onto the sidewalk, thrown the car into park, and scrambled out. A tangle of orange construction webbing floated in the brackish water closest to the new roadway, dotted with assorted trash and a lump of something bigger. Three or four policemen stood on the sidewalk looking down, seeming to discuss how to drag the whole mess ashore. One of them glanced up and then hurried toward us, scowling.

“Get back in the car and keep moving, ladies. This isn’t a sideshow. And you’re blocking traffic, ma’am.” He looked pointedly at my roommate.

“Let’s go,” I said, herding Miss Gloria to her sedan. “You can watch them from the back deck with the binoculars.”

“I swear, Hayley,” she said, twisting around to look again. “I think they’ve snagged a body.”

2

When I hear politicians say, “We need to protect restaurants,” I ask: “What other business do you need to protect? Do you protect Wendy’s from Burger King?”

Matt Geller (in David Sax, “Blaring the Horn for Food Trucks,”
Our former back-door neighbors on the next finger over had finally had their old tub dragged away when the renters trashed it beyond repair, which left our view open to the garden spot (not) that is Roosevelt Boulevard leading into Key West. While I dressed for the city commission meeting and warmed up some of last night’s chicken enchiladas, Miss Gloria hollered in with the play-by-play from the deck.

In addition to the two sets of flashing blue lights we’d seen as we drove by, two more police cars and then a rescue vehicle arrived at the corner. Traffic had backed up in both directions, all the way out to our marina’s entrance off Palm Avenue. Miss Gloria spent ten minutes trying to adjust our elderly binoculars, then finally begged me to buzz her over on my scooter so we could rubberneck along with the rest of the locals and tourists and homeless. All the flotsam and jetsam that added up to the population of Key West seemed to be out looking. I was curious, too, but the possibility of seeing another waterlogged body made me utterly queasy.

“We’ll read about it in the paper in the morning,” I said as I carried plates of food out from the galley. “Dinner’s ready.”

We moved a couple of tomato plants off the bench facing the water and sat down to eat. I’d made the green sauce yesterday using a rare cache of tomatillos that I’d snagged at the Restaurant Store’s monthly Artisan Market last Sunday. After rolling flour tortillas around shredded chicken, onions, peppers, cheese, and sour cream, I dredged them in the sauce and baked them until they bubbled. We’d liked them so well, we considered consuming the entire 13 by 9 inch pan between the two of us. In one sitting. Reason had finally prevailed when I remembered my feeble attempt to diet—or at least eat smart—and, a few beats later, the fact that I wouldn’t have time to cook tonight.

“This is just as good as it was last night, maybe even better,” said Miss Gloria after a few bites.

“I love cooking for an appreciative audience,” I said, squeezing her shoulder.

Miss Gloria picked up the binoculars and took another look at the scene down the road. Then she gasped and sprang up to point. “It is a body!”

I balanced my plate on my knees and grabbed the binoculars to focus on the melee. Several cops had dropped over the railing into the brackish water and were now wet up to their waists. Working together, they snagged a tangle of the orange plastic left over from the Roosevelt Boulevard construction and pulled it toward the road. They heaved the whole mess onto the concrete, including what appeared to be a body, bloated and sodden. A lady detective in a black pantsuit with a turquoise shirt moved forward to snap photos.

I put the fork down on the plate and handed the binoculars back to Miss Gloria. “I’ve lost my appetite. I’m going to wrap my supper up for after the meeting.” I gestured at the knot of cops and gawkers. “Don’t go down there, promise?” She sighed and nodded.

*   *   *

Fifteen minutes later, I climbed the very steep steps to the Old City Hall building, an imposing redbrick structure with ornate black railings and a bell tower. For a hundred years, the city commission has been meeting here on Greene Street, a half block from Hemingway’s favorite watering hole, Sloppy Joe’s, and the chaos of Duval Street. I doubted that visitors had any idea how much city business was conducted while they swilled beer and shouted out choruses of Buffet’s “Margaritaville” and Kenny Chesney’s Key West theme song, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.”

The hall was cavernous, handsome, and clearly designed to differentiate the commissioners and city staff from any interested onlookers. A text from Wally, my boss and sort-of boyfriend, buzzed in, which reminded me to turn off the ringer on my cell phone.

Let me know outcome tomorrow? Mom’s chemo today brutal. I’m going to watch a marathon of Breaking Bad and then crash. See you a.m. @ staff meeting.

As my relationship with Wally took a turn for the better over the last couple of months, his mother’s health had taken a turn for the worse. In that sense, our new half owner, Palamina Wells, had been a godsend. She was smart enough to step right in and run the day-to-day nitty-gritty details of Key Zest while Wally took care of his mom. She was also smart enough to recognize the attraction between me and Wally and to remove me from reporting directly to him, so we could see where this love train might take us.

