When one of my favorite mystery series takes place in one of my favorite places, it’s a vacation in my mind with each book. The Key West Food Critic series featuring the entertaining food critic Hayley Snow and a loveable supporting cast of her family and friends take me back to the quirkiness of Key West time that I have reveled in personally. There’s always a great mystery to go with the familiar streets and restaurants and landmarks Hayley zips around to on her scooter, often with her octogenarian friend Miss Gloria on the back. However, in this book, A Scone of Contention, author Lucy Burdette moves the setting to Scotland, a honeymoon for Hayley Snow and her newly wedded husband Nathan Brandsford. Scotland happens to be one of the places I most want to visit. This series just keeps on hitting all the right notes.
Hayley and Nathan have decided to take a honeymoon to Scotland, staying with his sister Vera, who lives there. But, it won’t be a traditional honeymoon. They’ve invited Miss Gloria, Hayley’s former roommate and now neighbor on houseboat row to go with them, and Nathan’s not-so-warm mother, Helen, has invited herself to also go, using the opportunity to see her daughter whom she hasn’t seen in quite a while. With Hayley’s friend Connie and her husband Ray just down the line on houseboat row and Hayley’s mother and stepfather living in Key West, Hayley and Miss Gloria aren’t worried about their treasured cats and Nathan’s dog being well cared for. Although, before they leave, Ray is involved in an incident at the art gallery where he exhibits, and Hayley hates leaving Connie alone with that worry. But, Scotland awaits, so the foursome takes off for a honeymoon trip.
Hayley and Nathan are already anticipating some tension between Helen and Vera. Theirs is a complicated, uneasy relationship that stems from Vera being abducted as a teenager. But the newlyweds encounter even more awkward tension among Vera and her friends who are working on a book about Scotland together. The very first night of their visit there’s a dinner part at Ainsley’s, one of Vera’s closest friends and manager of the book project. Ainsley’s chef has prepared an enormous amount of food with which Hayley can start her article about Scottish food for the Key Zest ezine, her place of employment. The next to last dish is a light salad, what is purposed as a palate cleanser before dessert, but before dessert is over, Glenda, the wife of the book project’s photographer, Gavin, becomes ill. It’s eventually traced to the salad, with only her salad containing foxglove, a plant grown in Ainsley’s yard. Glenda accuses the chef of trying to kill her, but an ongoing investigation into it proves inconclusive.
The salad incident doesn’t keep Vera, Ainsley, Glenda, and Gavin from visiting sites for the completion of their book. Accompanying them are Hayley, Miss Gloria, and Helen. William, Vera’s husband, has commandeered Nathan to play in a golf tournament at the local and famous St. Andrews course for several days, after which they will join the group. The first trip out, a day trip, to the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift in central Scotland that connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, proves to be quite a shocking event. A man falls overboard and dies, and the authorities don’t know if it’s an accident or if the man was pushed. Vera and her book crew deny knowing who the man is when shown a picture of the deceased by the police. Hayley begins to suspect some deviation from the truth, and when that happens, readers know she and her own collaborators of Miss Gloria and Helen will do some digging.
With the deadline for Vera’s book looming, they continue with their visits to the “thin places,” those in which the current world seems to be closest to the past world. It is these places that are the focus of the book and which Vera, who is the writer for the book, captures so beautifully with her words. Miss Gloria is especially interested because her ancestors were a part of the McDonald and Campbell clan history. The rest of the trip involves overnight stays in the places they explore, and the action heats up considerably, as does the tension among the book project team. Hayley is doing behind the scenes investigating, and one of her group is moving closer and closer to a untimely end. With lots to tie up in Scotland, readers still get to see the Key West crew return to their beloved island and Hayley clear up one more mystery.
Lucy Burdette is so adept at bringing a setting to the reader, helping the reader to see and feel the place, that I knew I would enjoy this trip to Scotland in the series. That she includes historical connections to the places are a favorite feature for me. A Scone of Contention is the 11th entry into the Key West Food Critic mysteries, and by now the regular cast of characters feel like friends. They have been deftly developed by Burdette, and fans of the series look forward to finding out what is happening in their lives. Of course, the new characters that appear in each book are brilliant, too. I did miss Hayley cooking a bit in this latest book but reading about the Scottish food, especially the scones, helped scratch that itch. And even though Hayley and Nathan were apart on much of this honeymoon trip, I did enjoy the obvious love for one another interwoven into their interactions. So, until I can once more delight in a book in this series, I will just have to imagine my Key West friends living a full life in the sunshine of paradise.
And, as usual, there are mouth watering recipes from the story gathered at the end of the book. The cheese scones and cinnamon scones are on my list to try.
I was fortunate to be granted an advanced copy from the author and Crooked Lane Publishing and from NetGalley. My honest review is here with thanks.