Grounds for Murder (Crooked Lane Books), a sunny and upbeat murder caper by the gifted Tara Lush, is just what you need for these icy post-holiday months. Sure to brighten anyone’s day, the novel combines a slew of the most highly entertaining elements of a fun read and packs them all together for a book that’s cozy yet cool.
Set in Devil’s Beach, Florida, a typically laid-back seaside community, the book delivers a welcome escape as well as a down-to-earth realism; the people and happenings aren’t always so quaint. Murder can spring up even here, and even among flip-flop-clad tourists a daring detective can build her case.
COFFEE AND CRIME
Lana Lewis was once an up-and-coming Miami journalist with a charming husband and a reputation for stellar stories. She’d just achieved her best work when she found out that her husband had been unfaithful and her job was laying her off, and so she returned to her widowed Dad’s house in her old hometown of Devil’s Beach.
After a few months she’d rather not dwell upon, she began managing the family coffee house. Though not exactly her speed, she spends her time learning latte art from her best barista and preparing for a coffee contest that she hopes will launch Perkatory into the spot for top shop in town. Lana’s life never goes as planned, it seems, because first her barista inexplicably quits and goes to work for their biggest (and only) rival, and next he ends up — even more inexplicably — dead.
Lana can’t resist investigating this case herself, shifting her journalism skills into overdrive as she does some sleuthing that could get her into far more trouble than she bargained for. Since, however, she herself is a suspect, the risk seems worth it.
Luckily, she has the entirely handsome police chief Noah on her side — at least mostly, and when they’re not flirting, they’re working hard to catch the killer. Lana’s surrounded by offbeat Floridian community members who sometimes help and sometimes hurt her mission, and sometimes seem very suspicious. At least she trusts her hippie, heartwarming Dad and her new sidekick, Stanley the Shih Tzu. And Noah, of course.
A WELL-WRITTEN PLOT AND PROTAGONIST
Grounds for Murder plots a twisting and page-turning crime scene, but the mystery is only one of the factors that make the novel a worthwhile read. Lush knows her craft and writes with a remarkable combination of cleverness and honesty, as apt at penning witty one-liners as subtly true-to-life comments on fidelity, friendship and the facts of surviving in frequently tough times.
Lana, and the book as a whole, prove impressively self-aware. When attempting to decode the chief’s attitude towards her, Lana thinks he “was a bit geeky around the edges. Or maybe he wasn’t, and I was merely projecting that we were secret soul mates.” After a declaration of courage in the face of her coffee-driven competition, she concedes “That all sounded so breezily confident. I wish I believed it myself.”
The protagonist’s nonchalant perceptiveness does her credit, but almost makes you forget that her high-school best friend disappeared without a trace one night, the pain leaving Lana with an intrinsic need to do good through her natural skills. Nuances such as this pepper the narrative and give it depths of flavor, as bold yet complex as a perfect cup of coffee. Grounds for Murder has it all: peril and poignancy, romance and ridiculously, rollicking good fun.
Learn more about Grounds for Murder in our interview with the author.