Posts Tagged ‘Roberta Isleib’

Posted on September 9, 2016 - by

Character Assassination


Killer Takeout Cover SmallLUCY BURDETTE: You may well have read on Facebook that Penguin Random House is not renewing the Key West foodie mystery series. Though I’m sad about this, I’m not taking the news personally. Here’s why:

  1. I don’t think it has much to do with either the quality of the books or the sales. Lots of mass-market cozy folks are ending up in the refugee boat with me—it’s a mysterious corporate decision over which we have no control.
  1. It’s happened before and I’ve survived and thrived.
  1. I will most likely continue the series in another form in the future.
  1. The support and enthusiasm of readers has been a huge comfort!
  2. This is not official yet, but I am working on book #8 and hope you will see it in the summer 2018–yay!

But I thought it might be interesting to look back on my reaction to the news that the golf lovers’ mystery series was not getting renewed. (Hint: devastated.) I called this essay “Character Assassination.”

Losing a special friend hurts, even if you’re mourning a figment of your own imagination.

I’ve been getting to know my protagonist, professional golfer Cassie Burdette, since scratching out the opening paragraphs of my first mystery in January 1998. As with most fictional detectives, Cassie wrestled with skeletons in her closet: her father’s desertion, a melancholy, alcoholic mother, a fog of self-doubt. Ambivalence infused her relationships with men and she tended to defer soul-searching in favor of the anesthetic effects of Budweiser. Notwithstanding these conflicts, I imagined Cassie eventually thriving on the professional golf circuit through a combination of talent, spunk, and the right friends.

With five golf mysteries in print by March 2006, Cassie and I have spent the better part of eight years together. I finally talked her into starting psychotherapy (with the help of a couple of other characters) to address her low self-esteem and self-destructive tendencies. She began to play better golf, choose kinder men, drink less, and reconnect with her dad.

Meanwhile, researching Cassie’s world took me on some amazing adventures. I spent most of my first (modest) advance paying to compete in a real professional-amateur LPGA tournament so I could absorb the correct ambience for book two.

And I played golf at Pinehurst, Palm Springs, and in the Dominican Republic—all tax-deductible without stretching the IRS code. I met and corresponded with professional golfers, and many fans—mystery fans, golf fans, and best of all, fans of both. These people worried about Cassie: how can she drink that much before a tournament? How can she eat like that and stay in shape? Lose the boyfriend—he’s a bum! Over coffee, my friends were more likely to ask what was new with Cassie, than with me. And reviewers hailed Cassie as “a character readers can root for.”

I’d begun plotting the skeleton for the sixth installment, involving a golf reality show, a hunky cop, and murder, of course.

Then the word came from my editor: “We’d rather see a new idea—the numbers just haven’t been that good…”

Surprised or not, I was flooded with sadness and disappointment. No more Cassie Burdette mysteries? Like the end of a souring romance, I wished I’d been the one to call it quits.

Days later, waiting to sign books at the Malice Domestic mystery convention, I sat next to an older man with a soft voice and a full beard. He introduced himself as H.R.F. Keating—the Malice honoree for lifetime achievement, including twenty-five novels in his Inspector Ghote series. In response to his kind interest, I spilled the news that Cassie’s series was being killed. I’m quite certain that I cried. He assured me that he’d often thought his series went on too long, that perhaps years ago he’d said all he really had to say, and that seven books might be the optimum length for a series. Then the doors opened and a crush of fans queued up to have him sign books that spanned forty years.

Twenty-five novels, each one nudging back a little further the curtain obscuring Inspector Ghote’s personality: I realized there are many things I’ll never know about Cassie. Will she win a tournament? Have a relationship with golf psychologist Joe Lancaster? Get married? Overcome her fear of kids? Hey, I’ll never know if I’m a grandmother.

But life in the publishing business lumbers on: I’ve signed a contract for my next writing adventure. The new series will feature psychologist and advice columnist, Dr. Rebecca Butterman, a woman who made cameo appearances in several of the golf mysteries. 

Cassie wasn’t crazy about her—I can hear her voice now: “You’re writing about a psychologist? Rebecca Butterman? Bor-ing.”

And PS, back to me in the present, wasn’t I so lucky to be seated next to that sweet man at the exact moment I needed his calm? And ps, Cassie did make a brief appearance in ASKING FOR MURDER and DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS. I am a fictional grandmother.

Meanwhile, I am working madly on several projects, but I’m feeling very superstitious. So I decided not to say much about them…I’m not being a tease, I swear, just nauseously nervously anxiously cautious.

And meanwhile, all 7 books in this series can be found wherever books are sold!

Killer Takeout Cover Small

Posted on November 8, 2014 - by

Surviving the Holidaze @LucyBurdette #recipe

Blog by Dr. Rebecca Butterman from Roberta Isleib’s (aka Lucy Burdette’s) advice column mysteries

My name is Dr. Rebecca Butterman. I’m a psychologist and I also write an advice column for the brokenhearted readers of Bloom! magazine. Family dysfunction? I know about this both professionally and personally LOL.

