The lure of Key West is irresistible. I’ve loved the place since I first went there as a kid when it was a lot shabbier than it is today. Hemingway was barely gone from the house on Whitehead Street, the bars had sawdust on the floor and fewer fancy drinks and Mallory Dock was a no-fuss waterfront seat for the spectacular sunsets—bring your own brew and no antic performers. I interviewed Tennessee Williams in his conch cottage there and reported on Force 5 hurricanes and cataclysmic boatlifts from Cuba, patronized the local watering holes and the upscale hotels, hung around t-shirt shops, art galleries and bookstores, got addicted to lobster sandwiches at the Pier House and lunches and brunches everywhere.
So a murder mystery set at U.S. 1 Mile Marker Zero, the Southernmost Point of the United States, had all the appeal of a slice of genuine Key Lime Pie—which is, by the way, yellow, not green. (The traditional topping, whipped cream or meringue, is the subject of ongoing debate. IMHO, whipped cream sets off the slightly bitter filling nicely.) An Appetite for Murder by Lucy Burdette has plenty of key lime pie in it—as literary fare, dessert, and a murder weapon. Who knew you could die of something so divine? The novel also has the world’s chattiest heroine with the century’s hugest appetite. I calculated the girl must weigh at least two hundred pounds given her constant noshing and the quantities of seriously fried and fattening foodstuff she consumes.
The gastronomic excess was a little off-putting, truth told. It is not healthy to eat that much. Not smart to talk that much either. Hayley Snow seems not terribly bright and has an unshakeable propensity for shooting herself in the foot, when the foot isn’t lodged firmly in her mouth. She trails after a new boyfriend from her home in gloomy, wintery New Jersey and ends up dumped at the curb when he trades her in for a blonder, more calculating local model. Hayley conveniently has a girlfriend with a spare bunk on her houseboat at the marina and her best friend, a gay therapist, lives nearby. So she and her cat, Evinrude, are set, if heartbroken, and she decides to become the food critic for a new magazine, necessitating much more non-stop eating and mouth-watering meal descriptions (recipes included at end of book).
The caddish boyfriend’s name is Chad—is this just a little cliché? He is a Type A divorce lawyer hunk and Class A jerk. The blonde replacement girlfriend is old island family money and one-half the ownership team of the new magazine our heroine hopes to write for. Uh oh. When sexy Kristen (goes with ‘Chad’, like Barbie and Ken) is fatally felled by a pig-out on poisoned key lime pie, Hayley becomes the chief suspect. She has no alibi and the cops are pretty clueless so she sets out to find the real murderer. Her exploits endanger a houseboat, a vintage car and a sweet old lady. Her cat goes missing (sniff). Which led me to contemplate how a cat in New Jersey would get the name Evinrude—an outboard motor commonly parked on the stern of modest fishing boats in places like Key West, not so much New Jersey. But why quibble about logic and geography in a book set in modern Margaritaville?
What did I like? All the Key West. I haven’t been there for ages and it was fun to read about Duval Street, Truman Annex and the cemetery and remember the days when flip flops, a balloon tire bike and bar money were all you needed to navigate the island. What did I not like? Hayley’s run-on mouth and voracious appetite—dumb and fat are not very appealing. What works for this book? It moves. It has a plot and the murder solution is credible, if pedestrian. It is apparently the first of a series starring the Hapless Hayley and her down-market friends in the land of the multimillion dollar conch houses. I’m betting there will be a killer hurricane in a future volume. And I will probably read it, too, because my nostalgia for Key West is as inevitable as Hayley’s food cravings.
Recipes in book 1 include crumb cake, fried eggplant and sugar cookies. Where are the conch fritters, grilled snapper and key lime pie? No matter. I have superb recipes for those already, the authentic versions—whipped cream/no meringue. Although I honestly would not suggest wolfing down all these classic comestibles at the same meal. Just sayin’.
An Appetite For Murder: A Key West Food Critic Mystery Lucy Burdette | Obsidian 2012