Sunday, April 03, 2016

Key West Food Critic #7, KILLER TAKEOUT, Lucy Burdette

Food critic Hayley Snow isn't a huge fan of Fantasy Fest, the 10-day "party for grownups" that's become an annual part of Key West life. Like most of the "conchs" -- that is, locals -- in the resort paradise, she notices the traffic issues, problem drinking (even the island's tourist bureau calls Fantasy Fest a "bacchanal"), and impossibility of everyday normal life.

Not that Hayley's life has every been all that simple ... readers of the earlier six books in Lucy Burdette's lively "Key West Food Critic Mystery Series" have seen Hayley work up crushes on hunky guys (including police officers), fall into crime-solving, struggle with her roommate situation (nothing's simple on a houseboat!), and wrestle with the workplace politics of the small weekly newspaper where her column runs regularly, along with write-ups of other events she's expected to cover. (I especially liked numbers 4 and 6 -- reviews here.) But as KILLER TAKEOUT opens, Hayley's life seems doubly hectic: Her mom's arriving to get married to a late-life love, her own love life is just getting into high gear with the delectable Nathan Bransford, Hayley's got parade duty to handle, and there's a possible hurricane headed her way. The weather kind, not the twisters of her life.

Add to that the zombie theme of the 10-day island festival, extreme tension at work (new owner Palamina is still determined to overrule Hayley whenever possible), a literal catfight -- and then there's the baffling and really upsetting situation of Hayley's sweet friend Danielle being attacked, just when Danielle should have been making the most of being crowned queen of the festival. Hayley's got a simpler-than-usual food assignment, nibbling from some of the island's best food trucks and takeout windows, but getting it written might not be easy.

Sure, you can call this a cozy mystery -- the yummy meals described, the recipes at the back, the brushes with lusty romance, and of course the cats send it in that direction -- but don't expect a relaxed sweetness in KILLER TAKEOUT! Burdette ramps the suspense up in multiple directions, and even Hayley admits she's overwhelmed. What's going to happen to her romance if she disobeys "police instructions"? Is there any way to retrieve the fun that Danielle should have been having? And what on earth is worth killing for, in the midst of the party?

I couldn't put this one down. It's downright delicious and adventurous, and I don't just mean the recipes (I can hardly wait to make a Mango Dog, or Hayley Snow's Shrimp Salad, tasty but pretty simple -- classic Burdette gifts to the reader).

And I'm still thinking about the stresses and catastrophes of this loaded investigation -- it occurred to me (and it has before, too) that Burdette probably borrows from her "other life" as clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib (Burdette is a pen name), so she knows what makes us happy and what makes us very, very worried. Still, I've gotten used to Hayley by now, and I trust her to get us out of danger. Well, at least, she's got the right friends to pull her, and her family, through the worst!

Release date is April 5, from Penguin Random House. Have fun!

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