And don’t you find that the holiday season sometimes makes problems feel worse? Hollywood movies and Norman Rockwell paintings twist us up by having us believe that everything should be perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s and Hanukkah. The holidaze, I like to call them.  You pull together full-grown members of a family and put them in close contact for days—they are going to fall back into ugly, old patterns. I promise you that!

Even my friends at our picture-perfect church on the town green aren’t exempt from problems. I found that out recently when our minister called me at midnight to talk about the death and possible murder of another church member. Whoa! And naturally, he wants me to help figure things out.

Some people wonder how I—being a professional—handle my stress. One of my favorite distractions is cooking. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as it’s good old-fashioned comfort food.

Here’s my easy recipe for baked apples, which will make your house smell like you’ve scored the best of Christmas. And make your stomach happy and turn your heart in that direction, too.

This recipe serves two, but it’s easy to double or triple it up.


Two of your favorite apples (I like Mcintosh or Macoun)
2 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Half a teaspoon cinnamon

Core the apples, making sure not to cut all the way through to the bottom. In a small bowl, mix the butter, oats, sugar, and cinnamon well. Divide the mixture into two parts and stuff into the apples. Bake for about 45 minutes in a 350 oven, until the filling is crispy and bubbling, and the apples soft. You can add ice cream or whipped cream if you wish, but I find these apples are perfect by themselves.

The first advice column mystery, DEADLY ADVICE, is also available as an ebook. And Lucy Burdette’s fifth Key West mystery, DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will be in bookstores December 2. You can preorder it now!

More breaking news! If you *forgot* to buy your ebook copy of AN APPETITE FOR MURDER, it’s on sale for $1.99 through the weekend!

Here’s the Amazon link, and here’s the link for Barnes and Noble.

Posted on September 7, 2014 - by

Deadly Advice #ebook #mystery #RobertaIsleib

LUCY BURDETTE: I have often wondered whether the mystery series I wrote before the food critic mysteries might have gotten more traction if it had been published in the era of ebooks and social media. No way to tell, of course, but the happy news is that the first book in the series, DEADLY ADVICE (written as Roberta Isleib), is now available for Kindle.

The book stars Dr. Rebecca Butterman, a clinical psychologist and advice columnist living in Connecticut. She works out of an office in New Haven (in the same building where I had my private practice,) and she explores many of the places on the Connecticut shoreline that I’ve grown to know and love.

Although this series is a little edgier than the food critic mysteries, the books are close to my heart because they draw so much from my previous career as a psychologist. In a poignant coincidence, given the terrible news two weeks ago about Robin Williams, DEADLY ADVICE opens with the mysterious suicide of Dr. Butterman’s neighbor. She feels doubly troubled about this death, thinking she should have noticed something was wrong–both as a professional and as a neighbor.

In addition to my sleuth’s background, that opening scene is also rooted in my graduate school days. During my final year, newly separated, I lived in an anonymous apartment complex with only a nodding acquaintance of the other residents. Each morning, my taciturn next-door neighbor left for work at 7:30, returning by six. Some nights she’d cook one hamburger on the grill outside her door. Medium well, I’d think, considering the time it sat on the coals. How sad, I’d think. Is that me? I’d wonder next.

One evening, I came home from the library and noticed a small U-Haul parked in front of her apartment. An older couple was loading the contents of her place into the van. Over coffee the next morning, I skimmed the newspaper as usual, and noticed a small article near the bottom of an interior page. Based on this paragraph, I realized that my neighbor had shot herself several days earlier. Her body had lain in the apartment next to mine for over forty-eight hours before someone found her.

I felt shocked and sad. Isn’t this every single woman’s worst nightmare—dead two days and no one even notices you’re gone? As you can imagine, this incident has always haunted me.

Years later, that’s where DEADLY ADVICE began. When Dr. Rebecca Butterman returns home to find her neighbor an apparent suicide, she’s wracked with guilt.  As a psychologist and advice columnist, she’s an expert! She should have been able to help the young woman. But the neighbor’s mother suspects foul play, and soon persuades Rebecca to investigate the possibility of murder.

When Rebecca Butterman is troubled, she cooks. Like Hayley Snow in the Key West mysteries, she loves to cook, to eat, and to share meals with her best women friends. But she doesn’t think so much about the meaning of food the way food critic Hayley does. She’s too busy puzzling over what makes people tick…

In honor of the launch of DEADLY ADVICE as e-book, I’m happy to share one of Dr. Butterman’s favorite recipes, beef carbonnade. She would tell you to start the dish the day before you plan to eat it so it can sit in the refrigerator overnight, allowing the flavors to blend. She would also tell you that serving this meal to sad people might make their world a tiny bit brighter.

We hope you enjoy the book and the stew!

