As a journalist in Florida, I’ve written about the shady side of my sunny state for years.
Political corruption, horrific crime, drunken antics at tiki bars, alligators, naked people with machetes, cockroaches ending up in unmentionable places…nothing shocks me anymore. I’ve witnessed thirteen executions and covered numerous mass shootings.
I’ve long wanted to write crime fiction, and entertained the thought of doing true crime. But that seemed a little too close to my day job, and frankly, covering those horrific stories as a journalist sapped my desire to retell them in a novel.
My first forays into fiction were contemporary romances, and almost all were set in Florida. But crime fiction lurked in the corners of my brain, and in 2019, I sat down and finally plotted a murder mystery.
I adored the work of Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey and Edna Buchanan — how could I not, they’re all journalists, like me — but when I started to write my debut mystery, I just couldn’t muster the cynicism or the edginess of the hardboiled noir. Perhaps the tumultuousness of recent years played a part in that.
As I scribbled my first mystery, I imagined a slightly less-dysfunctional tropical paradise, one that was loosely based on the things I’ve seen in my twenty-plus years as a reporter in Florida.
I knew I wanted to retain the quirkiness of Florida, though, so I created a fictional island in the Gulf of Mexico, chock full of eccentric characters. Devil’s Beach is where gossipy old hippies mingle with reformed mafiosos. Where the local newspaper writes stories about chicken nuggets shaped like manatees. Where a handsome Instagram-famous barista is found dead and no one bats an eye when a laid off journalist tries to figure out how the barista spent his final hours.
I also wanted a gentle anchor in the book, and that’s why I set it in the coffee shop of my dreams. It’s called Perkatory, a place decorated in hues of weathered wood with sky blue accents.
And then, my reporter’s brain kicked in. I drew inspiration from decades of covering crime in crafting my fictional murder. From the stilted language of cop-speak to wrangling over deadlines with editors, I used details from newspaper stories to seed clues into my fictional story. And the suspects, those were easy — they are all based on people I’ve covered in the past, folks who stood out as true characters.
There are also some fun Florida easter eggs in the details — for instance, the wild monkeys that inhabit a park on my fictional island can really be found in a place called Silver Springs.
I believe that for Florida residents, they’ll recognize many of the places, stories and details in the book. And for you non-Florida folks, I’m hopeful you’ll read my book and feel like you’re on a beach vacation, one where you get to know those quirky characters at the end of the tiki bar.
ABOUT GROUNDS FOR MURDER: Barista Lana Lewis’s sleuthing may land her in a latte trouble as Tara Lush launches her new Coffee Shop mysteries.
When Lana Lewis’ best — and most difficult — employee abruptly quits and goes to work for the competition just days before the Sunshine State Barista Championship, her café’s chances of winning the contest are creamed. In front of a gossipy crowd in the small Florida town of Devil’s Beach, Lana’s normally calm demeanor heats to a boil when she runs into the arrogant java slinger. Of course, Fabrizio “Fab” Bellucci has a slick explanation for jumping ship. But when he’s found dead the next morning under a palm tree in the alley behind Lana’s café, she becomes the prime suspect.
Even the island’s handsome police chief isn’t quite certain of her innocence. But Lana isn’t the only one in town who was angry with Fabrizio. Jilted lovers, a shrimp boat captain, and a surfer with ties to the mob are all suspects as trouble brews on the beach.
With her stoned, hippie dad, a Shih Tzu named Stanley, and a new, curious barista sporting a punk rock aesthetic at her side, Lana’s prepared to turn up the heat to catch the real killer. After all, she is a former award-winning reporter. As scandal hangs over her beachside café, can Lana clear her name and win the championship — or will she come to a bitter end?
Tara Lush is a Rita Award finalist, an Amtrak writing fellow, and a George C. Polk Award winning journalist. For the past decade, she’s been a reporter with the Associated Press, covering crime, alligators, natural disasters, and politics.
She also writes contemporary romance set in tropical locations under her real name, Tamara Lush. A fan of vintage pulp-fiction book covers, Sinatra-era jazz, and 1980s fashion, she lives with her husband and two dogs on the Gulf coast.