The Lemon

As The Lemon begins, John Doe, world-traveling chef and food showman, dies by his own hand in his Belfast hotel room. His hanging death isn't suspicious, nor is it a murder dressed up to look like a suicide. Yet this frequently brilliant and, despite its bleak central plot point, hilarious novel--the maiden voyage of S.E. Boyd, a pseudonym of journalists Kevin Alexander and Joe Keohane and editor Alessandra Lusardi--has the feel of a mystery. It's populated with a clutch of scheming individuals whose lives are potentially altered for the better by John's death.

Hotel employee Charlie McCree finds John's body, but not just John's body: he also happens upon chef Paolo Cabrini, owner of a prestige-dripping New York restaurant. Paolo is standing before the corpse of his best friend and doing something innocent that nevertheless, he recognizes, looks compromising. Out comes Charlie's camera phone. Paolo gives Charlie some cash for his silence and an enthusiasm-free invitation to look him up should Charlie ever find himself in New York.

Then there's the fallen food star who gave John his start and figures he's in a prime position to take over the dead man's television show. There's John's shrewd but weary agent, who's doing damage control but also looking out for her own hide. Every story line offers suspense and surprises, and the book's deadpan humor is unremitting. The Lemon is a full-bore spoof of monetization mania and foodie culture, and through it all, the specter of the late Anthony Bourdain, whose profile shares similarities with John Doe's, doesn't hover over the story so much as saunter alongside it. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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