In the Parlor, With a Nutcracker — Guest Leslie Budewitz

Ann Mettert is the winner of Chai Anothe Day. Watch for an email from Leslie!

It’s always great to welcome back author Leslie Budewitz. Her terrific new Spice Shop mystery series book, Chai Another Day released on June 11. Look for a giveaway at the end of the post!

A few weeks ago, the wonderfully Wicked Sherry Harris posted a terrific piece called “Can We Just Stop?,” responding to the recurrent criticism of cozies as unworthy because of the low volume of blood and other bodily fluids spilled on the page, and the presence of more cats than guns on the covers.

One of the comments pointed out—and I’m paraphrasing, because there were a lot of comments and I can’t find the one I’ve got in mind—that it’s refreshing to read a mystery in which the sleuth solves the crime by thinking and talking rather than shooting or blowing things up.

And somehow—because the writer’s mind is a strange place where unrelated things get connected—that got me thinking about the creative methods cozy protagonists use to stave off trouble. Besides their mouths, that is.

Now, this is hardly limited to cozy mystery or female sleuths. Many of us of a certain age fondly remember the 1980s TV show, MacGyver,  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088559/   in which Richard Dean Anderson played a clandestine government agent who won’t carry a gun, instead exploiting a talent for using what’s at hand to squeak out of tight spots and derail the bad guys. Paperclips, duct tape, egg whites.

Sounds right up the cozy alley, doesn’t it?

(Confession time: One of the writers on MacGyver, Dennis Foley, has lived in my part of western Montana for decades now and regularly teaches at Authors of the Flathead meetings. So I happily consider him one of my teachers, even though I didn’t learn any paperclip tricks from him.)

What better embodies resourcefulness and creative thinking than the cozy protagonist who uses what’s closest to hand when crisis strikes. (Of course, cozy killers can get pretty inventive, too, but that’s a blog for another time.)

I’m not naming names of other authors’ books to avoid spoilers. If I say too much about a book of mine that you haven’t read yet—well, just practice a little intentional forgetfulness and enjoy the book anyway! And ff by chance you just have to know which cozy protagonist stops a killer by throwing a wedding dress over his head, drop me a line off the blog and I’ll spill. (Then her neighbor and occasional nemesis realizes she needs help and whacks the guy with a topiary. You gotta love it.)

Actually, the wedding dress example is perfect. When I was writing Death al Dente, my first mystery and first in the Food Lovers’ Village series, I turned to the books on my shelves for inspiration. Erin Murphy, my protagonist, and her sister, both retailers in the village of Jewel Bay, have finally managed to create big change by setting up a recycling center in an alley downtown. So when a bad guy comes after Erin, I remembered the wedding dress scene, and she slows him down by dumping a box full of paper to be recycled over his head.

Seriously, this is practical stuff. If someone comes after you at the recycling center, now you know what to do. Women have been told for years to use our keys or high heels to fight back. I’m not so sure about the keys—you’d have to be awfully close to hurt someone, plus you could do more damage to your hand than to your attacker. And while I’d stomp on an attacker’s foot like heck, I’m not sure my little Keds would do much good. (Even on my size 10 feet.)

In Butter Off Dead, Erin saves herself and a teenage friend when she slams a priceless movie poster over the killer’s head. Fortunately, it came from his collection, not hers. And in As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles, a snowman provides her with just the weapons she needs.

I’ll never forget the book in which the protagonist escapes her kidnapper by peeing on him. It’s HARD to pee on command, or anywhere besides the toilet. (Or a bush in the woods, for us outdoorsy types.) Brilliant, right?

A reader reminded me of a book in which the protagonist, a veteran of nearly two dozen criminal outings, defeats a sword-wielding killer with the Oxford English Dictionary. Poetic justice.

My cousin, the ever-inventive Laura Childs, glues a killer to the patio in one of her books. Coffee grounds become weapons for one of Cleo Coyle’s characters, and I’m just waiting for Barbara Ross’s Julia Snowden to put an oyster knife to its proper use.

In my Spice Shop mysteries, Pepper Reece, owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market, fends off assailants with spices, freshly-polished water goblets, and a bowl full of pasta salad. I won’t tell you what comes to hand in her latest outing, Chai Another Day, except to say you’d find it in a vintage shop, and it’s enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity. Although I’m not sure the modern version would do the trick quite as well as the 1960s models many of you will recall.

Now I realize certain readers will dismiss such tools of the cozy trade as proof that these books aren’t “serious” literature. But I am fairly sure most cops would rather hear of a successful takedown by cheesecake than the too-familiar story of a wayward gunshot harming an innocent bystander.

I’m not going to say there’s no room for guns, knives, and poison on the lighter side of mystery. There is, in the hands of killers, cops, and trained amateurs. But most of us—and our characters—don’t carry such things. And ultimately I agree with the Wicked reader: There is nothing more inspiring, and entertaining, than a sleuth who uses her head and her heart, and duct tape, hot coffee, wedding gowns, and bear spray to stop a threat in its tracks.