I pulled my lizard brain away from that happy thought, deflecting a few niggling concerns in my executive-function lobe that things with him hadn’t moved along as quickly as I’d expected—or hoped. I grabbed an aisle seat on the left side of the hall. If by lucky chance the floating-restaurant discussion came up early, I’d be able to slip out. The truth is, I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than attend a Key West city commission meeting. But since food was my beat and since the new floating restaurant on the historic harbor was an item of interest, both Palamina and Wally agreed that I needed to be there to report on the controversy.

For a tiny place, Key West has had a remarkable string of entrepreneurs descend on the island, looking to make their fortunes on the next best thing. In the 1800s, it was wreckers scavenging the reefs to make their livelihoods on someone else’s misfortune. Following them came the spongers and the turtle harvesters, who moved on after the populations in question were decimated. And then the drug trade. And after that, the gay pride people. In the almost year and a half since I’d moved here from New Jersey, it had been all about the tourists. And high-end real estate. There are big bucks to be made on this island. Which means some entrepreneurs spend a lot of time figuring out how to game the system—how to avoid running their plans through the gimlet-eyed gauntlet of the Historical Architectural Review Commission, for example. Or how to duck city taxes and regulations while raking in the most money.

In the foodie world, the latest brouhaha over the past six months had been about food trucks. Should these mobile food vendors be allowed to operate in the city? Should our commissioners and planners get busy crafting an ordinance that would control where they parked, their hours, their size, their signage, their proximity to other restaurants? Or do nothing? The administration seesawed back and forth on these issues, its fluid stances all duly reflected with varying amounts of hysteria in the newspapers. So it didn’t surprise me at all that a floating restaurant would attract the same scrutiny.

Up on the dais behind a wooden railing, the six city commissioners plus the mayor and a smattering of Key West city staff filed into position. The commissioners took seats in large brown leather chairs behind a wooden desk, with carved wooden signs identifying each of them. The mayor called the meeting to order, the clerk called the roll, and a Navy chaplain offered a short prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

Onlookers continued to stream into the room as the mayor ran through the items on tonight’s docket. Anything that invited comments from the public was removed from the regular agenda so it could be brought up for discussion later. I followed along on my written copy—the floating restaurant, a dispute among the Mallory Square street performers, and a police report on the burglaries in the vicinity of the cemetery were all removed for comments and discussions. Then the mayor gave out commendations to the Boys and Girls Club for their prizewinning float in the Hometown Holiday Parade, and the latest class of Key West Ambassadors was congratulated and installed.

Edel Waugh, the chef/owner at the Bistro on the Bight, entered through the main door, blinked to get her bearings, then clopped up to the podium to pick up an agenda and sign her name as a speaker. Then she hurried down the side aisle and took a seat in the row ahead of me. Had she seen me and chosen to sit by herself anyway? We’d worked out some, but not all, of our prickly feelings after the death and fire at her restaurant last December.

I assumed she was here to comment on the floating restaurant, which had been docked only a hundred yards down harbor from her bistro. I tapped on her shoulder and whispered, “Are you planning to speak?”

She gave a curt nod. The clerk read the description of the agenda item. “Ordinance of the City of Key West Florida . . . granting grandfather status to Edwin and Olivia Mastin’s request for zoning variance to operate their floating restaurant, For Goodness’ Sake, until further notice.” Then the clerk added, “A petition in support of the variance is attached, signed by one hundred residents. A petition protesting the variance has also been attached, with seventeen signatures. Ms. Edel Waugh will be the first to comment.”

Edel scrambled out of her seat and hurried to the podium at the front left of the room. She barely reached the microphone, and I had to strain to hear her introduction. The city clerk lumbered over to lower the mic so she could be heard. Edel nodded her thanks, placed her notes down, and looked at the commissioners.

“You’ve probably read my name in the newspaper in connection with the fire this past December. Bistro on the Bight is my new restaurant and I’m extremely grateful for the local support which allowed me to open the bistro and proceed with renewed vigor after the tragedy.” The smile on Edel’s face faded away and her cheeks flooded pink. “The proposed floating restaurant lies approximately a hundred yards west of my place, even closer to the restaurants Schooner Wharf and Turtle Kraals. My hope is that city officials will consider matters of fairness when they approach this zoning request.” Edel breathed deeply and patted her dark curls.

“We all live together in this small space—newcomers, old guard, visitors—all of us. I don’t need to tell you that our island occupies less than ten square miles.” She fixed her gaze on each of the commissioners in turn. “As you folks know better than most anyone else on this coral rock, the rules and regulations that the city establishes make life here not only bearable, but beautiful.” She flashed her most charming and grateful smile.

“When I applied for the lease last year for my restaurant on the old harbor and then plans for the renovations, I had to show my design to the Historical Architectural Review Commission. There were many discussions.”

She made air quotes with her fingers and then barked a tight laugh. A smattering of the audience and two commissioners laughed along with her.

“I had to demonstrate that my building would meet the standards of the committee, that it would fit in with other historic structures in Key West. As many business owners and homeowners in the town have done, I spent a lot more time and money than I’d planned to during renovation in order to comply with these regulations.” She sighed. “This is the cost of doing business in Key West, and I determined that it was worth it.”

