Tamara Lush serves up a caffeinated cozy in ‘Cold Brew Corpse’

A former reporter turned coffee shop owner can’t resist investigating a mysterious disappearance in a Florida beach town.
"Cold Brew Corpse" is the latest novel by Tara Lush (pen name of St. Petersburg writer Tamara Lush).
"Cold Brew Corpse" is the latest novel by Tara Lush (pen name of St. Petersburg writer Tamara Lush). [ VERONIQUE COTE | Veronique Cote ]
Published Dec. 2, 2021

When we think of yoga, most of us think of serenity and relaxation.

On Devil’s Beach, yoga just might get you murdered.

Devil’s Beach, a fictional barrier island off Florida’s west coast, is the setting of Cold Brew Corpse, the new mystery by Tara Lush and the second in her Coffee Lover’s series, after Grounds for Murder.

Lush, whose real name is Tamara Lush, is a former Tampa Bay Times and Associated Press reporter who spent most of her journalism career covering the Sunshine State before turning to writing fiction full time. She’s published several erotic romances and now has added this series of cozy mysteries.

Cold Brew Corpse begins right after Grounds for Murder ends, just after main character and narrator Lana Lewis triumphs in a barista competition (after solving the murder of her star barista a few days before).

Lana grew up on Devil’s Beach but has only recently returned after seeing her marriage collapse and (bigger loss) being laid off from her beloved job as a crime reporter for a Miami newspaper.

She wouldn’t know what to do with herself if not for Perkatory, the coffee shop founded by her late mother in Devil’s Beach’s quaint business district. She’s thrown herself into running the business, with considerable success — tourists and locals alike crowd the shop for its beachy ambiance and outstanding cold brew coffee.

Perkatory is located in a building owned by Lana’s dad, Peter, an affable hippie and the island’s leading purveyor of gossip. On the second floor is Dante’s Inferno, a hot yoga studio run by a strikingly beautiful woman named Raina Rose.

Lana’s idea of a workout is tossing a mini tennis ball around the backyard for her shih tzu puppy, Stanley. She remembers the “gentle, hippie version of yoga” her parents practiced and is a bit baffled by the contemporary yoga world, with its intense competitions, sculpted bodies and lucrative endorsement deals. She has a cordial but distant relationship with Raina and is happy for the business the yoga classes bring to Perkatory.

As the book begins, Lana is eager to go on her first date with the dishy local police chief, Noah Garcia, whom she swooned over all through Grounds for Murder. But he cancels at the last minute because he’s working a case: Raina has gone missing.

Lana’s reporting instincts begin to tingle when she discovers that Raina has only been missing for a few hours, having taken her bicycle, cellphone and ID with her. Ordinarily in such a situation law enforcement would tell the person’s family to wait a few days and see if she came home. So why are the island’s police force, county sheriff’s deputies, state troopers and the FDLE already piling on to this one?

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It turns out that Raina’s boyfriend, Kai, another svelte hottie (real name Kenneth), is the son of a powerful Florida state senator who’s pulling strings from Tallahassee. When Lana gets a call from Mike Heller, the editor of the Devil’s Beach Beacon, “the island’s small yet scrappy daily newspaper,” asking if she’d like to write a freelance story, she goes into high gear.

She’s not crazy about having to work with the Beacon’s new photographer, Cody Graves, a handsome flirt who never misses a chance to mention he was a war correspondent. But she is beyond thrilled to be working as a reporter again, especially on what turns out to be quite the juicy story.

Raina, Kai and a group of her students had just returned from a retreat in Costa Rica — $5,000 per person, airfare and lodging not included. Raina has been working hard to expand her brand with techniques like posting more than 2,000 photos on Instagram of her gorgeous blond self gracefully assuming yoga poses, and it’s been working.

At a news conference about her disappearance, a group of her students express their concern and fear for her, and their admiration, bordering on worship, for her as a teacher and spiritual advisor.

But once Lana starts interviewing them one on one, the story changes. Raina, it seems, could envelop people in warmth and concern early in a relationship, then bully and manipulate them. She borrowed thousands of dollars from some students to expand the yoga studio’s reach, and pressured those who didn’t loan her money.

Kai, who seemed to adore her in public, admits to a “knock-down, drag-out fight” just before she cycled away. Another man, Shawn, whom some of Raina’s friends describe as a “stalker,” claims they were in fact lovers. The owner of a long-established yoga studio says she stole his email list and his clients.

By the time Raina’s body is found a few days later, all Lana is sure of is that almost everyone on Devil’s Beach had a reason to kill her.

She keeps digging into the case, even after Mike tells her he can’t run any more stories because the newspaper is too broke to pay a freelancer. She can’t help herself even when her reporting becomes an issue in her relationship with Noah — the question of what’s on and off the record when you’re on the brink of a romance with a source is an ethical minefield.

And then there is perhaps the most stubborn mystery of all: Why does her fabulous cold brew suddenly taste like dishwater?

"Cold Brew Corpse" is the latest book by Tara Lush.
"Cold Brew Corpse" is the latest book by Tara Lush. [ Crooked Lane Books ]

Cold Brew Corpse

By Tara Lush

Crooked Lane Books, 360 pages, $26.99

Meet the author

Tara Lush will be in conversation with author Cheryl Hollon (Still Knife Painting) at a book launch at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at Tombolo Books, 2153 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg.

She will be in conversation with author Craig Pittman (The State You’re In) at 4 p.m. Dec. 12 at Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

Wordier Than Thou presents an event with Lush at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at Studio@620, 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg.

Lush will sign her book at 11 a.m. Dec. 18 at Books at Park Place, 6800 Gulfport Blvd. S, Suite 113, South Pasadena.