Good novels provide settings that are more than ancillary. Distinctive locales become added characters. In Blue Moon, John Leslie's fourth Key West-based Gideon Lowry mystery, a bluesy, island mood pervades. Leslie creates ambiance that blends a wistful, laid-back existence with the hurry-up veneer of a tourist mecca. This transformation, from ocean breeze-swept outpost to a hustling, high- dollar, real estate boomtown, brings financial pressures and transient visitors, and the dangers borne by each. Leslie captures the camaraderie of longtime residents, and the challenges they face: the intoxication of attractive strangers, and new, sometimes illicit sources of income. Private investigator Gideon Lowry is a part-time piano lounge entertainer. He's also a Conch, a Key West native who bemoans his lost days of youth, the funkiness of a carefree, tropical life. He also regrets losing the love of restaurant owner Gabriella Gaby Wade. So when Gaby asks that Gideon do a background check on her new fiancŽ, widower and newcomer Roy Emerson, Lowry approaches the task with mixed emotions. Gaby describes Emerson as a man who puts deals together. Lowry would love to find a flaw in his character.

Lowry has other problems and opinions. The elderly owners of the mom-and-pop Cuban grocery next to his Duval Street office and apartment are being pressured to sell out. Fred Pacey, a developer with a 20 year history of ignoring tradition in favor of homogenized facades, wants to construct a central shopping mall for tourists. Lowry, too, has received offers. Positioning himself as a stalwart holdout, Gideon advises his neighbors not to sell out and ruin their way of life. Secretly, he wonders if it isn't time to take the money and abandon the downtown rat race. Lowry's initial queries into Emerson's lifestyle connect the man with developer Pacey. Then, late one night, arson destroys the grocery. Gideon feels guilt over his bad advice, and his suspicions regarding the tropical terrorism are founded upon no solid facts. Soon Lowry is breaking all the rules: working on his own nickel, and trying to solve two simultaneous cases that may not exist. He walks the tightrope between rescuing his ex-lover from a danger that only he perceives, and his nightmare, destroying the friendship for good.

Advice from a Jackson Hole, Wyoming investigator (where Emerson's wife died in a climbing accident), and help from old acquaintances, Detectives Dave Robicheaux in Louisiana and Hoke Moseley in Miami, prompt Lowry to stage an ill-advised ploy to expose the past and rescue the future. Throughout Blue Moon, Lowry runs on knowledge and instinct, but his feel for the turf, the unique island nuances and politics, mold his judgment and actions. He gambles friendship, takes risks. John Leslie's version of the false carefree life in the Keys grips the reader and deepens suspense. Gideon may be left standing alone, staring at the cold, blue moon, but readers will appreciate the depth of this fourth book in the Lowry series.

Tom Corcoran is a writer in Florida. His first novel, The Mango Opera, was released by St. Martin's Press in June.

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