Thursday, August 30, 2012

Behind the Book: Death in Four Courses

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Get out your limeade (or your margarita), put on your Jimmy Buffett, and get ready to party! Here at JUNGLE RED we're celebrating next Tuesday's release of our own Lucy Burdette's second Key West Food Critic Mystery, featuring plucky food writer Haley Snow. (Lucy, can I say plucky? I mean the adjective in it's very best sense--Haley doesn't think of herself as brave, but she does what needs to be done if her friends are in trouble.  She's my kind of heroine.)

Put together a great setting, wonderful food, and terrific writing, and you have a combination Publisher's Weekly calls "yummy." Now, here's Lucy to tell us more!

LUCY BURDETTE: Talk about providence. Not too long after I signed the contract to write the Key West food critic mystery series, I learned that the Key West Literary Seminar would be focusing on food writing in January 2011. The event was called THE HUNGRY MUSE, featuring foodie luminaries such as Frank Bruni, Madhur Jaffrey, Jonathan Gold, Diana Abu-Jaber, and many more. Not only would I be able to take notes from the best in the business, I could write the whole thing off!

I pictured my food critic character, Hayley Snow, as she anticipated covering this conference for her online magazine, Key Zest. She would be so thrilled to hear and meet her writing idols. But she would have mixed feelings too, as she tried to land interviews with bigwigs, write snappy but thoughtful articles, all while comparing her abilities and her fledgling career to theirs. And maybe Hayley had invited her well-meaning, foodie mother for the weekend, not realizing quite how vulnerable she’d feel working on this important assignment?

With the background in place, I looked for more ways to ratchet up the tension. Suppose the keynote speaker threatened to divulge some of the other writers’ potentially career-threatening secrets over the weekend? And suppose someone would kill to hide one of those secrets? And then what if a dear friend was implicated in this murder? Oh, I was rubbing my hands with fictional glee over the possibilities…

I write best when immersed in the setting I’m writing about. So I pictured Hayley attending the events I was attending—the opening lecture from a foodie luminary (in reality, Ruth Reichl; in Hayley’s world, Jonah Barrows), the cocktail party at the Audubon House, the panel discussions on topics such as “transubstantiation” and “cultural stew—spicing up language and life,” which became “Food Writing as a Funhouse Mirror—Marcel Proust Meets Bobby Flay.” 

And then there was food! For Hayley's benefit, I snagged a ticket to one of the extra events, The Flavors of Key West, a multi-course dinner and wine-tasting at Louie’s Backyard. And ate more food—dinner at Santiago’s Bodega and lunch at La Creperie (chocolate crepe pictured on left), where Hayley takes some guests and quizzes them about the murder…I’ll let her describe it:

"The waitress delivered our meals: Greek salads thick with feta cheese and Ni├žoise olives folded into buckwheat pancakes, a spinach and mushroom omelet, and the ham and cheese sandwich crowned with an egg over easy and an order of french fries on the side.

“Besides, if the conference sponsors aren’t happy,” Sigrid said, plunging her knife into the sandwich so the yoke flowed like yellow lava over the ham onto the crunchy stalks of potato, “Dustin’s out of a job.”

I loved developing the oddball secondary characters, like my fictional novelist Sigrid Gustafson, mentioned above, and imagining what they might have written and how they'd talk about their writing at the conference. Here's Sigrid expounding on the meaning of her novel:

“In Dark Sweden, the murderer reveals himself over a platter of raw oysters…At the moment the detective recognizes how he’d missed this opportunity to clinch his case, he also understands that his finicky palate will continue to interfere with his job unless he opens himself up, like a reluctant mollusk.”

Another character, Fritz Ewing, made his name writing poetry about protein. Here’s a snatch from his poem called “The Butcher.” 
At night, he brings his apron home, layered with the detritus of his day.
A splash of blood from the rib eye steaks carved for the rich man on the hill.
A touch of green from lobsters cracked and cleaned for the fussy housewife,
Who will eat pink flesh but not green, no matter how pleasing the taste.
Marrow from hacked bones,
Distributed to fancy restaurants and slavering dogs alike.

