Our month of giveaways continues! Today, our guest Sharon Farrow offers up a copy of her new book, Dying for Strawberries, the first in the Berry Basket Mystery series. Friend of the blog, Mark Baker, over at Carstairs Considers says, “If you are looking for a delicious new series, look no further…”
To be entered to win, leave a comment on the post. Winners for the week will be announced in a special blog post on Sunday.
Take it away, Sharon!
Most picturesque coastal towns no longer regard fishing as their main source of income. Instead, tourism drives the local economy. The heroine of my Berry Basket series, Marlee Jacob, is fortunate to live in a beautiful lakeshore town in western Michigan. Filled with galleries, boutiques, and one of a kind shops, Oriole Point also boasts a splendid view of Lake Michigan – sandy beaches and lighthouse included.
I, too, live in a scenic village nestled along my favorite Great Lake. Over the years, I have worked at various galleries and shops in town. This has given me a special insight as to what my heroine is likely to encounter on a daily basis at her berry themed store called The Berry Basket.
Questions, Questions, Questions
It’s only natural that tourists ask shopkeepers a constant stream of questions. Where is the best place to go for a lake perch dinner? How do we buy tickets for the dune buggy rides? What is the current musical playing at the local theater? And, of course, where is the nearest public rest room? There are important questions they never think to ask, but should: Where are the local speed traps? What should I do if I get caught in a rip tide? What local rivers should you NOT eat the fish from?
Given that my series is set along the Lake Michigan shore, tourists would ask Marlee all of the above questions. But most of all, they’d ask about the weather; by that, I mean the winter weather. Even though visitors usually come here for summer beach vacations and leaf peeping in autumn, our lake winters appear to weigh heavily on them. “What do you do here all winter?” they ask in a tone suggesting I live in a remote Yukon outpost. I remind them that a forty minute drive takes me to the second largest city in Michigan. Ten minutes away is a town boasting everything from Target and Barnes & Noble to Buffalo Wild Wings. And two hours south lies Chicago.
That answer leads to the next most asked question from tourists, ”How much snow do you get here?” Like me, Marlee would reply, “Not as much as everyone thinks.” Yes, we have lake effect snow, but we’re not buried in the white stuff all winter, like the intrepid residents of Buffalo, New York. And lake effect snow is usually over by mid-January when Lake Michigan finally freezes. Tourists are either disappointed by this answer, or don’t believe it. Somehow, they prefer to think of my fellow villagers and me snowed in and isolated like the unlucky family in The Shining.
Resort shopkeepers are accustomed to playing weather forecaster, tour guide, and restaurant reviewer. We know where to rent kayaks, who serves the best omelette in town, how to recognize rare types of beach glass, and which businesses keep dog treats behind the counter. However, some questions do surprise me, like the confused tourists who ask if the small bayou in the Kalamazoo River is Lake Michigan. Uh, no. When I worked in a local art gallery, a woman flung open the door one afternoon and pushed her way through a crowd of customers until she reached me. “I need your help,” she said in an urgent voice. “Where’s the closest place to buy authentic Mexican vanilla?” I usually have a ready answer for any tourist question, but this one left me stumped. A friend of mine later said, “I hope you told her ‘Mexico’.”
THE HONOR SYSTEM
With only 1,500 full-time residents, crime is rare in our town. The police force is small, with half the force part-time. I made Oriole Point twice as large as my village, but their local police would still have little experience handling serious crime. Which is why Marlee takes it upon herself to track down the killer in Dying for Strawberries. Indeed, most residents in Oriole Point (and my village) never lock their cars or worry about leaving purses unattended. This trusting attitude spills over to the shopkeepers.
The store I work at has a bench, a wooden slat chair, and a lovely old rocker on the sidewalk out front. On balmy days, those of us who work on that side of the street can be found lounging on those chairs as we talk for hours. It’s customary for us to greet customers as they enter our respective shops, reminding them to give a holler if they need assistance or have a question. It is possible one of those customers may have pocketed something they shouldn’t. If so, it was never apparent afterwards. And as one of the shop owners told me, “If they need something so bad they have to steal it, then let them.”
I have a friend who designs silk flower wreaths, which he sells in a local home décor store. This shop hangs some of his wreaths outside. They are clearly marked for sale – and at a hefty price – yet in all the years I have lived and worked here, not one of his floral creations has been stolen after hours. It’s as if the honor system so prevalent among the shopkeepers has rubbed off on our visitors. Although once in a great while, that trust is breached.
Recently, a customer in a gallery took a fancy to a small oil painting, prompting the gallery owner to tell her about the artwork. Holding the piece in her hands, she continued to browse. Ten minutes later, her hands were empty. And the painting was nowhere to be seen. However, the customer carried a large shoulder bag, where no doubt the painting was now tucked away. The owner chose not to confront her; no one was likely to be at the police station at that hour anyway. But he did follow her out the door and watched as she drove off in a brand new Mercedes. If she made a habit of stealing artwork, it could explain how she was able to afford the Mercedes.
I felt frustrated that this woman got away with her theft – which may have been repeated in other businesses in town. But I take comfort in the fact that if a customer pulls this in Marlee’s Berry Basket shop, there will be consequences. The local police might find a Mercedes abandoned just outside the town limits. And there on the front seat would be the stolen painting. With the dead body of the woman beside it. Life may be stranger than fiction, but fiction can be a lot more unforgiving.
Sharon Farrow is the latest pen name of award winning author Sharon Pisacreta. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Sharon has been a freelance writer since her twenties. Published in mystery, fantasy, and romance, Sharon currently writes The Berry Basket cozy mystery series, and is the editor of the travel site lakeeffectliving.com. She is also one half of the writing team D.E. Ireland, who co-author the Agatha nominated Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins mysteries. Visit Sharon at sharonfarrowauthor.com, on Facebook @SharonFarrowAuthor, or Twitter @SharonFarrowBB.
Back Cover Copy – Dying for Strawberries
With seasonal crowds flocking to its sandy beaches, lively downtown shops, and The Berry Basket, a berry emporium with something for everyone, the lakeshore village of Oriole Point is ripe for summer fun—and murder.
Much has changed for Marlee Jacob since she returned to Oriole Point, Michigan. Between running The Berry Basket, dodging local gossip, and whipping up strawberry muffins, smoothies, and margaritas to celebrate the town’s first annual Strawberry Moon Bash, the thirty-year-old hardly has time for her fiancé, let alone grim memories of her old life in New York . . .
But unfortunately for Marlee, Oriole Point is muddled with secrets of its own. First her friend Natasha disappears after an ominous dream. Next the seediest man in town threatens to crush her business. Then an unknown person nearly kills her on the night of the Bash. When she discovers a dead body, Marlee realizes she’ll have to foil a killer’s plot herself—before the past permanently stains her future.