Posted on March 12, 2013 - by

Book talk and signing


June 13, 6:30 pm

Henry Carter Hull Library

10 Killingworth Turnpike

Clinton, CT 06413

Posted on August 13, 2012 - by


When Madison, CT resident Roberta Isleib began writing a mystery about a lady pro golfer back in 1999, she never imagined she’d have ten books published in ten years. DEATH IN FOUR COURSES, the second installment in Isleib’s Key West food critic mystery series, will be published by NAL/Penguin on September 4. Isleib is writing her new series using the pen name Lucy Burdette, borrowed from her maternal grandmother.  The books feature Hayley Snow, an aspiring food critic and amateur sleuth living in America’s southernmost island paradise.

The new book is set at the annual Key West Loves Literature conference, which draws the biggest names in food writing from all over the country, and Haley Snow is there to catch a few fresh morsels of insider gossip. Superstar restaurant critic Jonah Barrows has already ruffled a few foodie feathers with his recent tell-all memoir, and as keynote speaker, he promises more of the same jaw-dropping honesty. But when Hayley discovers Jonah’s body in a nearby dipping pool, the cocktail hour buzz takes a sober turn, and Hayley finds herself at the center of attention—especially with the police. Now it’s up to her to catch the killer before she comes to her own bitter finish.

Publishers Weekly called DEATH IN FOUR COURSES a “yummy sequel” and said: “Anyone who’s ever overpaid for a pretentious restaurant meal will relish this witty cozy.”

TOPPED CHEF, the third book in the Key West series, is scheduled for a May 2013 release. Isleib’s first mystery series included 5 books featuring Cassie Burdette, an aspiring golf professional.  Isleib’s Advice Column series featured Rebecca Butterman, a fictional psychologist who lived in Guilford near the Stone House restaurant with a private practice in New Haven. Isleib’s books and short stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She is a past-president of Sisters in Crime, a national organization founded to support women crime fiction writers.

Isleib will appear at RJ Julia’s Booksellers on September 5 at 7 pm to launch DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. Call 203-245-3959 to reserve a seat.

Posted on February 25, 2012 - by

The Itinerary by Roberta Isleib

Roberta Isleib‘s (AKA Lucy Burdette) short story, “The Itinerary,” published in THE RICH AND THE DEAD edited by Nelson DeMille, has been nominated for an Agatha award for best short story. The Agatha awards are given out in April, at Malice Domestic, a convention celebrating the traditional mystery. The story features Detective Jack Meigs from the advice column mysteries on an unwanted vacation to Key West.



Detective Jack Meigs knew he’d hate Key West the moment he was greeted off the plane by a taxi driver with a parrot on his shoulder. He hadn’t wanted to take a vacation at all, and he certainly hadn’t wanted to come to Florida, which he associated with elderly people pretending they weren’t declining. But his boss insisted, and then his sister surprised him with a nonrefundable ticket: He was screwed. A psychologist had once told him that it took a year for grief to lift, and that making major life changes during this time only complicated the process. Which was why he’d gone to work directly from the funeral, and every day in the three months since. There was no vacation from the facts: His wife Alice was dead and she wasn’t coming back.

The driver packed him into a cab that smelled like a zoo and lurched away from the curb. Then the bird let loose a stream of shit that splattered off his newspapered roost and onto Meigs’s polished black leather loafers. The cabbie hooted with laughter.

“That means good luck, man,” he said, gunning the motor and grinning like a monkey in the rear view mirror. “Mango doesn’t do that for just anybody.”

The parrot screamed during the entire ten-minute ride to Meigs’s hotel and the driver never shut up either. Would everyone connected with this damn town want to give him a travelogue?

“I’m takin’ you down our main street, give you the flavor,” the cabbie said as he turned off Truman Avenue onto bustling Duval Street. He veered around a stumbling bum and a covey of fat, sun-crisped cruise ship escapees carrying plastic cups of beer. Were open containers legal in this town?

“Hemingway got soused here every afternoon after writing.” The cabbie pointed to a shabby-looking bar, drinkers spilling out onto the sidewalk. “And Jimmy Buffet wrote “A Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street” right down there in Margaritaville.” He pointed to yet another bar, lit by palm trees and flamingos in flashing neon, also crammed with boozers.

The whole scene was a police officer’s nightmare.

The cab driver swerved onto Caroline Street and pulled over in front of Notre Paradis, the bed-and breakfast that Meigs’s sister had chosen for him. A thin man wearing a tight white shirt and copper sparkles on his glasses bounded off the front porch to greet him.

“I’m Laurent, your host. This is your first trip to Key West? You’re going to love it!” He struck a theatrical pose, and then paused to look Meigs over—his khakis with the worn cuffs and pockets, the gray turtleneck on which he’d spilled his coke during the turbulence from Miami to Key West. Laurent lowered his voice to a whisper and winked. “Yes, there is a lot of money in this town. But there’s plenty to enjoy without piles of cash, too.”

After unpacking, Meigs changed his shirt and walked up to explore Duval Street on foot. Laurent had dismissed his protests and insisted this was a must-see; had actually escorted him down Caroline Street and watched like a mother seeing her first-born off to kindergarten until Meigs turned to salute goodbye.

