Laguna Key, the fictional setting of N.M. Kelby's Murder at the Bad Girl's Bar & Grill, is somewhere in the territory between Carl Hiaasen's Miami, Jimmy Buffett's Key West and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Aracataca.
Kelby's brand of Sunshine State satire has a gentle, even enchanted touch. A former journalist who lives in Sarasota, in this novel she spins a funny, sexy, slightly surreal story of love, death and a Shih Tzu that looks just like Barry Manilow.
A rich man is trying to turn Laguna Key into a standard-issue regimented retirement community, complete with 765 pages of homeowners association bylaws.
But the place has its own brand of magical resistance, centered at the title establishment, a tiki bar run by Danni Keene, Slasher Queen, a sobriquet she earned as the actor with the best-known scream in 1980s horror flicks.
The bar's denizens include a troupe of costumed re-enactors of The Andy Griffith Show — Aunt Bee, Barney and all — as well as a really awful Manilow impersonator who fails the one test for a bar entertainer in Florida: "'You hired a guy who doesn't sing Buffett? Isn't there a state law against that?' . . . Wilson once heard Cheeseburger in Paradise played on a lute at the Renaissance Festival. He knows there has to be a law."
Wilson would be Brian Wilson, who was kicked out of the FBI academy for incessantly humming Beach Boys songs: "It's just not easy to be Brian Wilson, live on the beach, and know all the words." Now he works security for the island's owner, Whit, and keeps a discreet eye on Whit's blind, beautiful daughter, Sophie.
Wilson's usually simple job gets complicated when he finds a hissing mass of vultures huddled over a body in the garbage bin behind Danni's bar. At first it seems a coincidence when three pink buses pull into town soon after, bearing the Rose and Puppet Circus, whose entire cast consists of an ancient pair of Swedish twin sisters and Solas, an irresistible, violet-eyed Scotsman who is the last living descendant of Macbeth — and who has a pair of wings. Just tiny ones.
The identity of the dead man is only the first mystery. Who's building pipe bombs? Is someone buried beneath the tiki bar? Who was the pilot who dropped a planeload of silk rose petals on a mermaid washed up on the beach? And is a 1966 Chateau la Mission Haut Brion really the correct wine with Pringles?
Find out at the Bad Girl's Bar & Grill. It's the Florida we wish we lived in.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.