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Book Review
Sunday, September 23, 2012
An Appetite for Murder and a Taste for Dark Magic

"Death in Four Courses" by Lucy Burdette (Signet, $7.99; Kindle $7.99)

Sure, you can find Lucy Burdette listed on Amazon. She's the author of those delightful Key West mysteries about a food critic for "Key Zest" magazine who's often left to solve a murder even before dessert is served.

But some folk still don't know that Lucy Burdette is actually the nom de plume of Roberta Isleip, a Key West regular.

Her first book in this series, "An Appetite for Murder," was reviewed and the author profiled in Solares Hill during the Key West Literary Seminar. It's now been followed by "Death in Four Courses," set during the annual "Key West Loves Literature" conference, where the topic is writing about food.

It features once again Hayley Snow, the foodie turned food critic turned amateur sleuth. Her boss Wally sends her out to interview the seminar's keynote speaker, a restaurant critic for The New York Times, an úber tyrant named Jonah Burrows. His peers call him "the most frightening man to scorch the food scene since Michael Pollan."

Problem is, Burrows has ignored her four emails and Hayley's job is on the line if she doesn't land this interview. So what's she going to do when murder gets in the way of her assignment -- and she's the chief suspect?

Well, solve the crime, of course. And doing it all while her mom's visiting.

Along the way the reader gets to peek inside the literary seminar, encounter odd Key West characters and sample the island's cooking throughout the book. In case, you want more, Roberta -- I mean, Lucy -- tosses in a few recipes that you can make for yourself, ranging from MK's Screw the Roux Stew (courtesy of Mary Kay Hyde) to Ravishing Rhubarb Cake with Streusel Topping.

Are these Key West Food Critic Mysteries the real deal? Don't take my word for it. Julie Hyzy, national bestselling author of the White House Chef Mysteries, says, "The victim may not be coming back for seconds but the reader certainly will."

These are Lucy's first novels. As Roberta Isleib, however, she's also written the Golf Lover's mystery series ("Six Strokes Under," "A Buried Lie," "Putt to Death, "Fairway to Heaven" and "Final Fore") and the Advice Column mysteries ("Deadly Advice," "Preaching to the Corpse" and "Asking for Murder").

Roberta is actually a clinical psychologist who combines her insight into the darker recesses of human nature with a love of cooking -- and her fondness for Key West -- in this new Food Critic series.

If you become a fan of the adventures of ditzy Hayley Snow, and you surely will, there's yet another mystery titled "Topped Chef" heading your way next spring.

The Food Critic series may feature Key West cuisine but I'd compare these tasty books to Chinese food: After reading one, in a half hour you'll be wanting to read another.

-- Reviewed

by Shirrel Rhoades

"Dark Magic" by James Swain (Macmillan, $24.99 Hardcover)

Although we've read and reviewed several of James Swain's novels, we must admit that when we saw the title of his latest -- "Dark Magic" -- we were hesitant, not finding magic or black magic of particular interest. But Swain has certainly changed that preconceived notion. "Dark Magic" is a genre-bending supernatural thriller from this national bestselling author and, as it happens, real-life magician. This book is awesome.

"Dark Magic"combines the light of the spirit world with the darker elements of the occult into a sophisticated, computer-hacking, modern crime-fighting story that teams the NYPD with the FBI in pursuit of the unknown and the paranormal. It's a thriller that really thrills, weaving compelling characters with an amazing plot line. it has an encompassing life of its own that grabs the reader and will not let go.

The main character, Peter Warlock, is a magician who mystifies audiences at his private theater in New York City. But that is a cover for otherworldly pursuits. As Warlock, he has a secret that not even his live-in girlfriend knows about. He's also the leader of an underground group of psychics that gazes into the future and helps prevent crimes.

At a Friday night séance, Warlock and his psychics foresee a horrendous act of violence threatening the lives of thousands of New Yorkers. How can they stop the devastation from happening? In his search for an answer, Warlock finds the presence of an evil psychic cult, the Order of Astrum, that's tracking down him and his fellow psychics to silence them forever.

James Swain lives in Odessa, Fla., with his wife, Laura. He's the author of 14 mystery novels that have been nominated for and received a number of awards. He's also an avid magician and has lectured on the subject.

Not only is "Dark Magic" entertaining, it is a thought-provoking learning experience as well.

A must read.

-- Reviewed by David and Nancy Beckwith