On Duval, Meigs stepped over two bums stretched out on cardboard in front of an empty storefront and skirted another playing bad guitar next to a dog dressed in sunglasses and Mardi Gras beads. Every few minutes the dog lifted his snout and howled along with his owner. A handful of tourists stopped to take photos.

“Cruelty to animals,” Meigs muttered to himself. Neither the cops nor the residents in his small Connecticut town would have tolerated sleeping bums and singing dogs.

In front of Fast Buck Freddie’s tropical window displays, a petite woman in a lime green tube top and a heavyset man with a florid complexion were going at it in hissed whispers. Meigs couldn’t help catching “give me some space” followed by “but I paid for the god-damn cruise.” Then the big man grabbed the girl’s wrist and started to yank her across the sidewalk.

Meigs moved forward and grasped the man’s bicep. “Let the lady go,” he said in his fiercest cop voice. “Now.”

“Fuck off, asshole, this is none of your business,” the man said, but dropped his girlfriend’s wrist and gave her an unnecessary push.

Meigs turned to her. “Everything okay here? Should I find a policeman?” If he could find a cop—so far he’d seen no sign of any law enforcement at all.

“I’m fine,” she said, rubbing her wrist and then straightening her sunglasses. She turned to her friend and smiled tremulously. “I will see you later on the ship, George.” She disappeared into the stream of shoppers entering Fast Buck Freddie’s. The man scowled at Meigs and stalked off in the other direction.

Meigs blew out a breath and left Duval Street—so far the charm of the place was eluding him. He ambled over to the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square—also mandatory in his host Laurent’s mind. He slunk through a bevy of aggressive street performers with minimal musical talent, fended off a tarot card reading, and stopped by a crowd gathered around a slender man in ballet slippers and silver curls who directed a posse of mangy cats. Alice would have found this performance charming. But when the cat man motioned to Meigs to step into the arena to hold a flaming hoop, he fled.

The Disney Magic, a ten-story cruise ship decorated with white mouse ears on red smokestacks, was docked on the square. Meigs strode past her and on down the pier to a row of magnificent boats—racing sailboats with names like Primal Scream and Big Booty. More like big money, Meigs thought. Streams of spectators ogled the boats and their passengers. The largest yacht at the end of the line, the Emelina, got the most attention. On its upper deck, a four-man band banged out Buffet tunes for a group of elegant partygoers sipping fizzy drinks in glass flutes.

Meigs sat on a bench for a minute to watch the show. If he was ever worth a couple of million—a billion even—would he moor his ostentatious transportation steps from Mallory Square for every sun-sick passerby to moon over? No, he would not.

Voices floated across the water. “Why don’t they move that stinkin’ tub so we can see the sunset?” asked a handsome man from the rail of the party boat. He stabbed a finger at the enormous cruise ship across the water and frowned.

“Isn’t it illegal to keep a cruise ship at the dock this late?” asked a woman with silver-lacquered nails and matching hair. A flash of sun glinted off the jewels in her belly button.

After the sun set to a smattering of applause, Meigs headed back toward Mallory Square. He stopped at a trolley bar for a Budweiser and leaned against the railing in front of the cruise ship. To his right, the cat man still pranced toe-heel like a misshapen ballerina, calling to the felines in falsetto French, now forcing a yellow tiger to leap over a scrawny black specimen and then through the flaming ring. The tipsy crowd gathered around him howled with appreciation.

Meigs watched the jumpsuited crew of the hulking Disney Magic prepare to launch, spooling enormous hanks of steel off cleats on the pier. Why had they been allowed to partially obscure the sunset—the ostensible excuse for this sideshow? Laurent at Notre Paradis had assured him this was rule number one on Bone Island (AKA Key West): No boat shall be allowed to obstruct the tourists’ view as the sun sinks into the harbor. And its corollary: Tourists must and shall be encouraged to spot the green flash, said by Jules Verne to confer the power to read minds. Meigs doubted the minds here were worth the effort.

A heavy man with a bad sunburn and a loud flowered shirt tenting his gut paced down the gangway that opened from the belly of the ship, out onto the pier, and back. Meigs stiffened, recognizing him as the man he’d seen arguing on Duval Street earlier this afternoon. Two crew members dressed in cruise ship whites approached him, but he shrugged off the hand of the taller man, who’d reached out to pat his shoulder. The heavy fellow began to shout and wave his hands but Meigs couldn’t make out the words.

“Looks like one of the passengers forgot when their rig was setting sail,” said a man next to him. Meigs turned to look him over—he seemed normal enough—blue golf shirt, sunglasses, a beer.

“Will they wait?” Meigs asked.

“Not for long,” the man said. “They’re fined for leaving late. And the docking fees for cruise ships are prohibitive to begin with.”

Meigs watched the three men continue their heated discussion, until finally the heavyset man disappeared into the hull of the ship. He emerged soon after, a porter tailing him with two suitcases, one brown leather, the other faded red denim with yarn flowers wired to the handle. The porter dumped the luggage on the dock and waited a minute for a tip, which was not forthcoming. The crewmen signaled to the workers manning the ropes and the gangway was drawn up. The heavy man steamed up the pier with the luggage, sweating and cursing, and disappeared into the crowd.