Besides, as one of my first writing teachers—it may well have been Dennis Foley, late of MacGyver, said—a mystery ought to be fun.

And in cozy world, by golly, we take our fun seriously.

Readers: Got an idea for a cutting-edge cudgel you’d like to see one of our sleuths use? If you had to stop a threat with something within arm’s reach right this very minute, what would it be? (Besides picking up your phone and calling 911! And do please watch for spoilers if you’re mentioning inventive weaponry already used in print.) Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Chai Another Day (US and Canada only)!

About Leslie:

Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two cozy mystery series. CHAI ANOTHER DAY, her fourth Spice Shop Mystery, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, will be published on June 11. DEATH AL DENTE, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. She also won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. “All God’s Sparrows,” her first historical fiction, won the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. A past president of Sisters in Crime and a current board member of Mystery Writers of America, she lives and cooks in NW Montana. Find her online at www.LeslieBudewitz.com and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor

About CHAI ANOTHER DAY, coming June 11 (Seventh St. Books):

Seattle Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece probes murder while juggling a troubled employee, her mother’s house hunt, and a fisherman who’s set his hook for her.

As owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market, Pepper Reece is always on the go. Between conjuring up new spice blends and serving iced spice tea to customers looking to beat the summer heat, she finally takes a break for a massage. But the Zen moment is shattered when she overhears an argument in her friend Aimee’s vintage home decor shop that ends in murder.

Wracked by guilt over her failure to intervene, Pepper investigates, only to discover a web of deadly connections that could ensnare a friend – and Pepper herself.

More about CHAI ANOTHER DAY, including an excerpt here: http://www.lesliebudewitz.com/spice-shop-mystery-series/

69 Thoughts

  1. Welcome back, Leslie. What a great post! Your book is waiting at my local indy bookstore for me to pick it up and I can’t wait. Let’s see, Robbie Jordan used a big sharp pastry cutter one time, and lock picks another.

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  2. One of the pitfalls of being a cozy writer, particularly one who writes about female sleuth/protagonists, is that you start seeing everything in terms of defensive weapons (just in case you need one). Those odd weapons also have the element of surprise–an attacker isn’t expecting you to try to strangle him with a bungee cord or stab him with a garden space. And on my desk (in easy reach) are multiple scissors and pointy letter openers. Intruders, beware!

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    1. Ha — glad all your surprise weapons aren’t packed yet, Sheila! I admit, I did use a bungee cord as a weapon but had to really think about it: “Okay, they’re stretchy. Would it hold? Would it do the trick? Could the victim get it loose before it killed her? Oh, what if I use a second cord to tie her hands behind her back?”

      Woe to the attacker who thinks we seem like such nice women!

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  3. Let’s see … if I had to fend someone off right now I would probably use the scissors or the stapler on my desk at work.

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    1. One of those big heavy industrial staplers would slow a baddie down, for sure! I just printed out a ms. to put in a binder for ease of reading, so my big three-hole punch is close at hand. Between the two of us, we’ll pin him down and punch him out!

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  4. Hmm..If I had to stop a threat with something right this minute, I would throw hot coffee in the person’s face, because I happen to have a cup of very hot coffee right next to me. I also have a lava lamp across the room that might make a fun weapon in a future book. Congratulations on the new release!

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  5. Welcome Leslie. What a wonderful post. Ohh, I have this book on my to buy list. I so loved MacGyver. He was not only handsome but his intelligence was grand to watch. I would bounce up and down, “yes, yes, do it” LOL my three brothers just stared at me like I was nuts. I didn’t care. I agree, I like a sleuth that uses her head and heart and what is close by. I suppose it would all depend on what room I am in or where outside. There are so many things that can be used as weapons and/or helpful things.
    quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

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    1. It’s all about how you see the world, right? And in cozy world, we see it as a helpful place, where right and justice can prevail — and dinner will be on time.

      Ages ago, when the original MacGyver was first on TV, I worked with a legal assistant who had dated Richard Dean Anderson in high school in, if I remember right, Yakima, Washington. Six degrees? Plus my friend the writer — that’s two degrees! I haven’t seen the current remake, but historical mystery writer LA Chandlar tells me she’s loving it!

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  6. I have a seam ripper nearby. It’s kind of sharp and could probably do some damage. But they would have to be within arm’s length.

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  7. I’m making fairy lights for a lock in at my library and I’m using very fine glitter. Glitter is sooo messy, but what if it was thrown at the eyes of a murderer? The glitter would certainly show the police who did it!

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  8. What a fun post. It’s always fun to try and figure out what will be picked up next to stop the killer. Right now, sitting at my desk with morning coffee and looking around for what’s at hand, looks like I would have to conk him or her with a cozy.

