Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Death on the Menu by Lucy Burdette: Reading Room Review
Once a-glorious-gain I get to walk the streets of my favorite vacation place, Key West, Florida. Food critic Haley Snow is back in the eighth installment of the series, and I am deeply, hopelessly in love with Death on the Menu, as I have been with every book in this series. Forget Fodors or Frommer's or Lonely Planet to guide you on the perfect Key West trip. Author Lucy Burdette has given you the lowdown on places and food for this paradise with Haley Snow as your always entertaining, ever curious guide. Having been to Key West multiple times, I can assure you that you are walking the streets and meeting the people and eating the food with an authenticity second to none.
So, at this point in the series, Haley has grown more confident in her place on the island and in life. She no longer second guesses her decision to make her home in this paradise, and she is getting a handle on all the multi-tasking she does. Of course, that doesn't mean that our dear Haley doesn't find herself in the middle of messes. That is, after all, one of her talents. But, she has a more secure support system, too, with her boatmate Miss Gloria on Houseboat Row, her catering mother and stepfather, her boyfriend Nathan Bransford of the Key West Police, her other Key West Police connection Lt. Steve Torrence, her Tarot co-conspirator Lorenzo, Bill and Eric of the cute conch-style house, and her co-workers at Key Zest online magazine. I have to mention these other characters because they have become so important to the success of this series and to Haley being able to, well, be Haley. Add to this supporting cast, the fascinating new characters in Death on the Menu, and you have a, yes, a smorgasbord of delicious bites.
Of course, there is crime, murder to be more specific, and each Key West Food Critic Mystery highlights a different part of the fabulous island for the setting of that murder. Death on the Menu takes on an international flavor in a highly anticipated event of a Cuban/Key West conference held at the Harry Truman Little White House in the Truman Annex section of Old Town in Key West. One of my favorite places to visit there, the history of the place embraces you and enchants you, taking one back to the style of the 1950s, especially appropriate for a delegation from Cuba to meet with a delegation from Key West about improving relations. Time stopped in the 50s for Cuba and the United States, and renewing it needs a special place to begin. Haley's mother, Janet, has been awarded the catering contract for the three-day event, and everything is riding on a successful show for Janet's business, and Haley jumps in to help her mother with working for her. In fact, there are multiple people who need the event to succeed for financial reasons, including Haley's friend Bill and his boss, who run the Truman Little White House. But, not everyone is in favor of the conference, especially some from the Cuban community of Key West who remember how cruel the Castro regime was to them and family members. And, there are some in attendance who are harboring deep secrets that could mean complete devastation or reclamation to their lives.
The first day of the three-day conference turns out to set the tone for the event, and it's not a good one. A treasured possession that Cuba, or the Catholic church in Cuba where it was kept, loaned to the event, Hemingway's Nobel Prize gold medal for The Old Man and the Sea, is discovered missing even before the first dinner is served at the Truman Little White House. A tense dinner does ensue, but a further discovery of a dead man in the storage closet off from the kitchen sets the story off to a thrilling whodunnit and why. The murdered man, Gabriel, is the brother to one of the island's Cuban residents who Janet had hired as a sous-chef because of woman's famous secret flan recipe. Gabriel was on site to help with the reception and dinner, and his sordid end raises suspicions that he was involved with the stolen medal. When Gabriel's family asks Haley to help clear Gabriel's name, she becomes determined to find out why someone who seemed so unlikely a target of murder would become one and restore his good name. Trying to keep within the parameters of not interfering with the police investigation, something important to her romantic relationship, is a tricky challenge, and, of course, Haley stays squarely in the middle of it all, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Because this series revolves around food, I think the best way I can describe Death on the Menu is by using the author's own words when talking about the Cuban Mix Sandwich. "Pickles, yellow mustard, Swiss cheese, ham, and pork--the ingredients were simple but the end product, more than its parts." Translating this description to the book's, the ingredients, such as characters, plot, dialogue, setting, word choice/phrasing, may all seem the stuff of ordinary life, which they are, but put together (with the author's magic touch, of course), the result is a delight that you don't want to miss. Or, a shorter version might be, come for the food, but get a great story to boot.