A light began to flash, indicating that Edel’s time limit for commenting was approaching. Her voice grew louder.

“The question of the floating restaurant raises a question of fairness.”

Two ladies down the row from me had begun to rustle. “She already said that,” said a woman in blue jeans. “She seems to think she’s the only business in Key West.”

“A hundred yards from some of the busiest streets in the city, should one restaurant be allowed to bypass the city’s regulations?” Edel went on, her voice taut with outrage. “Dismiss regulations about appearance and noise levels and the environment? I, for one, don’t think so. People warned me that I’d run into a Bubba system in Key West, but I chose not to believe them.”

I was surprised to hear her mention Bubbas, the so-called old-boys network that some folks believe dominate city politics behind the scenes. This was a little like complaining about communists in Cuba. You had to be careful because you never really knew to whom you were speaking.

“Excuse me, Miss Waugh,” the clerk began, but Edel barreled over her.

“I don’t mind competition; in fact, I welcome it. Competition helps every chef cook better. In the restaurant business, it helps us stay on our game to have someone else nipping at our heels.” She banged a fist on the podium, causing several of the commissioners to startle. “But what’s not fair is restaurants that don’t have to pay the same taxes or jump through the city ordinance hoops with the Historic Architectural Review Commission or the Planning and Zoning Department. Restaurants that have been allowed to open without all the permits in place—”

The city clerk cut her off again and a police officer escorted her away from the podium.

Next, Edwin Mastin, the owner of the floating restaurant, was announced. A solid man with a sunburned face, wearing a green Hawaiian shirt over a small potbelly, approached the dais. I was surprised to recognize him as the proprietor of another restaurant in town—one of the busiest and most lucrative on the island, if not the highest level of gastronomy. He swung around and fixed an angry gaze on Edel.

“Thank you, Miss Waugh. I’m a little surprised to hear you say you welcome competition, because in our view, you appear to be doing as much as you can to destroy it.” He turned back to the commissioners, raised his shoulders and then lowered them with a loud exhalation, and finally smiled. “As you know, I’ve lived in Key West my entire life. I am not a newcomer intent on walking on the backs of other businesses in order to succeed. I own two other restaurants and am in full compliance with all city regulations. In this case, For Goodness’ Sake is not a building; it’s a boat. It’s not covered by the regulations of the Historic Architectural Review Commission, as much as Miss Waugh might wish that it were.” He cleared his throat, ran his fingers through his bushy hair. “Should the commission determine that regulations should be written for floating restaurants, we will certainly comply with them. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.” He stepped away from the podium well before the warning light flashed, which honestly left him looking organized and competent, and Edel, long-winded and a little hysterical.

“Thank you,” said the mayor. “Are there any other remarks?” He took a few questions about the size of the boat (one hundred feet) and the number of customers it could seat (forty) and allowed several other attendees to comment in support of Mastin’s new project. “Thank you for all that. The commissioners will take this input into account and revisit the matter at our next meeting.”

“Damn it,” Edel muttered. “I should have known they wouldn’t do anything about this.” She collected her papers, grabbed her sweater from the seat back, and swept out of the room.

As she went out, a man with a very tan face wearing a pith helmet woven from palm fronds staggered in. He stumbled across the area in front of the commissioners, mumbling loudly, and then scribbled his name on the docket and collapsed into a front-row seat. I’d seen him regularly on Duval Street accosting visitors and badgering them into buying his hats. But right now the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.

Too many times this past year, we’d heard in the news that citizens and professionals had not paid enough attention to the warning signs of people who seemed a little off—who later turned out to be violent. And people died as a result. I’d seen no metal detector at the entrance to the door. Other than the officer who had escorted Edel away from the microphone, I hadn’t noticed a police presence in the room. I glanced around and felt relieved to spot my friend Lieutenant Torrence standing against the back wall, his eyes narrowed and focused on the man in the palm-frond hat.

The mayor piped up. “The next item on the agenda will be a discussion of the lease renewal on Mallory Square for the Artistic Performance Preservation Society. The first speaker will be Commissioner Greenleigh. To be followed by Lorenzo.”

The only female commissioner on the dais pulled her microphone closer to her lips. “I’ve been attempting to work with the steering committee of the APPS for the past few months.” She wiped her hand over her eyes and looked at the clock. It felt as if we’d spent hours here already and there was plenty more to come. “‘Steering committee’ in this case is a term that should be used loosely. In all my years in government and business, it’s hard to say where I might have witnessed a more dysfunctional group. You will already know that for many years the APPS has received the lease for the performance space at Mallory Square, and then they’ve taken care of assigning performers to individual places in the square. But it’s my impression that the city may have to rescind the lease and begin running the Sunset Celebration events itself.”

A noisy rustling burst out in the audience and the man with the palm-frond hat staggered up toward the podium, shouting. “You people have been looking for any excuse to take over. Damn it, this is none of your business! The trouble with the Artistic Damn Preservation Society is right here in this room.” He spun around to point a shaky finger at a tall man several rows behind me: my friend, the tarot card reader. Lorenzo.