“There ees a man who has carried few bags in hees life,” said the cat man to Meigs, as he packed his animals into small cages. Meigs nodded, surprised to hear him break character.

The Disney Magic pulled away from the dock and Meigs went off in search of a carryout dinner. He refused to sit alone at a table for two at a café on Duval Street where every tourist who passed could feel sorry for him.


Next morning, Meigs carried his coffee and cereal out to the deck behind his lodging. He skimmed the front page of the Key West Citizen, loaded with typical small town stuff—a push to recycle, a scooter/delivery truck crash, projected budget cuts in education and the police department. This last bit of prudence, Meigs thought, would be a false and costly economy. A small town populated by more bars per square inch than New York or New Orleans and a slew of transients and tourists made for barely contained chaos. They needed all the police officers they could hire.

He turned the page and perused the weather forecast—nothing but sunshine and super-humidity for the remainder of his stay. Could he possibly get out a day early? His eye caught on a small article in the crime report at the bottom of the page.

Woman Reported Missing from Cruise Ship, the headline read. As Meigs studied the photograph accompanying the article, his fingers tingled. The clothes were different—a white shirt instead of the green tube top, the hair and make-up more formally styled—but he recognized the picture of the young woman he’d seen arguing with her friend yesterday. According to the paper, the girl’s mother had reported her missing, and her travel companion confirmed the disappearance.

He took out his cell phone and dialed the police department’s number, but got a busy signal. He wondered if their lines were getting flooded with imagined sightings. In the end, rather than being taken for another attention-seeking fruitcake, he rented a ridiculous, souped-up, open-air golf cart to make the three-mile trek to the KWPD. In person, with a badge in hand, he would be taken seriously. Besides, he’d a lot rather kill time shooting the shit with cops than riding the Conch Tour Train or listening to female impersonators at the La Te Da Cabaret, both of which had been earnestly recommended by his lodging host this morning.

The police station was painted in muted pinks and greens and surrounded by a forest of palm trees. Meigs strode in and introduced himself.

“I’m a detective visiting from Connecticut,” he told the officer at the front desk. “I may have some information on the missing person reported in today’s newspaper. I’ll speak to your chief if he’s available.”

Minutes later, an attractive man with a wide grin that showcased his even, white teeth against a deep tan emerged from the back and ushered Meigs into his office.

“I’m Chief Ron Barnes.” He squeezed Meigs’s hand, then sat behind his desk—a lot neater than Meigs kept his—and motioned to the chair in front. “Welcome to Paradise.”

“Thanks. I guess.” Meigs grunted and pulled the newspaper out of his back pocket. He laid it on the polished desktop and tapped the photo. “The paper said you’re looking for this woman?”

“Sort of,” said the chief. “This being Key West, we see more than our share of missing persons. Mostly they surface after they’ve slept off the booze or woken up in some stranger’s pad. But Sheila Brown’s mother wasn’t satisfied with that explanation.” He grimaced. “You have information?”

Meigs explained how he’d seen the woman on Duval Street yesterday, filling in as many details of the argument with her boyfriend as he could remember. “When that monster Disney cruise ship was leaving the dock, it looked as though someone was about to miss the boat. Her boyfriend—I’m assuming it’s the same man—appeared quite distressed—or gave a good show of it, anyway. He ended up taking some luggage off the big boat and that’s the last I saw of either of them.”

“George Vesper—the boyfriend—is coming in to touch base shortly,” said the chief. “You’re welcome watch the interview from our observation room if you’re interested.”

Meigs was. A sergeant installed him behind a one-way mirror and soon after, ushered Vesper into the room with the chief. Dressed in sharply-creased khakis, a blue silk shirt, and an expensive-looking watch, Vesper appeared less disheveled than he had yesterday on the dock, but even more sour. Chief Barnes asked him to recount the facts of yesterday’s disappearance.

“Sheila wanted to check out the shops on Duval Street,” Vesper said. “And when a gal wants to shop, I stay out of her way.” He shook his head and grinned. “I’m not one of those pantywaist dopes who tags along to sit outside the dressing room and approve every damn purchase. I gave her a couple hundred bucks and told her to knock her lovely self out. This trip with Sheila wasn’t going to be cheap,”—he waggled his carefully groomed eyebrows—“ but worth it, if you know what I mean.”

“Were you and Ms. Brown experiencing problems with your relationship?”

Meigs noticed the muscles in Vesper’s neck tighten. The thin hank of hair that had been combed across his sunburned pate trembled. He patted it down and frowned at the chief. “Not at all. She’s a delightful girl and the trip has been great so far.”

The chief settled his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “What’s your theory about her disappearance, Mr. Vesper?”

Vesper pursed his lips, the overhead fluorescents casting sallow shadows under his eyes. “Maybe she met an old friend and tied one on. I expect she’ll show up later today. Frankly, her mother’s a worrywart—it’s a shame to squander your department’s resources on this.”

