Murder with Ganache

By: Lucy Burdette


I love writing the Key West Food Critic Mysteries, and I’m extremely grateful for the many folks who help me along the way. My friends in the writing community, especially the women at Jungle Red Writers and Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, make the hard parts fun. Special thanks go to Leslie Karst for the title; Yvonne Sparling for brainstorming plot and character details; Ang Pompano and Chris Falcone, who read every word (often more than once); Jeff Chanton and John Brady for the trip around the island; Donna Vanderveen for introducing me to the Hemingway cats; Susan Hubbard and Hallie Ephron for reading drafts and talking things over; Leslie Budewitz for legal expertise; Mary Pat Maloney for the flyswatter; Pat Kerens for the chocolate ganache bars; Jennifer Cornell for tips on catering and the wedding menu; Dr. Molly Brady and Micah Mazzacane for medical details; Killer Character readers for foodie quotes; and Mo Walsh for Purple Moan. (Is that a brilliant name or what?) Thank you to Linda Remer for her donation to the SPCA for the use of Schnootie’s name and character. More of Schnootie to come in the next book. . . .

As I wrote Murder with Ganache, Steve Torrence shared his advice on police procedure and introduced me to the fabulous Key West Citizen’s Police Academy—but he should not be blamed for the quirks of his character or any mistakes, which are entirely mine. Thank you to Detective Janeth Calvert for patiently answering questions, and ditto to Officer Dennis Ryan, who took me on a night shift ride-along. (Steve, you needn’t tell them I insisted on being home by eleven.) Thank you also to Jai Somers, with great admiration for her work with homeless teens.

Thank you to Lucy’s Street Team for their enthusiasm and dedication. Special thanks to Peter and Sally Shapiro, for the same. John Brady and Susan Cerulean are not only family, but the best supporters a writer could wish for.

Paige Wheeler at Folio Literary plucked me from the slush pile thirteen years ago and has been my champion ever since. Thank you, Paige! And thank you to Sandy Harding, fabulous editor, who takes utterly seriously her mission to make every book better than the draft I submitted. And thanks to the rest of the team at Penguin/New American Library, who bring the book to life and send it out into the world. (That’s you, Kayleigh Clark!) Artists Griesback and Martucci—I am crazy about these covers.

Readers, librarians, and booksellers: If I could, I’d thank you each by name. Without you, the rest wouldn’t matter.

Worth every damn bit of sacrifice

To get a cheeseburger in paradise

—Jimmy Buffett


I’m in an open relationship with salt and butter.

—Michele Catalano

Faster than a speeding KitchenAid mixer, I scraped the freshly squeezed lime juice and lime zest into the bowl and beat the batter to a creamy pale green. Inside the oven, the first set of cupcakes rose gracefully, releasing their sweet-and-sour citrus fragrance into the tiny galley of our houseboat.

Then my cell phone bleated: Jim Snow, aka Dad.

My father isn’t big on phone conversations. My father isn’t big on conversations, period. Clients, he has to butter up because he needs something from them. But I could count on the fingers of one hand the times we’d chatted since my near arrest for murder last fall.

So when his name flashed on the screen, I set down the whisk, abandoning the “do not answer” policy I’d adopted in order to survive the week leading up to my best friend Connie’s wedding. Something had to be wrong.

“Hi, Dad, what’s up?” I asked, trying to sound cheerful, when wary was what I felt.

“Good news, Hayley Catherine Snow!” he said, with the faux heartiness he reserved for business associates. And using my full name, which he reserved for times I’d gotten into trouble. “The whole family’s coming to the wedding.”

I whooshed out a breath of relief—he was just lagging a beat and a half behind his wife. “I know. Allison RSVP’d weeks ago. You’re all set with a corner suite at the Casa Marina. You’ll love everything but the bill.” My stepmother, Allison, was organized to a fault. She had to be, as a chemist. Though why that didn’t translate into an ability to follow a simple recipe was beyond me. Hopeless in the kitchen, my mom called her, when she couldn’t restrain herself from an edgy comment.

The oven timer began to ding. I donned a red silicone mitten, pulled the cupcakes out, and slid them onto the stovetop.

“The whole family,” my father repeated. “Rory’s coming too.”

“Rory’s coming?”

My fifteen-year-old stepbrother. To be honest, I was already stressed about the upcoming week, visualizing how I might handle the family dynamics between my mother and her new boyfriend, whom I hadn’t met except on Skype, and my father and stepmother. Not to mention juggling a high-strung bride while baking two hundred cupcakes for her wedding reception. And attending her husband-to-be’s first-ever art reception.

Rory had been adorable as a toddler. As a teen? Not so much.

A surly, pimply adolescent boy would not, in any way, be an asset.

“I was hoping you could find him a place to sleep,” my dad continued. “Otherwise he’ll end up on the couch in our sitting room.” His voice rolled out ominously like the music from Jaws. I was pretty certain he didn’t care much for Rory in his current iteration either—only he didn’t have the luxury of saying so.

“I don’t think I can, Dad. You guys are arriving today. It’s spring break. The hotels in Key West have been sold out for months. I might be able to get a bead on a bunk in a youth hostel. But between us, I think that’s asking for trouble. You don’t know what kind of roommates he’d get or what they might be into.”

He cleared his throat. “Might there be room on your houseboat? I know he’d love to have some special time with you.”

“No can do,” I said briskly. Rory and I hadn’t lived together enough to bond quite like sister and brother. After my parents’ divorce, I spent only alternate weekends and Wednesdays with Dad. And the weekends dwindled further once he remarried and moved two towns away. Rory and I had never shared a room, or a tent, or, for that matter, a mother.

“Think Airstream trailer on the high seas. The smallest model. Between me, Miss Gloria, two cats, wedding favors, and hundreds of cupcakes, we don’t have room to spit.” Was I being uncharitable? I looked around at the common spaces of our tiny houseboat, the counters in the galley covered with cupcakes, cupcake batter, zested limes, dirty pots and pans, and Evinrude, my gray tiger cat, eyeing it all from a stool beside the stove.

My father fell silent, which made me feel awful.

“What about Eric Altman? Didn’t your mother stay in his guest room in January?”

I groaned. How did he even know this? When I moved down to Key West from New Jersey last fall, I’d assured my old friend Eric I would only ask this kind of favor in case of emergency. He’d insisted on hosting mom, because she’d been so kind to him when he was a troubled teen. It wasn’t fair to foist Rory on him.

But then I pictured messy, grumpy Rory camped out on our single couch not five feet from the room where I’d be desperate to sleep. This was definitely an emergency.

At exactly that moment, I heard a burst of excited yapping outside on the dock. A black blur tore across our deck into the living area and through the galley, followed by a barking gray schnauzer. Miss Gloria’s black kitten, Sparky, launched himself up onto the stool beside the stove, chasing Evinrude onto the counter. The slavering dog yipped at the cats, who were now safely out of reach. The animal leaped higher, nipping at their paws. They sprinted across the two trays of pale green cupcakes that were waiting for icing, tipping them up perpendicular to the counter. The cupcakes crashed onto the floor and splattered into a million pieces.