The mayor rose to his feet. “You need to return to your seat or you’ll be removed from the premises.”

But instead of sitting, the palm-hat man darted down the center aisle, heading for Lorenzo. He flung himself across two startled women and circled his hands around my friend’s neck. Lieutenant Torrence and a uniformed cop roared up the aisle from the back of the room, yanked him off Lorenzo, whipped his hands behind his back, and cuffed them. He fought and cursed as they ushered him out of the room and down the stairs. Outside, I heard the whoop of several sirens.

The mayor’s face was now beaded with sweat, his wire-rimmed glasses askew, and his wide forehead lined with concern. He removed his glasses and wiped them on his white shirt. “Are you all right, sir?” he asked Lorenzo.

“I think so.” Pulling a crisp handkerchief from his pants pocket, Lorenzo patted his face and neck, now mottled red, and smoothed his hair.

“If you’re able to speak, sir, it’s your turn at the microphone,” said the mayor, and sank back into his leather chair.

Lorenzo nodded, adjusted his collar, and came forward. By dress alone, he stood out from most everyone in attendance: long-sleeved white dress shirt, high-waisted black pants, black tie, tortoiseshell glasses—even his wavy hair had been smoothed into a neat ponytail. All very proper and distinguished. But his face shone in the spotlight and large damp circles spread from his underarms to the body of his shirt. He looked very hot. And rattled.

“I should make clear that I am speaking for myself tonight, as a concerned artist at the Sunset Celebration, not in an official context.” He ran his finger around his collar and straightened his tie. “Next to the ocean itself, the Sunset Celebration is the biggest tourist attraction on our island. Everybody in the world has heard of it, and that’s a major reason why they come to Key West.” Lorenzo touched his forehead again with the hankie. “I hate to say it, but I must agree with Commissioner Greenleigh. Our present steering board seems unable to solve—”

“The city government cannot be allowed to take control—they will ruin this just the way they’ve ruined everything else,” a man called out from the audience.

Lorenzo waited with a pained expression on his face while one of the cops went to quiet the disgruntled spectator. “As I was saying, I’m not convinced that our internal organization can handle itself well enough to make certain that the Sunset Celebration remains the city’s crown jewel. That’s all. Thank you.” He nodded at each of the leaders and returned to his seat.

After some discussion among the commissioners, they decided that several of them should attend the Artistic Performance Preservation Society’s meeting in two days to see if some informal assistance could be rendered. If this proved impossible, more drastic actions would be considered.

The mayor, who appeared tired and haggard, glanced at the big clock on the wall. “It’s late. I’d like to have a quick discussion on this final item, which concerns the ongoing robberies in homes around the cemetery. We pride ourselves on the safety record of our island,” he said, “and now we’ve had what—six? seven? ten? burglaries in what is touted as one of the safest residential areas in the city.”

“More like twenty!” called a woman from the audience.

The mayor ignored her. “The so-called cemetery burglar is making a laughingstock of our police department.” I was more than a little surprised that he’d be publicly critical of the KWPD. He must have been feeling a lot of pressure. He looked around the hall. “I don’t see our police chief in attendance. Lieutenant Torrence, perhaps you could come to the podium and speak to these issues?”

The crowd rustled and muttered as Torrence muscled his way to the front of the room, managing to look official and friendly at the same time. For fifteen minutes, he answered questions from the city officials and the audience, assuring everyone in the calmest of voices that the police were very vigilant and close to arresting the burglar. “In fact, due to our vigilance, there have been no new burglary episodes in the past week. In spite of the millions of visitors we welcome each year, our city remains one of the safest places to live in the United States.”

A white-haired woman in the front row waved her hand frantically and the mayor allowed her question. “What about the body pulled from the water today near Palm Avenue? That does not make us feel the least bit safe.”

Another man yelled out, “Is it true that the victim was Bart Frontgate?” The crowd buzzed.

Torrence’s face reddened and he ran a finger around his collar, replicating the motion Lorenzo had made while on the hot seat. “I can assure you, ma’am,” he repeated, “that the police are very close to an arrest. I’m not able to say anything further due to the sensitive nature of the investigation.”

*   *   *

Miss Gloria, who tended to be an early bird rather than a night owl, was still up when I got home to our boat.

“I found a couple of your double-chocolate brownies in the freezer,” she explained. “I’m so jazzed up from the caffeine, I may not sleep until Friday. Tell me about the meeting.”

I had just begun to describe the antics of the various town folk when my phone rang. Lorenzo. I accepted the call.

“Hayley, I need your help,” he whispered before even his customary polite greeting. “The police think I murdered Bart Frontgate.”

3

Julia Child, goddess of fat, is beaming somewhere. Butter is back.

Mark Bittman, “Butter Is Back,”
The next morning I forced myself to postpone reading the paper until after I’d walked the two miles prescribed by my daily exercise program. Then I skimmed my e-mail and scanned the newspaper headlines online while I waited for the second pot of coffee to percolate.

