Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway: Mary Ellen is giving away an ebook of The Pickled Piper, the first book in her Pickled and Preserved series, and an ebook of Wreath of Deception, the first of her Craft Corner series!
Have you noticed that quite a few cozy mysteries center around a shop? I have, and in fact I’ve written several myself! Why shops? Well, there’s a reason.
Many cozies revolve around a particular theme. It might be food, gardening, crafts, or clothing that the main character earns a living from. But she/he can’t just be sitting in their workshop or kitchen all by themselves. Much as they’d like to do their weaving, cooking, or crafty projects in a solitary manner, we want them to also investigate murders. To do that, they need to be out and about, talking to lots of people. Investigating! How to do both? Set up a shop.
Shops have the advantage of bringing people to our protagonists. And there’s no limit to the types of people who might walk in. Customers who’ve stopped in to buy a piece of beaded jewelry can drop a few clues in the process, or a killer, who thinks he’s there only to purchase a book might give himself away with a careless remark.
In my Craft Corner mystery series, Jo McAllister offered various craft classes. This brought together a small group of women who began discussing the latest murder and sharing information as they worked at creating their wreaths or scrapbooks.
Piper Lamb made and sold pickles in my Pickled and Preserved series, and her customers quickly became co-investigators as they also bought home-made Gherkins, watermelon pickles, and brandied cherries.
My new series – the Keepsake Cove mysteries—takes advantage of similar opportunities. In A Fatal Collection, Callie Reed has inherited a music box shop that is set among dozens of other shops that sell collectible items: things like unique salt and pepper shakers, collectible glass figurines, and vintage sewing or cooking items. The other shop owners knew Callie’s Aunt Melodie well and help Callie get to the truth of her aunt’s unexpected death.
The same goes for her customers. Collectors tend to patronize their favorite shops often, and Callie’s Aunt Mel had many loyal customers who were shocked at her death. So Callie isn’t alone in refusing to accept the official ruling of accidental death. Gathering information, therefore, on an aunt who she hadn’t seen in years becomes much more possible.
Of course, Callie has to step out of the shop once in a while. Readers want to see and get to know the town she now lives in—and so does she! With an assistant to take charge of the place, Callie can do that, especially when most places are within walking distance. And of course, there’s her off-hours, when the shop is closed and she’s free to venture farther.
So you see, setting a cozy mystery in a shop, or sometimes a restaurant or gardening center has many advantages. I, in fact, have always felt comfortable writing about a shop setting since I’ve worked in a couple myself. In my teen years, I clerked at my dad’s small, independent drug store, and I once did a stint in a book store. I’ve met plenty of interesting people while dishing up a hot fudge sundae or ringing up a sale and have no doubt that some of them have appeared in my fictional shops.
Though I’m not aware that I ever waited on a murderer (scary thought!), I did pick up a several useful ideas that worked their way into my plots, or my subplots. Cozy mystery murders, you know, never involve serial killers or hit men. They center around the kind of people you could run into every day and who might be hiding secrets that lead to terrible actions.
The next time you step into a shop, you might think about that. Is that man, who’s looking so thoughtful as he waits in line to pay for his newspaper, planning something that you might read about in the paper’s crime section next week? Or is the woman handling the cash register going to make someone—who looks just like you—a victim in her future book? She might if you’re not very nice to her. Criminals and mystery authors aren’t always easy to spot. So… be careful.
Mary Ellen Hughes is the bestselling author of the Pickled and Preserved Mysteries, the Craft Corner Mysteries, and the Maggie Olenski Mysteries, along with several short stories. A Fatal Collection is the first in her new Keepsake Cove mystery series..
A Wisconsin native, she has lived most of her adult life in Maryland, where she’s set many of her stories, raised two children, and a few cats and vegetables. She credits her husband with being her greatest inspiration as well as top supporter. You can visit her at http://www.maryellenhughes.com
Readers: Do you have a favorite shop or restaurant where people gather?