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Lucy Burdette's Mysterious 'Key Lime Crime'

'The Key Lime Crime: A Key West Food Critic Mystery' by Lucy Burdette
'The Key Lime Crime: A Key West Food Critic Mystery' by Lucy Burdette

Key West is known for its laid-back lifestyle. But the book "The Key Lime Crime" shows us that the pastry chefs behind the island’s sweet key lime pies are anything but laid back.

It’s our Sundial Book Club pick for June. The mystery fiction culminates when a fancy chef brings a key lime puff pastry to a pie-baking contest.

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The city’s pie aficionado, and host of the contest, is beside himself and a fierce rivalry begins in Key West’s pie-baking world.

Someone gets pied in the face, but that’s not the worst of it — one of the pastry chefs is mysteriously murdered.

You can join the book club here.

WLRN’s Luis Hernandez spoke with the author Lucy Burdette about the book and her Key West Food Critic Mysteries series.

Below are excerpts from the conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.

WLRN: You are a clinical psychologist. At what point did you decide to go down the path of becoming a writer?

BURDETTE: I started writing in the late 1990s when I had become obsessed with trying to play golf. I was so bad and I spent so much time working on it that my psychologist brain was saying — "What can you do with this? How can you make something from it?" At first I was writing articles about the psychology of golf, which, believe it or not, is a big field. And then when I had trouble placing a lot of these as a freelancer, a friend said, "Why don't you try writing a mystery?" And it was like something clicked. I'd always read mysteries. I love mysteries. So that's how it started.

They tell people, write what you know. So I wrote about a neurotic lady golfer and it fit perfectly. The trouble is, it turns out that golfers don't have a lot of time to read and readers hate golf. So I had to move on to something else. And now I'm on the third series, which is the Key West Food Critic series.

You live in Key West, part of the year. When did you decide that you wanted to spend so much time there? And how did it inspire the characters in the book?

We just fell in love with Key West. It's such an interesting place. Lots of art, lots of music, lots of book people there. There are sports for my husband. If I get stuck, all I need to do is go outside and look around and the characters and the quirky people are all around me.

Some of the people in the books are actually based very closely on real people. Like I have a character named Lorenzo who reads tarot cards at Mallory Square at sunset, and that is very much a real person. His actual name is Ron and I've gotten to know him. And every time I'm writing a book, I try to take him to lunch because he gives me so much insight into the island and the people and also how he would think about what he does.

Another character, Haley, was like me. She had come to Key West. She didn't know the people. She didn't understand how the island works. She had come because a man invited her. And when that exploded, as it should have, she'd already gotten so attached to being there that she would do anything to stay. And she's evolved a lot. I'm not the kind of writer who can sit down and write pages and pages of character sketches. These people get more alive to me the longer I write.

What makes the Key West food scene unique?

Well, there are the kinds of food that are special to Florida and not just Key West, but all of South Florida — key limes and mangoes and papayas, things that in the northern part of the country are just foreign to people. So that makes it special. I have met several people who are cooking down in Key West. They're special people too, because you need to be unusual to end up living in Key West. It's expensive. And there are scary times with the hurricanes. So I think it's just the different kinds of people.

Why does a small little touristy town like Key West make for such a great setting for a crime story?

Well, there are so many layers. I think that's part of it. The tourists who come in for a day, they see one thing. They see Duval Street, the bars, the outdoor restaurants and the T-shirt shops. That's one surface level. And then you stay there a month and you realize, no, there's a lot more to it. And then you stay there longer and you realize, no, there's even more to it than that — because people have lived here all their lives.

They're called Conchs and they experience it in a different way than a visitor ever would. So I never run out of ideas. You open up the newspaper and it's full of ideas. I don't know exactly what it is but it's so beautiful. People aspire to be there and live there. I think a lot of readers feel that magical connection without even visiting.

Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.
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