Both the Key West Citizen and the Konk Life e-blasts were buzzing with reports of the city commission meeting the evening before. I was not the only one who had found the tension uncomfortable. The police chief had refused to comment on his own absence or on the attack on Lorenzo to the Citizen’s most dogged ace reporter, but he assured her that he had full confidence in the lieutenants reporting to him, including Torrence. They were in the process of organizing a community meeting to discuss the state of the cemetery burglar investigation. And they were vigorously pursuing leads on the latest tragic death on the island. I got the feeling that under the headlines there lay a serious crisis of confidence in our law enforcement.

A photo of the crime scene—the deceased covered in a blue tarp—took up most of the space below the fold in Miss Gloria’s paper copy of the Citizen. A quote from the mayor expressed sorrow at the loss of a member of the Key West family. At the bottom of the article a passage read:

The murdered man, Bartholomew Frontgate, was recently involved in the controversy over the lease renewal at Mallory Square for the Artistic Performance Preservation Society. He has been a staple at the nightly Sunset Celebration for almost fifteen years, performing his trademark juggling act with oversized kitchen utensils studded with flaming chunks of meat. Mr. Frontgate had recently drawn the ire of the SPCA when he announced his plan to add kittens to his act, which he planned to juggle along with the forks. Responding to pressure from the local police and a tirade of comments in the Citizens’ Voice, he backed away from the animal component, while assuring the public that he had no intention of setting the animals on fire.

Miss Gloria came out of the bathroom, toweling her white curls dry. “You were up and at ’em early today. Are you off somewhere important?” she asked.

“I’m having brunch with Eric and Lorenzo in a little bit,” I said, “for the lunch roundup. I invited Lorenzo to join us because he’s a total basket case.” I tapped the paper spread out on the counter.

Miss Gloria had heard my end of the conversation last night, so I wouldn’t be breaking any confidences by telling her what was happening—that Lorenzo believed he was a lead suspect in Frontgate’s murder. “I think Eric will be able to calm him down and help him sort out his options. And even maybe figure out why he’s been fingered. I can’t imagine Lorenzo would hurt a fly, never mind kill someone. He’s a Buddhist and truly the most gentle soul I’ve ever met.”

“He’s a darling man,” she said, her eyes narrowing. She draped the towel over the back of a kitchen chair and picked up Sparky, her purring cat. “Probably someone else set him up to take the fall for this, right? You should call that nice Steve Torrence and tell him the cops are on the wrong track.”

I nodded reluctantly. I doubted that Lieutenant Torrence or any other member of the Key West Police Department would welcome my theories. Or, despite her recent status as local hero, Miss Gloria’s.

“Would you mind dropping me off at the cemetery on your way downtown? My boss, Jane, is holding a special class for us guides on symbolism in the monuments.”

(Continues…)



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“Breezy as a warm Florida Keys day....Lucy Burdette is skilled at creating interesting characters who are very real and familiar.”—The Mystery Reader

“Like a gourmet meal, it will leave you wanting more.”—Fort Myers Florida Weekly

“You’ll wish you could read it while sipping a mojito on the porch of a Conch cottage in mainland America’s southernmost community.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Three courses of cozy—romance, humor, and mystery—that will leave you satisfied yet looking forward to another serving."—The Florida Book Review