“Let’s take down some basic information, as long as you’re here,” said Chief Barnes. He opened up the small computer on the table in front of him. “Let’s start with you.”

Vesper reported that he was a businessman from Connecticut, age 54, and this was his first cruise on the Disney line. He had been dating Ms. Brown for five months. They’d met in a local Mexican restaurant on half-price margarita night—she was a server in the cocktail lounge. Vesper owned four furniture stores along the Connecticut shoreline, and no, they did not carry crappy fiberboard pieces like the ones advertised by that buffoon on television. His outfit focused on high-quality wood and styles consistent with old New England fashion. He was divorced, two kids from a previous marriage that he seldom saw, even though he’d paid through the goddamned nose for prep school and college tuition.

“What about Sheila?” said Barnes, looking up from the keyboard. “What’s her background?”

Vesper hesitated, patted his forehead with a neatly folded handkerchief. Despite their relatively short acquaintance, he said, he’d been swept away both by her physical presence and her personality. “A live wire with a very soft spot for a middle-aged man,” was how he described her.

“Maybe she had a daddy complex and maybe she didn’t,” added Vesper. “I can tell you that what went on between us was not parental.”

Meigs rolled his eyes. What had Miss Brown seen in this bozo?

Chief Barnes asked for contact information on the missing girl, but Vesper was vague. He hadn’t met any of her relatives, though she had made nightly calls to her mother, often in his presence. And she lived with a roommate—another waitress—when she wasn’t staying with him. Vesper had already called her but the friend claimed she hadn’t heard from Sheila since they’d left Connecticut. He paged through his iphone and found the friend’s phone number.

“You’re wasting your time though,” he said after reading it off.

Behind the mirror, Meigs jotted the number on his newspaper.

“Call us if you think of anything else. Were you traveling with friends?”

“Just us.” Vesper refolded the handkerchief and stuffed it into his pocket. “I’m staying at the Marquesa Hotel. You can reach me there or on my cell.” He shook hands with Barnes and left the room.

“He’s got some dough,” said Chief Barnes, once Meigs was back in the conference room and the door clicked shut behind him. “No one stays at the Marquesa unless they’re rich, famous, or both. What’s your impression?”

“He’s a liar,” said Meigs.

Chief Barnes looked startled.

Meigs repeated how he’d seen Vesper and the girlfriend arguing on Duval Street, how she’d wanted some time alone. “So the trip wasn’t going well and he is the kind of pantywaist dope who wants to tag along shopping.”

Chief Barnes laughed. “What else?”

“Most of the cruise ship disappearances I’ve heard about ended up with one of the parties murdered,” Meigs added. “Didn’t Vesper sound as though he didn’t want you looking too hard for her?” Meigs tapped his fingers on the table. “But chances are, she got tired of this clown and bailed out. I imagine that cruise ship cabin could have felt awfully small after a few nights entertaining Vesper.”

The chief laughed again. “You ‘re right about that. I’ll put one of my guys on it, ask around at Sunset tonight to see if anyone else saw her or talked to her. Thanks for stopping in,” he added. “As you probably read in the Citizen this morning, the sailboat races are in town and we’re stretched thin.”

“I’d be happy to do some research,” Meigs offered.

“We’ll be fine,” said the chief, his voice cool now.

Meigs motored back into town and stopped at the pink cement library on Fleming Street. He couldn’t help himself—and what were the options? Alice would have wanted to tour Hemingway’s house, have her picture taken at the Southernmost Point, order pina coladas and watch the human interest show from a streetside bar on Duval. Dismal prospects without her.

Meigs settled at one of the computers in between a teenage girl with multiple eyebrow piercings and a shabby man whose odor suggested he hadn’t put soap to skin in some time. He started by Googling George Vesper. As Vesper had boasted, his four furniture businesses appeared to be doing well. Very well. An article in Fortune Small Business dissected his success and reduced it to customer service, quality manufacturing, and an aggressive marketing campaign that targeted wealthy homeowners along the Connecticut shoreline. For the article, Vesper had been photographed at his own waterfront home in Greenwich, which Meigs figured had to be worth eight or ten million. He also owned a “cottage” on Nantucket and a thirty-five foot sailboat moored at a fashionable and pricy Cos Cob marina. During his limited down time, Vesper enjoyed competing in local regattas. He appeared to have plenty of money and no problem flaunting it.

Next Meigs Googled Sheila Brown and skimmed dozens of links about Sheila the artist, Sheila the fifth grade teacher, Sheila the lawyer, Sheila the nature photographer. But nothing about Sheila the waitress.

Meigs then typed the Disney cruise ship’s name into the search bar. The Disney Magic was a mid-priced boat offering a standard Western Caribbean winter break itinerary, including Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Castaway Cay. He sat back in his chair, trying to ignore the homeless man next to him muttering as he rustled through a filthy knapsack. Meigs could definitely imagine Vesper steering by his genitals. But why on earth would a man with his alleged assets and sailing expertise choose a floating Disney city loaded with middle-class folks and their offspring? Disney, for god’s sake. The girlfriend must have chosen it.

