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Seven or eight years ago now, I got an email from an author, offering to send me an ARC of a cozy mystery for review. I said yes with reservations: I love a mystery, but cozies are sometimes too cutesy for me, plus the writing isn’t always very good. But I devoured (ha) Death with All the Trimmings, my introduction to Lucy Burdette’s series featuring Key West food critic Hayley Snow. The series – now 12 books strong, and counting – has continued to make me smile, and I’m always happy to get a new installment in the mail.

After following her boyfriend down to Key West and realizing he’s kind of a jerk (an understatement), Hayley has to build a new life for herself. She lives on a houseboat with Miss Gloria, the world’s spunkiest, sparkliest octogenarian, plus assorted cats, and makes her living writing foodie articles for Key Zest magazine. Of course, as Hayley zips around town on her scooter, she runs across lots of mysteries, which only multiply when her mom and stepdad move to the island and open a catering company.

Hayley’s sleuthing often puts her at cross purposes with Nathan Bransford, a handsome but grumpy detective, and his much friendlier fellow cop Steve Torrence. Gradually, Hayley builds up quite the reputation as an amateur sleuth, and quite the relationship with Bransford. I wasn’t a huge fan of his character for a long time, but I’ve gradually warmed to him, especially as Burdette has explored Nathan’s own history in the last few books.

After reading the first book Burdette sent me, I went back and read the previous four – all out of order, but it didn’t really matter. I’ve continued to enjoy Hayley’s (sometimes zany) adventures, all of which draw heavily on Key West local color and lore. The Hemingway House, the island’s mix of tourists and locals, the wacky festivals and (of course) the seafood are on full display; Burdette clearly loves the island, and it shows. Since Hayley’s job involves trying restaurants and writing about them, Burdette gets to glory in the island’s culinary offerings, and there are always a few recipes at the back of each book.

I’ve especially loved escaping to Key West a few times in the dead of winter; I’ve never been there in person, but it’s always a sun-soaked literary getaway. Hayley’s narration is keen-eyed, wryly humorous and often quite entertaining. And I love the ensemble cast, including Hayley’s levelheaded mom, her sweet stepdad, Lorenzo the tarot card reader, the local cops (including Bransford), and especially Miss Gloria, whose pluck and humor know no bounds. I love the cats and the wacky, friendly atmosphere of the island, and I love knowing everything will (mostly) turn out all right in the end.

Are you a fan of cozy mysteries? Any series I should check out?

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