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Fatal Reservations (Key West Food Critic Series #6) 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
C_Fowler More than 1 year ago
Trouble in Paradise! Haley Snow, the food critic for Key Zest Magazine in Key West has a lot on her plate in this 6th book in the Key West Food Critic Series. Her magazine has new ownership and is pulling out all the stops to grow the publication’s reader base, her love interest seems to have lost interest, her 80-something roommate, Miss Gloria, is now volunteering at the Key West Cemetery (much to Haley’s dismay due to the the recent burglaries in the Cemetery neighborhood), and her tarot card reader friend Lorenzo is accused of murdering another performer from the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration. Haley is certain Lorenzo is innocent, and with no help from the Key West Police Department who believe Lorenzo is guilty, doggedly launches her own investigation to clear Lorenzo’s name, and in the process discovers secrets, bitter rivalries at the Sunset Celebration, and another body! This book spotlights the many layers of Key West life, from the action on Duval Street, the locals, the tourists, the famed Mallory Square Sunset Celebration, the historical Key West Cemetery, and of course the many diverse and delicious food offerings featured in Haley’s restaurant reviews that left my mouth watering. It has an engaging set of characters, especially Miss Gloria, delicious recipes at the end, and was truly a delight to read. Oh, and Hayley’s love life looks like it may be kicked up a notch too! Yay! Haley is a loyal friend I would definitely want in my corner if I was ever in trouble. This book is the most recent book in the Key West Food Critic Series by Lucy Burdette featuring Haley Snow, but can definitely stand on it’s own. However, you don’t want to pass up the earlier books in the series because they are all excellent reads.
Feathered_Quill1 More than 1 year ago
It was business as usual for Haley Snow, both on the business and home front scenes. She had high hopes for a romance with Wally at work and it was the same old, same old stuff with Miss Gloria at home. “Where did you get your license, Kmart?” That cop certainly got an earful when he cut in front of them. You get what you get when you live with an octogenarian on Houseboat Row in Key West, a place that was rather like Cannery Row at times. Things were hopping on the I-wanna-be-an-entertainer scene down in Mallory Square with less than stellar acts vying for a few tourist dollars. Haley was going to do a review on Edwin Mastin’s floating restaurant, “For Goodness Sake.” The “Sake” was a take on the Japanese drink and she was hoping the meal would live up to her expectations. Aside from a bit of disgruntled huff about the lack of regulations from other restaurant owners, a.k.a. landlubbers, the only gossip in town was about the “cemetery burglar.” There had been a rash of burglaries near the Key West cemetery, something that threatened to put a damper on the upcoming Sunset Celebration. Money was money and no one wanted to turn off the tourists. Like never ever, never. The tourists would come in droves for the Sunset Celebration, bringing their bathing suits, floaties, and moolah. All was well until one little floatie showed up in the water near Palm Avenue. “Is it true,” a man shouted at a city government meeting, “that the victim was Bart Frontgate?” Indeed it was and Miss Gloria thought she’d spotted the corpse earlier. Things were certainly heating up in Key West and it wasn’t the temperature. Oddly enough Lorenzo hadn’t seen it in the cards and was some nervous about the whole deal. In fact, Lorenzo hoofed it on out of town, heading west on the Vomit Comet. Lorenzo, a.k.a. Marvin Smith, had been sharing space with Bart at Sunset...and fighting with him. It was getting more complicated by the second and Haley was determined to find out who really stabbed Bart with a fork and threw him in the water. Lieutenant Torrence more or less told her Lorenzo-Marvin was as guilty as they come and not to interfere with the investigation. Haley was fine with that. Not. Things quickly got even more complicated when she just happened to spot some blond hair in a crypt at the cemetery. “Move away right now,” Detective Bransford shouted at her. Who, me? Was that “possible four-one-nine” corpse going to land Haley in the slammer? I’ve only read one other in the “Key West Food Critic Mystery” series, but had no problem picking up where I left off. I do recall adoring Lorenzo and was flummoxed to find out that he was in more trouble than that flambéed grouper that landed on someone’s plate. I was not surprised to find out that Haley was still on the job, defying the KWPD. I love her zest, pun intended, and totally enjoy this spicy, tangy series. The humorous touches, like when Bransford dismiss her “woo-woo hunches,” are marvelously charming. Haley Snow is one sleuth I definitely need to put back on my list again! Quill says: Fatal Reservations is one Key West recipe for murder that’s even better than a slice of key lime pie with a dollop of cream on top.
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
I Have No Reservations About Recommending This Book Last year, I read the five books available in the Key West Food Critic Mysteries, and I completely fell in love with the character and setting. I hadn’t realized just how much until I picked up Fatal Reservations, the just released sixth book, and was delighted to be back in Key West with Hayley Snow. Fans of the series will be delighted with her newest case. It’s February in Key West, the height of tourist season, but below the happy faces everyone puts on, tensions are building. A new restaurant, For Goodness’ Sake, is causing controversy since, as a boat, it has managed to bypass many of the regulations that the restaurants on the island must follow. Meanwhile, a series of robberies around the cemetery are leaving everyone on edge and negotiations with the performers at the Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square are splitting this group into two very bitter parts. Leading one side of the fight on Mallory Square is Bart Frontgate, who entertains the tourists by juggling flaming pieces of meat on specially made forks. When he is pulled from the sea having been stabbed with one of his own forks, Hayley’s friend Lorenzo is the chief suspect. Hayley can’t believe it since Lorenzo, a tarot card reader, is such a kind and gentle man. Yet he is obviously hiding something. Despite vows to not get involved, she can’t let her friend take the fall. Will she uncover the real killer? While I had never given visiting Key West a thought prior to picking