But it wasn’t only the food and the oddball characters that I loved writing about. I’m crazy about Key West, period. There’s something magical about the island. I feel so lucky to spend time there and to write books set on the island. My friend Mark Hedden summed the sense of what's so special about Key West up well:

“The thing about Key West is that it is ultimately a fragile place. Low and small and flat and just sitting there, unprotected, in the middle of all that ocean. One big hurricane, a foot or two of sea level rise, and we could be wiped off the map. Every day you live here, there’s a sense that you’re getting away with something.” 

And that’s the way I feel about writing DEATH IN FOUR COURSES—sure it was a lot of work; but the kind of work that leaves me I’ve gotten away with something.

DEBS:  And now I'm hungry (and envious that you got to hear Ruth Reichl speak...) I'm going to get out my copy of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES and contemplate recipes. 

Readers, you can do the same. There are lots of ways to pre-order the book—you can pick your poison:

Barnes and Noble
Or for a signed copy, RJ Julia Booksellers
And don't forget to leave a comment to be entered in our double-barreled drawing--for a copy of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES and for a copy of KEYS CUISINE, Flavors of the Florida Keys, by Linda Gassenheimer. (So you can cook like Hayley!)


  1. fronov oneNext Tuesday is an auspicious day for Jungle Red writers. September will be a wonderful reading month with so many great new books.

    I'm hungry just reading this blog. Plus, it feels like fall here in Maine this morning so thinking about sun and sand - and food - in the Keys sounds great.

    Good luck with the new book, Lucy.

  2. This book sounds like a fun read, and I wish this series great success.

    I've been to the Keys, but only as far as I think Duck Key. Key West is still on the old bucket list, or the TBT-to be traveled list. The fun thing about books is we can go anywhere without leaving home!

  3. I might have been at a luncheon table with Sigrid at Bouchercon in '09. She kept eyeballing my muscles.

    Good luck with the new book, Lucy. I'm going for the autographed version so take me out of the drawing.

  4. Thanks so much Marianne and Karen! So Jack, was Sigrid looking at your chest hair too??

  5. I admit I'm a flirt, but I never let it get that far with Sigrid.

  6. I'm hungry now, too. Love this series! Congratulations on the release, Lucy.

  7. Congrats on your new release, Lucy! I loved "An Appetite for Murder," and have been looking forward to Hayley's next adventure. If I can't actually be in Key West, I'll have to enjoy it (and the food) vicariously - Thank You!

  8. Congratulations, Lucy, and good luck with the book. It sounds --- well, delicious. Thanks for the fascinating "behind the book" glimpse into your writing; I’m looking forward to reading Haley’s latest adventure.

  9. Joan! Edith! Kaye! thanks for the nice comments xo

  10. Can't wait to read your new book. It has been years since I was in Key West, but after I read "An Appetite for Murder" I had to put it on my trip list.

  11. I can almost smell the fresh lime coming off that cover! I've already pre-ordered my copy from Amazon and looking forward to reading it on the Cape. Perfect book for sand in toes!

  12. In anticipation of the new book, last week I pulled out my copy of the first Haley book to reread it. The food and locale descriptions make me want to drop everything and fly right down there. What I really love about Haley is her tendency to rush right into a situation. It is both endearing and humorous. While I had the book in my hands I HAD to read the preview of the new one. I would not let myself do that the first time around because it was too far away from publication and I KNEW I would want the book immediately! And I was right! I can't wait to get the second one!

  13. My grandson lives in Key West so I am always interested in the Keys. I also love to cook and eat - what could be better than this series. Dee

  14. Thanks Robin and Ro!

    Deb R, such fun to hear that someone is rereading and holding off on teaser:). And glad you find Hayley amusing--probably the biggest complaint I've heard about her is exactly what you put your finger on--she rushes into things. but as one of my friends pointed out--that gives her room to grow:)

    Dee--so neat that your grandson lives in KW! Did I already ask you how he ended up there?

  15. I can't think of a BETTER setting for a series.

    You've got history, physical beauty, artchitectural charm, zany characters and lots of opportunity for murder.

    And then of course, there is the food!

    Congrats on the book!

  16. Can't wait for Tuesday. Read An Appetite for Murder in two days. Good luck with the new book!

  17. Hurray hurray hurray!!! Margaritas for everyone!!

    SO happy for you, Lucy!

    And will confess to pre-ordering SEVERAL copies..

