The Perils of Writing a “Real” Book by Lucy Burdette

Hi. Barb here. Friend of the Blog, Lucy Burdette has a new book out and I was lucky enough to score an advance read. You are going to love Death on the Menu. Here’s Lucy, using her new work as context, asking a timely question that has been much debated on Facebook of late. Plus, she is giving away a copy of Death on the Menu to one lucky commenter below. Take it away, Lucy!

Last winter, I was struck by one of the questions from the audience at Barbara Ross’s talk for the Friends of the Key West Library: “Are you ever going to write a real book?” We think she meant a novel, but a non-mystery. Barbara answered graciously, explaining that mysteries can tackle big issues, and still remain entertaining (i.e., not boring or slight.) We all know that stakes can hardly be larger than murder, and that sorting through what might make a person go to that extreme is challenging indeed.

But we cozy writers seem to be perched on the horns of a dilemma—how real can we be? A couple weeks ago, I followed a discussion that had been stimulated by a question from Sheila Connolly on Facebook. Would you like a little edginess or real life in your cozies? 50% of the people seem to say no absolutely not, we read to get away from real life and its problems. And 50% agreed they would like a little reality. I remember after publishing the fourth book in my Key West series, Murder with Ganache, that I mentioned to my wonderful editor Sandy Harding that this book seemed a little darker and more realistic than some of the others. She told me it was perfectly normal to experience some fluctuation in level of emotional intensity over the course of the series.

My new book, Death on the Menu, has a strong theme about the immigration of Cuban refugees to the US, particularly Key West. This is definitely taken from real life, as we frequently have heard about or even have seen refugees washing ashore on the island. And naturally there is a lot of angst associated with the history of Cuba and its politics. I did not try to jam all that into the book, but it does play into the mystery. I am finding that some people appreciate the depth this brings to the story and others are finding it flat, disappointing, and too political. Probably either perspective is fair, depending on what the reader brings to the book.

So that’s my question for today on the Wickeds. Readers and writers: Should cozy and traditional mysteries attempt to tackle real life issues? Do we write real books? Comment below, or just say hi to be entered for a chance to wim.

About the book: Lucy Burdette, Death on the Menu

Food critic Hayley Snow is thrilled to be working at a three-day international conference at the Harry S. Truman Little White House. But things get off to a bad start when Hemingway’s Nobel prize gold medal (which belongs to Cuba and is on display for this weekend only) disappears. And they only get worse when a body is discovered in the storeroom. Hayley must spring into action before the killer adds another victim to his menu.

“There’s a lot to love about this series—deft plotting, likeable characters, and an ending that always satisfies. But one of the things I love the best is how the author transports her readers to Key West with every page, describing real landmarks and restaurants with such realism that I feel I’m actually there. Magical and delicious fun!”—Suspense Magazine

“Tightly plotted, with plenty of island-style red herrings and mouth-watering food-prep descriptions, DEATH ON THE MENU is also full of friends helping friends, and the sweetness of love.” –Kingdom Books 

Clinical psychologist Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) has published 16 mysteries, including the latest in the Key West food critic series, DEATH ON THE MENU (Crooked Lane Books, August 2018.) Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime. She blogs at and shares her love for food with the culinary writers at She lives in Madison CT and Key West FL. Read more at

Lucy’s links:

Crooked Lane Books:
Twitter:   @lucyburdette
Jungle Red Writers:
Mystery Lovers Kitchen:

88 Thoughts

  1. A belated congratulations on this release! As to the question–such a great one. I do think that this genre can tackle subjects, but we need to meet the readers expectations. Cozy is cozy. Traditional has more edge.

  2. Mysteries fit the bill to me of a real book…the characters move home after a divorce and start life over, they struggle in a business, etc. They are great entertainment as well…life is not always dark so the fun part is crucial…

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