up this series, it’s now on my must visit list thanks to the wonderful descriptions in this book. I feel like I already know the island so well, and I have so many places I feel the need to visit. This book continues to bring the island to life and has even added an unlikely spot I’d want to visit in real life. Yes, I must see the cemetery now. The cast of characters has always been great, and that continues here. Hayley has definitely grown stronger over the course of the series, and there is a bit of maturity that comes across in a few of her decisions this time around that I really liked. She’s still a twenty-something, but she has learned from the previous books. My favorite character by far in the series is Miss Gloria, Hayley’s elderly roommate. She delights yet again. Obviously, Lorenzo gets more than his usual one or two scenes, and I enjoyed getting to know him better. The new characters are just as real and interesting as the series regulars. There are multiple threads in this book, and that keeps the story moving forward at a brisk pace. I am a little tired of Hayley being afraid for her job, and that sub-plot is back here, but that was my only complaint with the book. The mystery contains some nice twists and surprises, and the ending was suspenseful and satisfying. Everything going on gives the book a bit more depth than I was expecting, which I enjoyed. The end of the book includes half a dozen recipes for everything from a Raspberry Cake to Blue Cornmeal Pancakes and Baklava. If your mouth isn’t watering as you read the descriptions of them in the book itself, the recipes will certainly get you ready to cook. So whether you are new to Key West or feel like you know it thanks to Hayley and her adventures, pick up Fatal Reservations. This is another delicious mystery with a charming cast and a wonderful setting. NOTE: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Dollycas More than 1 year ago
Dollycas’s Thoughts Hayley, Miss Gloria, Lorenzo and all the other characters we have grown to love are back in this 6th installment of the Key West Food Critic Mysteries. This time Lorenzo lands in the soup when one of the performers from the Sunset Celebration is murdered. Seems they were not the best of friends. There is also a bit of a shake up at Key Zest as Palamina tries to put her own touches into both the office and the e-zine. Miss Gloria becomes a tour guide at the cemetery, there is a thief police are trying to catch and a new floating restaurant has many locals all in a tizzy. There is so much packed into 320 pages and it all flows together perfectly. Lucy Burdette writes a story that not only includes a mystery or two but shines a beautiful light on Key West and its delicious food. The author’s passion for food is clear with all the yummy descriptions sprinkled throughout the book. Yes, she does include recipes too. Friendship also is a key theme. Hayley will do anything for her friends. She does her best to keep them safe and puts herself in peril to find the truth when one of them is wrongly accused. Her romantic life has been a little rocky but this time the author took the step in that department I was hoping and praying she would take. What more can I say, I loved this story. Burdette has served up another delightful feast of mayhem and mystery for us readers to enjoy. I really can’t wait for my next escape to Key West with Hayley and all her friends.
CozyUpWithKathy More than 1 year ago
I enjoy being back in Key West with Hayley and her friends...and the food. Fatal Reservations by Lucy Burdette The 6th book in the Key West Food Critic Mystery series There's a new floating restaurant in Key West, but it's causing a commotion at the city commission meeting, as it seems not to be bound to the same constraints as its on land competition. Add an unruly group of street performers to a volatile meeting and you have a recipe for disaster. Hayley's friend and confidant, the tarot reader Lorenzo, didn't see bad fortune lurking and when a fellow street performer winds up dead Lorenzo becomes the main suspect and flees town. Is Hayley right to believe in him? Even when his story keeps changing? Truths will come out. The life of a psychic: able to see and read others, but unable to foretell his own future. Hayley has always relied on Lorenzo to guide her when faced with a crisis. In Fatal Reservations, however, Lorenzo is the one facing a crisis. Although Hayley wants to believe in him, and help him, Lorenzo's actions belie his innocence. Why run? As hard evidence begins to stack up against him, even Hayley has to wonder if her trust could possibly be misplaced. As Hayley discovers she really doesn't know much about Lorenzo, is she right to stand up for him? With her mother back in wintry New Jersey caring for Sam, Wally acting more like a non-boyfriend, and her roomie, Miss Gloria, caught up with her own friends and new hobby, Hayley finds herself more alone than ever. I enjoy being back in Key West with Hayley and her friends...and the food. Fatal Reservations is a wonderful addition to the series. Lucy Burdette brings the charm of Key West, but doesn't hide its dark side and faults as well. The popular fun tourist attractions can have a seedy underbelly. The author also has us question what we know. Are people really what they seem? Should we stay with the comfortable or reach for something better. What is worth the risk? Lucy Burdette combines cozy fun with the gritty details of life, past and present, with a hopeful look to the future showing us that how we deal with past crises can color our world, either positively or negatively. How will you see your world? Recipes included.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I won an advanced copy of Fatal Reservations in exchange for an honest review. I have been a fan of the Key West Food Critic Mysteries since the first book and the latest installment does not disappoint. I like that the books are set in Key West and have an island theme that is paired so well with the food theme. Lucy Burdette has written such wonderful quirky characters who feel like they have become old friends over the course of the series. In this installment we find Hayley along with the rest of her friends trying to prove here friend Lorenzo innocent of the murder of his nemesis. The question is can she believe him when his story keeps changing? I enjoyed returning to the island to visit with Hayley and her friends (especially Miss Gloria) and who knows, maybe one day I will get around to trying a recipe or two from these books.
gmcootie More than 1 year ago
