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Experiences as reporter and romance novelist help in this mystery debut

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Grounds for Murder

By Tara Lush. (Crooked Lane Books, 320 pages, $26.99.)

Downsized from her dream job as a crime reporter for the Miami newspaper and dumped by her cheating dreamboat husband, 30-year-old Lana Lewis, the protagonist of "Grounds for Murder" by Tara Lush, returned to her cross-state hometown of Devil's Beach to run the family coffee shop.

Back home, she's recovering from the dual heartbreaks of losing her career and marriage, learning how to run the café and preparing to compete in the state barista contest with the aim of burnishing the shop's bona fides and boosting business. Then her star employee, a young hottie named Fab with an Instagram following and an active love life, ends up dead after he tumbles off the roof.

Lana is left with lots of questions about Fab's life and death that she sets about answering as she slips back into her familiar reporting mode by accepting a freelance assignment to write about Fab's life for the local paper. She takes in Fab's adorable orphaned puppy and hires a new barista who eerily shows up looking for work at the right time. She mixes with an array of characters, including her sweet stoner dad, a sketchy shrimp boat captain and a potentially reformed mobster.

Author Lush is a veteran Florida-based Associated Press reporter and romance novelist. Her experience in both genres is evidenced in this 320-page mystery debut. She gets the details right about reporting while mixing in an attractive new police chief who grudgingly gets Lana's attention.

As she unravels the mystery of Fab's life, Lana comes to terms with the altered course of her own. Lush has written a light, lively story about love, loss, family and friendship brimming with details about café coffee and Florida culture. It was a pleasurable read that left me feeling like I'd relaxed over coffee with a trusted friend while on vacation in a smallish Florida town, an especially welcome feeling right now.




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