He logged out of the computer and returned to his B and B. Back on the deck, Meigs called the number of Sheila Brown’s waitress friend and roommate, Maya Redkin.

“This is Detective Jack Meigs, on behalf of the Key West Police Department.” So it was a little stretcher—she’d never check on him. He explained about Sheila’s disappearance and her boyfriend’s worry.

“I haven’t heard a peep since she left,” Maya protested. “Oh my gosh, did something happen to her?

“That’s under investigation,” said Meigs, noting that not getting involved came before concern, for Sheila’s alleged best friend. “She left the ship to do some shopping yesterday and didn’t return. How would you characterize her relationship with George Vesper?”

There was a long pause. “He treated her well. Took her out to expensive restaurants and clubs. Bought her some nice stuff and sent some gorgeous flowers. Apparently he’s loaded. What’s not to like about that?”

“Would you say they were serious? In love? Was marriage in their future?”

Maya laughed. “Now that would surprise me, especially since she has another boyfriend.” She stopped and corrected herself: “Had one. And isn’t Vesper a little old for her?”

“That would be her decision,” said Meigs, bristling silently. He was the same age as Vesper, without the big belly and the big bucks. Not that he wanted a girlfriend half his age, but was he over the hill too? “What about other family members? Friends? Anyone I can call who might know where she is?”

“She kept those numbers on her cell phone,” said Maya.

“Was it Sheila who chose the cruise?”

“He planned everything—he liked to control things, you know? Listen, I have to get to work.”

“Call us if you hear from her,” said Meigs. “Save us a lot of trouble.”

“Wait. What’s the weather like down there?” Maya asked in a wistful voice. “It’s ten degrees here and snowing.”

“Incessantly sunny.”

Meigs signed off and leaned back in his rocker. The roommate was definitely not concerned about Sheila. Nor was she impressed with the solidity of her relationship with Vesper. Both of which pointed to the likelihood that Sheila had fled rather than been taken by force. He let his thoughts wander to Vesper, his business in Connecticut, his flamboyant wealth. And this brought to mind a Connecticut entrepreneur who’d allowed his wealth to taint his judgment: Stew Leonard. Leonard had siphoned off cash from his high-end grocery shops in the 1990’s with a sophisticated software scam and then served jail time for tax fraud.

Meigs grabbed his hat and sunglasses and hurried back to the pier at Mallory Square. A Carnival cruise ship had taken the place of the Disney Magic and the cat man was setting up for the evening’s performance.

“I’d like to buy one of your t-shirts,” said Meigs. He pointed to a light-blue shirt with “The cat man and his flying house cats” written across the chest. When he’d paid for the shirt, he showed his badge and handed him the newspaper photo of Sheila. “This woman disappeared yesterday and I’m wondering if you happened to see her.”

The cat man studied it and gave it back. “I can’t be certain, they pass through here like herds of mutton.”

“But maybe…” Meigs said.

“Eet was almost dark, but maybe she boarded the beeg yacht at the end of the pier.” He pointed to the empty slip that yesterday had held the Emelina. “After the cruise sheep was gone.”

Meigs thanked him, trotted back to Notre Paradis, and asked to use Laurent’s computer. He Googled the Emelina. One hundred and sixty-seven feet long, the boat had been sold in Monaco and was expected to winter in St. Bart’s. He jotted down the owner’s information and tucked it into his pocket, then started off for the Marquesa Hotel. A chat with George Vesper was in order.

The Marquesa’s lobby was caviar to Meigs’s hotel’s scrambled eggs. The soft hiss of a waterfall and the rustling of the uplighted palm fronds masked the scooter traffic outside. Vesper was splayed in a chaise near the poolside bar. He beckoned over a server dressed in blue Bermuda shorts and ordered a super single malt bourbon that Meigs had never heard of.

“Mr. Vesper?”

The man glanced up, his face blank.

“I’m Detective Meigs, Guilford Police Department. Following up on the reported disappearance of Sheila Brown.”

Vesper pinched his lips together in a tight frown and said nothing. Meigs couldn’t tell if he recognized him from the altercation on Duval Street. If he did, he wasn’t acknowledging their connection.

“Do you happen to know the owner or the crew of the Emelina? That’s one of the yachts that were moored a nine-iron from your cruise ship yesterday.”

The waiter approached and settled a drink on the glass table next to Vesper. Vesper didn’t even look at the man, never mind thank or tip him.

“Can’t say that I do,” Vesper answered, taking a swallow of the gold liquid. “What does that have to do with Sheila?”

“Any chance that she would have had friends on that boat?”

“Sheila?” Vesper threw back his head and roared with laughter. “That girl lived from tip to tip. No way she’d have pals that wealthy.” Then he sat up and scowled. “Why do you ask?”

“Might she have been connected with one of the crew members? Maybe cadged a ride out of town?”

Vesper’s face turned from red to purple. “If that no-good bastard boyfriend…” He chugged the rest of the drink as he scrambled to his feet, now hulking over Meigs.

