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)!
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/