The book is such a departure from Isleib’s two earlier series — one about a woman on the professional golf circuit and the other following a New Haven psychologist — that she has taken on a new pen name: Lucy Burdette.
Isleib’s appealing heroine — Hayley Snow — is a twentysomething New Jersey native who makes the mistake of falling head over heels with a handsome rogue who convinces her to pick up stakes and move to the Florida Keys.
Hayley soon finds out that her divorce lawyer beau is Mr. Wrong — she catches him with another woman and is given the heave ho. The rat puts her belongings outside and she is left to her own devices.
Fortunately, our plucky heroine has two friends in Key West — a gay analyst who offers plenty of moral support and an old college pal who allows Hayley to crash on her houseboat until she figures out where she’s going.
Since the book is labeled “A Key West Food Critic Mystery” there is no surprise in Hayley’s decision to apply for a restaurant reviewer position on a new lifestyle magazine — Key Zest — and there is little suspense waiting for the decision on her job application.
The central challenge in any “cozy” mystery is to place an amateur sleuth in a position where it is believable that he or she would feel the need to solve a murder (with the police relegated to a back-up position).
Hayley doesn’t blunder her way in to amateur sleuthing — she’s forced into the job when her ex’s new girlfriend is poisoned and the Key West cops make Hayley suspect number one.
The setting is always one of the key elements in this sort of mystery and Isleib makes full use of Key West’s funky mixture of the rich and old hippies who heard the siren call of Jimmy Buffett 35 years ago and have been living the beach resort lifestyle ever since.
Florida has long been one of the best backdrops for crime novels — from John MacDonald to Carl Hiassen — and Isleib’s sense of place and her ability to empathize with a wide strata of Key West locals and visitors bodes well for this new series.