“Was anything missing from your cabin after Sheila went shopping?” Meigs persisted.

Vesper took off his glasses and glared. “Look, this has all been a big mistake. I should have told you right up front. We had an awful row that morning and she said she was taking the first plane home. Which was fine with me, only she took my ruby ring and the cash in my wallet, too.”

“I’m sure Chief Barnes can radio the coast guard, have a chat with the captain and see whether Sheila’s on board. Insist she return your belongings.”

“Never mind that,” Vesper growled. “I can take it from here. I’ll settle this with her at home.”

“As you like,” said Meigs, starting back toward the lobby. “I’ll fill in the chief. He may wish to follow up. I would imagine the IRS might have some questions too.”

“This is none of your damn business,” Vesper sputtered after him. “What’s a Connecticut cop doing working a Key West case anyway?”

Meigs left the Marquesa, loaded back into his golf cart, and returned to the police station and asked to speak to the chief.

“I came across some information on that missing persons case,” he said to Chief Barnes. “If you contact the pilot of the Emelina yacht, I suspect you’ll find that Sheila Brown stowed aboard with a large sum of cash. The cash may have come courtesy of cooking the books at Vesper’s furniture business. It’s kind of a tradition in Connecticut.” He smiled. “Stew Leonard, Martha Stewart, even former Governor John Rowland. Some of the wealthy folks in our state aren’t quite satisfied with what they’ve got. So they stretch the rules to suit them.”

“That’s an awfully big leap,” said the chief.

“Not really,” said Meigs. “Vesper just didn’t seem like a cruise ship kind of guy. And the magic of Disney? I don’t think so. Then I noticed the Grand Cayman Island was included on the itinerary. Suppose Vesper had made substantial illegal gains and intended to bank the money offshore. The Disney cruise would be a terrific cover. But his companion figured this out and disappeared with his cash. No wonder he was upset.”

Chief Barnes shook his head. “That’s a hell of a lotta supposition.”

“Your cat man saw Sheila stow aboard the Emelina after sunset,” said Meigs. “While he’s working his felines, he watches everything.”

On the way home from the police station, Meigs stopped at The Lost Weekend package store for a six-pack of Red Stripe beer. Back in his room, he changed into his cat man t-shirt and took a beer out onto the back deck.

Maybe this vacation thing wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe tomorrow he’d buy a ticket for the Conch Train and another for a tour of the Little White House, in memory of Alice.


Four days later, as Meigs finished packing for home, Chief Barnes texted him.

Coast Guard located the Emelina in the British Virgin Islands. Sheila and bf onboard with 3 hundred K cash. Thx 4 the assist.

Meigs texted back ur welcome.

Then he called the taxi company for a ride to airport, specifically requesting a bird-free cab. Still, he wasn’t surprised when a golden retriever the size of a donkey lumbered out of the van’s passenger seat and began to sniff his luggage.

“Don’t you even think of it,” he shouted.




Posted on March 25, 2011 - by

The Rich and the Dead

Each year the Mystery Writers of America puts out an anthology of stories edited by a well-known author. This year Nelson DeMille is the editor of THE RICH AND THE DEAD, due out the end of April (Grand Central.)

I (that is, Lucy’s alter-ego Roberta) was delighted to have a story included. “The Itinerary” features Detective Jack Meigs from the advice column mystery series and takes place in Key West. Last year while visiting KW, we noticed a cruise ship passenger running down the gangplank with his suitcase, baring making it onboard before the ship pulled away. Bingo–inspiration! My sister and brother-in-law and husband helped me brainstorm the bones of the story.

What if staunch Yankee Detective Meigs was forced to go on vacation in tacky, tropical Key West (his words, not mine:)? And what if he witnesses a man leaving the ship with bags when everyone else has loaded? And what if the local paper runs an article the next day about a woman missing from her boat? Bored to death by his inactivity, Meigs can’t help offering an assist to the local cops.

Here’s the opening:

Detective Jack Meigs knew he’d hate Key West the moment he was greeted off the plane by a taxi driver with a parrot on his shoulder. He hadn’t wanted to take a vacation at all, and he certainly hadn’t wanted to come to Florida, which he associated with elderly people pretending they weren’t declining. But his boss insisted, and then his sister surprised him with a nonrefundable ticket: He was screwed. A psychologist had once told him that it took a year for grief to lift, and that making major life changes during this time only complicated the process. Which was why he’d gone to work directly from the funeral, and every day in the three months since. There was no vacation from the facts: His wife Alice was dead and she wasn’t coming back.

The driver packed him into a cab that smelled like a zoo and lurched away from the curb. Then the bird let loose a stream of shit that splattered off his newspapered roost and onto Meigs’s polished black leather loafers. The cabbie hooted with laughter.

“That means good luck, man,” he said, gunning the motor and grinning like a monkey in the rear view mirror. “Mango doesn’t do that for just anybody.”

I had a blast writing this story–hope you enjoy it. THE RICH AND THE DEAD can be pre-ordered from all the usual suspects, including my local independent bookstore, RJ Julia booksellers.