  18. Congratulations, Lucy! I can't wait for it.

    I pre-ordered this and Hank's book. Hank's is just in--I'm picking it up today--but yours is not yet. :-(

    I guess they're making me wait until the official launch date. *grumble, grumble*

    We've got so much to celebrate next week, though. Lucy's, Hank's, and Edith's books all out on a Red letter day!

  19. Good luck with the new book. It sounds delicious in many ways.

  20. Reading this at the beginning of my lunch hour before eating was so not a good idea. I am now ravenous. It sounds so good that I just popped over to Amazon and bought the first book in the series. Good luck on the new release.

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  22. Wow. More great reads coming at us this month. I wish you great success with the release, Lucy--I love food and just reading the reviews and the synopsis has me me hungry for a great meal and a great story.

  23. Lucy, I'm still thinking we need to plan a REDS retreat in Key West.

    And I'm really glad you didn't kill off Ruth Reichl. I'll bet she is, too:-)

  24. thanks to everyone--we are so glad you're here! We will celebrate Hank's book on Tuesday and Edith will be visiting later in the month.

    Char, Linda, Mo--thank you for ordering!!

    Hank and Jan--thank you for all the support! Darlene and Terri--thanks:)

    Debs, Ruth Reichl did not strike me as the kind of woman who'd enjoy getting killed off--even if it was fiction! Key West retreat, yes!

    (ps I would write everyone a separate comment but the captchas are killing me!But in my heart, I'm thanking each of you...)

  25. Last Lucy book I read made me wild for Key Lime Pie. Alas, it's easier to make and eat than to walk off ... .

  26. I am always in awe of what Lucy does for her art: "For Hayley's benefit, I snagged a ticket to one of the extra events, The Flavors of Key West, a multi-course dinner and wine-tasting at Louie’s Backyard."

    I definitely want what she's eating!

    Congratulations, Lucy!

  27. Congratulations on the release of the new book. I enjoyed the first book especially since I love the Florida Keys.

    A double barreled contest? WAAAAY COOOOOL!

  28. I would love to win!!! I loved the 1st book in the series and can't wait to read more!

    sarah2323 at gmail dot com

  29. This looks to be the best to date that i will read book. cover just wants to pull you in and get you reading it. Can't wait.

  30. Can't wait to get my book! I have never been to theKkeys and it is so much fun reading about them in your books.

  31. Sorry Leslie, I've had to up the exercise too!

    And Hallie, yes I do sacrifice myself daily for my art:)

    thank you Nora! and Sarah!

  32. Sounds wonderful...Look forward to reading it!

  33. The only problem with reading Lucy's book is that whatever I find in my own kitchen tonight is going to be a vast disappointment. I have to say, these books press all my buttons: food, escape to the sunshine, and reading.

    Maybe the rest of the Reds' series sleuths should start paying Haley Snow visits. I know Key West in January sounds a lot better than the Adirondacks...

  34. Can't wait for the new book! It's been on my pre-order thru Amazon for a long time. Haley is one of my favorite characters and the food talk is icing on the cake :). Good luck, Lucy.

  35. I am waiting -- not too patiently -- for the delivery of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. I love book #1 and can hardly wait to dig into this one.

  36. Lucy, your new book sounds yummy! Congrats!

  37. Thanks to every one of you for joining the party today. Hope you didn't have TOO many margaritas because Hank is coming up next!

    I am so grateful to have such a great group of friends on JR!

    xoxo Lucy

  38. what a mad-crazy giveaway!!!! i think i'm a tiny bit buzzed after reading this post!!! LOL!!!

  39. I feel so lucky to be part of Lucy’s world through her characters. I can’t wait to read it!

  40. Can't wait for the book to arrive!!
    Pat M

  41. I'm so excited for this book to come out! ;] Even though me and my friend work at the library we've been stalking the bookstore for this book for a while now...can't wait to read it!!

  42. Can hardly wait for this to come out!
    Tuesdays are my favorite days.

  43. I like the cover. Berkley and Obsidian always have good ones. Never been to Florida, but I haven't traveled much.

    I don't drink so I guess I'll take the limeade or, better yet, an iced mocha.

  44. So many new books coming out !

    Yippee - thanks to all the awesome writers supplying us "bookies" with a fix !!

    Good luck to all with sales