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Key West Mystery Writer Offers Up Some Killer Takeout

Carol Tedesco
The Key West Food Critic mystery series is written by Lucy Burdette — pen name for Key West resident Roberta Isleib";

  There are a lot of mystery books set in Key West. And now there's a new addition to the list: Killer Takeout, the seventh installment in the Key West Food Critic Mysteries.

The series is by Lucy Burdette, pen name for Key West resident Roberta Isleib. She recently spoke with WLRN's Nancy Klingener about the new book and about the series.

What are the Key West Food Critic Mysteries?

It's a cozy mystery series, which means no explicit blood and sex on the pages. And it all takes place in Key West and the main character is a food critic, which means John and I get to eat out a lot.

Killer Takeout, the seventh installment in the series, publishes on April 5.

The latest book is set during Fantasy Fest, with a hurricane bearing down. How did you come up with that scenario?

We were here, not this past year but the year before, for Fantasy Fest and it was pretty interesting. A lot of that, real things that go on, are not things that I could put in an actual book. But you get your eyes opened. There's plenty of tension — there's a lot of tension in the city about should we even be having Fantasy Fest and then there are these 90,000 or however many people who descend on the island and feel like it's theirs. So there's that automatic tension between the people who really live here and the people who visit.

And then, always thinking about how to up the ante — the hurricane is the scariest thing, to me that could happen. I don't want to be here for one, but I'm always, as Hayley the main character does, asking people, 'Would you stay or would you go? How bad does it have to be and how do you make that decision?' So I thought I would put that in.

South Florida in general and the Keys especially have been the setting for a lot of mysteries. Was that something that was appealing to you about setting a book here or did it almost feel like an impediment?

I guess I didn't think too hard about it because I didn't want the weight of that sitting on my shoulders. John D. MacDonald was somebody whose books I read all the way through and of course his character lived on a boat so maybe I borrowed that in the back of my mind. But yeah, I didn't really think about it or maybe I wouldn't have done it.

But since I was here — I really write better if I'm on location. It's harder for me to just make something up completely in my head. But walking around Key West, if you can't find plots and the characters you're not looking very hard.

Walking around Key West, if you can't find plots and characters, you're not looking very hard.

You use a lot of real names, both places and people, in your books. Why do that and what has the reaction been?

Key West is Key West so I didn't really see how I could make it a different place than what it is.

People want to be in the book. There are a couple of people in the first book — Ron, who's now called Lorenzo, the tarot card reader, and Steve Torrence, one of the main police characters — I didn't know them, but I just thought these are cool characters that need to be in the book. With both of them, I have become good friends and they help me a lot with plot ideas. If I take Lorenzo, aka Ron, to lunch, all I need to do is run home afterwards and write down the amazing things that he said.

Do you have a favorite book about Key West?

There's a book called Hemingway's Cats. I'm crazy for those cats over at the Hemingway House. I know they're not really his cats and maybe they really have no connection to him, but I love looking through that book and going over there and getting in free as a local and taking photographs of the big feet.