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  9. I love creative weapons. I remember reading a spy novel about a former spy who was trying to stay retired and hidden. He no longer carried any kind of official weapon. He was found so he used a tightly rolled up map and jabbed the baddie in the face with it. The combination of the sharp edges and the surprise factor gave him enough time to get away. He was big on “anything can be used as a weapon”.

    Hope to win Chai Another Day and get introduced to your series!

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    1. That’s a good one. Reminds me of a young friend whose parents took him to a high school band concert to hear the music from Star Wars. They did not know he’d rolled up blank newsprint like the map you described and smuggled it in with him under his clothes, until just the right time to slip into the aisle, bring out his make-shift light saber, and fight off the Empire! (He’s 22 now and they still love to tell that story on him.)

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  10. Love your comment about duct tape. As Michael Westen says in Burn Notice, “Guns make you stupid, better to fight your wars with duct tape. Duct tape makes you smart. ”
    Right now, I’m at work and have a 3 hole punch and a metal water bottle to smash into someone’s face.

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  11. I love it! And I love how creative some of the characters (and the authors who created them) are. Fun is the right word for it.

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    1. Right? I love a good, serious read now and again, but when I pick up a cozy, I know the author will entertain me — and, I hope, educate, inspire, and feed me. But Fun is a Literary Value, too!

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  12. Such a great post, Leslie — I really enjoyed it! The “weapon” closest to me right now is my YETI tumbler. It is full of ice water, so it could definitely do some damage ~

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  13. I have a hardcover copy of Sue Grafton’s W is for Wasted. I could give someone a good knock on the head with it and maybe even render them unconcious if I hit them hard enough. Or at least stun them enough so I could get away.

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      1. I once had a real-life MacGyver moment. Our bathroom door somehow got locked from the inside and of course we couldn’t get. The doorknob had a hole in the middle and I tried putting various items in the hole to try and pop the lock to no avail. I eventually found a jumbo paper clip, straightened one end , put in the hole in the doorknob, and popped the lock on that sucker!

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    1. Good point, Christine. I honestly don’t know what degree of criticism she might have faced, but she was a founding member of the Detection Club, which certainly says her compatriots took her work seriously.

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  14. Frantically searching my desk area for some weapons. Lots of paper files so maybe I could fend off an attacker with some really bad papercuts?

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  15. Since so many cozies have professional or amateur cooks, the kitchen offers many weapons. Besides the knives, and pots and pans, you could throw hot liquids, spices, flour or sugar. Pelting with popcorn sounds funny. Don’t know how much it would distract the bad guy. Hitting him with the mixer would do the trick but that sucker is heavy to lift!

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    1. Whisk that villain about the head and shoulders! I actually did use a meat mallet to harmful effect in Crime Rib. Haven’t looked at the thing the same way since — though that never keeps me from using it!

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  16. I would pick up whatever was handy, like a letter opener or scissors and try to get away. I would also push everything off the counters or tables into the path of the intruder.

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  17. If I had to fend off an attacker with something I have close at hand right now, I would throw my Scalding hot coffee in their face and then hit them with my patio chair 💕

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  18. I think maybe a good weapon of opportunity would be a mandoline (the kitchen slicer, as opposed to the musical instrument, a mandolin.) The good mandolines are rather heavy, and of course they have that extremely sharper slicer that is evidently very easy to accidentally cut oneself with—I can’t imagine what it would do a head or neck. Legallyblonde1961@yahoo.com

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  19. As a weapon of choice at my house. .my daughter was worried about me having a gun in the house and offered me this suggestion: A can of bee spray or wasp spray. It is conveniently blinding and more accurate than a misplaced bullet.
    Love the Chai books and a good cup of the same to go with. I love cozy mysteries as they almost always have some humor also. Not that I don’t like a good mystery. I do. People who can’t put the book down at the bewitching hour and said book is very mysterious/heart stopping at that point are better than me. A good cozy at midnight with a laugh or two…no nightmares. Lol!!

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  20. Hi Leslie,
    What a fun post! I have Alexa Home sitting next to me. If I call her name she could talk them to death! Or if that fails, there’s a large crystal vase on the table close to me. I know vases have been over-used, but this one is very heavy. 🙂

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  21. I could whang them with my purse. Use the shoulder strap to wind up and let it fly. There’s a reason my friend calls it a boat anchor. 😉 I really don’t want to throw my bowl of M & Ms in anyone’s face. Maybe I could whip them with one of the charger cords.

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  22. I could throw my Kindle at them. I have one of the old, heavy ones that my husband got me quite a few years ago but I like it. It’s kind of indestructible. It falls out of my hands onto the floor lots of times. Thank you so much for this chance. I enjoy this series. pgenest57(at)aol(dot)com

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  23. Well since I always have a book laying around I would use a book. Especially a hardcover book I have checked out from the library since that’s where I get my hardcovers. Great post, thanks.

    Interesting side note–people who don’t read don’t understand what a cozy mystery is. There is someone at work I had to explain that too. I am always reading at work. We have computers in the break room where I can go to the kindle cloud to read my books.

    Crystal

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