Hello, Hayley! Only seven pages in and I feel like I’m home again with Hayley. I’ve laughed out loud, marveled over and reread a turn of phrase that I particularly liked, and started to worry about Miss Gloria. I realize how much I have missed being in Key West and knowing what’s happening with Hayley, her mom, Miss Gloria, Eric, Lorenzo, Connie, Wally – well, everybody. Fatal Reservations is the 6th book in the Key West Food Critic Mystery series. You could read it as a standalone, but why on earth would you want to? This series is so much fun and knowing the backstory and history of all these quirky characters is part of the fun. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, but the next Hayley book is always on my to buy list. Hayley’s life has settled down after all the excitement – and murder – over the holidays. Things aren’t really boring for Hayley, they never are, but she does have to deal with the fact that some things have changed. Her mom isn’t around; she’s back in New Jersey temporarily taking care of Sam. So Hayley gets a little breather, but her mom’s not there. Miss Gloria is pretty busy with her new volunteer job as a cemetery guide, and Wally is not quite measuring up in the boyfriend department like Hayley hoped he would. In fact, he is kind of boring. Hayley is still at Key Zest and loving her job, but there is new management and Hayley isn’t totally comfortable with things. For starters, she is assigned to cover a City Commission meeting where there is sure to be controversy over a new floating restaurant. She attends, it’s pretty chaotic and she’s all set to follow up with the politics sure to come, but her new her boss Palamina tells her to stick to the food; Palamina and Wally will handle this type of story from now on. Well, we know Hayley well enough by now to know this isn’t going to happen, especially once Lorenzo becomes a person of interest in a murder and is nowhere to be found. Besides being so cute that I want her to be one of my granddaughters (“I knew how to eat and write a review.”), Hayley is devoted to her friends and loyal to the point of often ignoring danger to herself. Plus she is pretty nosy. So she’s going to find out where Lorenzo is and what is happening no matter who tries to stop her. I really enjoyed this story. Lucy Burdette did a great job of blending Hayley’s everyday life and job and emotions with the changes in the lives of everyone around her, and with the excitement and suspense of the murder. As always, Key West comes to life as much as any of the characters in these books. I feel as if I’ve just been there and experienced the sights and sounds – and weirdness – of life there. And no spoiler, but the ending is perfect! The recipes are a given to be as yummy as ever, but I always forget until I start the latest book about the terrific quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They are all over the place with no particular theme (unless I missed it ;-)) but they are great and I love them. For this story, given that Wally is kind of a blah, one particular quote is perfect: “Wally flashed a smile, tight as the rubber band around a bouquet of broccoli.” – Lucy Burdette, Death with All the Trimmings. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait for Hayley’s next adventure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In “Fatal Reservations,” Lucy Burdette’s latest, fast-paced addition to the Key West Food Critic Mysteries, Hayley Snow is preparing another tasty restaurant review. But when her tarot card-reading friend Lorenzo finds himself accused of murder, Hayley must find a way to prove his innocence, and fast. Scrappy food critic for local publication Key Zest, Hayley is struggling to make her romantic relationship succeed, prove her worth to the new boss, and keep dear Miss Gloria out of trouble. As Hayley works to prove Lorenzo’s innocence—and avoid becoming the real murderer’s the next victim!—readers are treated to delicious descriptions of local cuisine, a fresh-off-the-boat plot, and a full plate of colorful characters. “Fatal Reservations” is the best Key West Food Critic Mystery yet, and each is amazing. Burdette provides another heaping helping of Key West color woven expertly into a menu of bitter rivalries, tangled relationships, and murder. Witty, tightly written, and deliciously twisted, “Fatal Reservations” will leave readers completely satisfied. (Release date: July 7, 2015)
LisaKsBooksReviews More than 1 year ago
Author Lucy Burdette has cooked up a delectable new course in the delicious Key West Food Critic series that made me hungry for more! Readers are going to be thrilled with this latest installment. It was so good to be back in Key West with food critic Hayley Snow. I think being a food critic would be so great. Unfortunately I’m a picky eater, so my career would be short lived, but that just makes it even more fun to live it through Hayley! Um, just hold the dead bodies please.  I just love it when authors start off their chapters with quotes or tidbits of information. Ms. Burdette has done so, with the most fun food related quotes. Anticipating each new quote was a lot of fun. It was hard not to peek ahead and read them. Fatal Reservations was a fantastic addition to this series. One of the best so far. This story moved along at a great pace, never leaving a dull moment. Just the opposite . . . I didn’t want to miss one word! Every chapter brought more excitement, and more questions because there were so many misleads to keep me guessing. And it all led up to a scrumptious reveal that I never saw coming.
vt_loki More than 1 year ago
*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through an author Facebook giveaway in exchange for an honest review.* In this 6th installment of Lucy Burdette's Key West Food Critic mystery series, our protagonist Hayley Snow must contend with relationship and work issues while fighting to clear the name of everyone's favorite tarot card reader, Lorenzo, after he is accused of murder. The usual, colorful cast of characters is along for the ride, especially Ms. Gloria (who is training to work as a graveyard guide). Burdette has loaded this book with enough food descriptions and references to make anyone salivate, regardless of taste preferences. Con: Hayley's persistence in the face of naysayers is admirable (and I can only hope I have such dedicated friends), but sometimes she can be a bit foolhardy and frustrating. I also found it a bit hard to believe that she wouldn't immediately realize that it would be a bad idea to tell a restaurant owner about the contents of her review. Overall, I enjoyed this book as I have enjoyed the previous ones in the series--it's a good beach or pool-side cozy. However, there are enough call-backs to prior books that those new to the series may want to start at the beginning with An Appetite for Murder and work their way forward.