Roberta Isleib, a.k.a. mystery writer Lucy Burdette, once participated in Key West’s annual Zombie Bike Ride. The event is known to draw thousands of participants and spectators. She went all out with her husband by hiring a makeup artist to create their zombie faces. On the bicycle ride, while surrounded by a gang of similar-looking zombies, she had an epiphany: “If one of these zombies were to suddenly keel over, it would be hard to tell who the perpetrator is.”
Thus, the idea was born for how to open book number seven in her Key West Food Critic Mystery Series, “Killer Takeout.” According to Isleib, Key West and the Florida Keys are an endless source of inspiration for plot ideas. The area is so fruitful that she is now releasing her series’ 11th book, called “A Scone of Contention,” on Tuesday, Aug. 10.
“Key West is easy for ideas,” Isleib explained. “First of all, read Keys Weekly newspaper — it’s full of ideas. I try in each book to feature some different angle of Key West and the Keys.”
The Key West Food Critic Mystery Series is part of a genre called “cozy mysteries,”
“The genre is named after Agatha Christie’s tea cozy idea, that you don’t need sex and violence on the page,” said Isleib. “The concentration is on the puzzle and the characters. You can read the book before going to bed.”
Isleib is a former clinical psychologist who spends half the year in Connecticut and half the year in Key West. She got into writing because of her love for golf. Yes, golf.
“The first things I wrote were articles about the psychology of golf. My golf midlife crisis, I call it,” she said. Eventually, she found that a fictional character came out of her writing about the sport: neurotic aspiring golfer Cassie.
After years of support from writing groups and doggedly searching for a book agent, Isleib’s first series was finally published, the Cassie Burdette Golf Lover’s Mysteries. The first book, “Six Strokes Under,” was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery.
Eventually Isleib switched subject matter but stayed in the cozy mystery genre, as she was inspired by her love for food and Key West. Her young protagonist, Hayley Snow, is a food critic working for a magazine called “Key Zest,” and she somehow gets sucked into solving homicides, as these things happen in cozy mysteries.
For sharp-eyed residents of Key West, Isleib often throws in real-life characters from Key West, such as police officer and minister Steve Torrence, Michael Nelson of the Key West library and Lorenzo the tarot card reader in Mallory Square, whose real name is Ron Augustine.
And for “Scone of Contention,” Isleib drew inspiration this time not just from the Keys but also from Scotland, where she and her husband went in 2019. Accordingly, food writer Hayley Snow became obsessed with scones, which are commonly served during tea times in Scotland.
Lucy Burdette fans can keep an eye out for her first thriller — and a leap away from coziness — to be released in September by English publishing house Severn, “Unsafe Haven.” And her 12th book in the Key West Food Critic Mystery Series, called “A Dish to Die For,” will be coming soon.
Cinnamon Scones from Roberta Isleib, a.k.a. mystery writer Lucy Burdette
By Roberta Isleib
If you’re going to write a mystery with “scone” in the title that is set in Scotland, readers are going to expect a scone recipe. I had a lot of fun imagining how to work this into the book, and came up with sister characters, Violet and Bettina Booth, famous for winning a culinary prize for their cinnamon scones.
I crave the prize-winning recipe that the Booth sisters shared with food critic Hayley Snow — as you may crave it by the time you’re finished reading as well! This recipe is my closest approximation. I cannot vouch for how close it comes to the prize-winner, but it’s awfully good. There seem to be several secrets to making light scones. Freeze and grate the butter. Work the dough as little as possible. And keep it cold in between steps.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (don’t skimp on quality here)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick; 115g) unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 cup heavy cream (plus 2 Tbsp for brushing)
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the icing:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons freshly-brewed coffee
¼ tsp vanilla extract
Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Grate the frozen butter onto a plate. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients using your fingers or a pastry cutter, until the butter is the size of peas.
In another bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, the vanilla, the egg and the brown sugar. Mix this lightly into the flour butter mixture. On a piece of parchment paper, shape the dough into a disk, and with a floured knife cut the disk into eight triangles. Put the scone dough back into the refrigerator while the oven heats to 400. Move the parchment with the scones onto a baking sheet. Paint the scone tops with the remaining cream and sprinkle them with sugar.
Bake the scones for 20-22 minutes until they begin to brown. You could serve them as is, but why leave off the icing?
For the icing, whisk the confectioner’s sugar with coffee and vanilla until smooth. If you don’t like the idea of coffee, you could substitute milk. But honestly, that hint of coffee was amazing! When the scones have cooled, drizzle them with icing. (You will probably have leftovers which can be used on your next batch. Or eaten with a spoon…)