Friday, September 21, 2012

Death In Four Courses - Lucy Burdette

Death In Four Courses
A Key West Food Critic Mystery
Lucy Burdette
If you haven’t read the first book in this new series (AN APPETITE FOR MURDER) this review necessarily spoils some aspects of main character Hayley Snow’s personal life. 

It’s January in Key West, a time of tourists and snowbirds.  It’s also time for a literary conference.  This time, the subject is food writing, fact and fiction.  Since Hayley Snow recently landed her coveted gig at Key Zest, this will be her first job as food reporter and critic.  It should be the perfect opportunity to buttonhole a couple of renowned writers and pick their brains.  Or get an exclusive interview.  Either way, it’s a win.  The keynote speaker is foodie superstar Jonah Barrows.  Just into his thirties, he’s been a chef, a critic, a restaurant owner, and, most recently, an author.  His memoir is unflinchingly honest, and he’s decided to bring that honesty to (or force it upon) the rest of the food writers attending the conference.

His keynote address is pretty clear on this point, making many of the attendees visibly tense.  He essentially threatens to pull back the curtain; not just on food writing, but on many others’ personal secrets.  Clearly, this did not go over well with someone at the conference.  At the opening night party, Hayley has the bad luck to find Jonah, dead, in a pool.  Of course, her maybe-maybe-not-boyfriend, a local detective is less than pleased to find Hayley in the presence of another dead body.  He refuses to include her in his official investigation.  Hayley decides to look into herself, as she believes a reporter should, especially when the police seem to be focused on someone very close to her.
As before, the setting is really the star, with evocative descriptions of place that almost made me believe I could hear the surf.  The author not only excels at setting the scene, she’s very clever in advancing the plot and developing characters.  Even with the murder on the first night, the next day of the conference goes on, allowing Hayley (and the reader) to get to know various suspects/attendees via their participation in panel discussions.  A second murder raises the stakes considerably for Hayley, since her mother was with her to discover the body.
The author takes time to explore the real impact of truth in reporting and reviewing: how much truth is just too much; how much is needlessly cruel; and the fact that cruelly negative (even if true) reviews can impact both the writer and recipient.  Hayley struggles quite realistically to balance truth with entertainment and color.  Woven seamlessly into the mystery at hand, it’s ideas like this that make this series and its characters stand out as a bit more serious.  That’s a compliment.
Rating: 7 ½
September 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-23783-5  (paperback)


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