News Flash: Valeri Sullivan is our lucky winner! Congratulations, Valeri – please check your email for a message from Leslie.
Edith/Maddie writing from a hot July north of Boston. And so pleased to host my second Leslie this month, my dear friend Leslie Budewitz!
Peppermint Barked, her latest Spice Shop Mystery, releases next week. I can’t wait to read the newest in this fabulous series set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. One lucky commenter wins a copy of either the new book or the first in the series, Assault and Pepper!
Here’s the blurb: A Dickens of a Christmas turns deadly…
As the holiday season lights up Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market, Pepper Reece’s beloved Spice Shop is brimming with cinnamon, nutmeg, and shoppers eager to stuff their stockings. Add to the mix a tasty staff competition—a peppermint bark-off—along with Victorian costumes for this year’s Dickensian Christmas theme, and Pepper almost forgets to be nervous about meeting her fisherman boyfriend’s brother for the first time. But when a young woman working in her friend Vinny’s wine shop is brutally assaulted, costumed revelers and holiday cheer are the last things on Pepper’s mind. Who would want to hurt Beth? Or were they looking for Vinny instead?
The vicious attack upsets everyone at Pike Place, but none more than Pepper’s own employee, Matt Kemp. At first, Pepper is baffled by his reaction, but his clandestine connection to Beth could hold the key to the assailant’s motive. Or perhaps it’s Vinny’s ex-wife who knows more than she’s letting on . . . and what about the mysterious top-hatted man with whom Pepper saw Beth arguing that morning?
As the secrets of the market come to light, long-held grudges, family ties, and hidden plans only further obscure the truth. Is it a ghost of the past rattling its chains, or a contemporary Scrooge with more earthly motives? Pepper chases down a killer, but someone is chasing her, and in the end, the storied market itself may hold the final, deadly clue.
When you crack open a novel, often the first words you read are not the author’s, but a quote chosen to set the tone for what you’re about to read. I love those little hints. Some give a clear sense from the start of why they matter to the author—maybe the epigraph is the source of the title. Others are like puzzle pieces. When you finish, you flip back to see how the epigraph forecast or sums up what you’ve just experienced with the characters.
In my Spice Shop mysteries, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, I skipped that introductory quote and open each chapter with a bit of Seattle or Market history. A fun fact about spices or cooking. A recurring image or motif that relates to the plot.
Like the cast list at the beginning and the recipes at the end, they add an extra layer to the story. And they’re fun.
So where do they come from? For years now, I’ve kept a collection of spice trivia and facts. If I hear an NPR story on the aphrodisiac powers of nutmeg or the many ways the unscrupulous try to fake saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, you can bet I’ll be making a note and sneaking that in. I’ve got a couple of shelves of books on spice history—closely linked to the Age of Exploration—and books on Seattle and Market history. Three volumes on Seattle ghost stories. I often quote Brother Cadfael, the fictional 12th century monk and herbalist Pepper considers her spirit guide, or Ellis Peters, his creator, and the book, Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden by Rob Talbot and Robin Whiteman has been as valuable as the books themselves.
Peppermint Barked, the 6th Spice Shop mystery (out July 19th), starts on Black Friday, and I was curious about the origins of the phrase. Turns out it had nothing to do with its contemporary meaning of the day merchants turn a profit—shop owner Pepper and her pal Vinny agree, it’s more a day for browsing and idea-gathering than actual shopping—so I split the facts about the term into three quotes, scattered throughout the book.
Similarly, peppermint candy and the candy cane itself are steeped in both history and legend, and worked bits of each into the epigraphs. It’s even more fun when I can tie something into the story itself, as I did with the famed Altoids mints and the classic tins they come in, so good for hiding spare keys and other small objects.
When Mr. Right and I got Covid in November of 2020, my sense of taste was temporarily tangled (it didn’t last long and we’re fine now, thanks) and that sent me researching its impact on taste and smell. Our sense of smell is closely linked to memory—both are located in the limbic brain, one of the earliest parts of the brain to evolve. The ability to smell danger, and to remember it, was key to early humans’ survival. That led me to a series of articles and quotes about the importance of the sense of smell—as one neurobiologist said, we don’t think about it much until we lose it, and then we’re terrified.
Finding just the right quote for each chapter is a quirky little literary puzzle. But the best origin story relates to Assault and Pepper, first in the series. A couple of months ago, reader Joyce Donley wrote to ask about two quotes from what I termed a traditional American folk song.
“It’s a poor man who can’t see the beauty in the sun and the wind and the rain. And it’s a sad man who can’t love his neighbor and always finds cause to complain.”
“I thank the Lord that I’m not a poor man. I’m not a sad man, no, not me. I’ve got the sun and the moon and the wind and the rain. And I never lack for good company.”
Joyce and her sister love to sing traditional songs, but weren’t familiar with this one. What could I tell her about it? I learned “Poor Man,” as we called it, in Girl Scout camp in 1970, according to my notes in the handwritten song collection I started keeping as a young Scout who loved to sing and later, play my guitar. As for the source, “traditional” was all I knew. Many of the songs I learned then were brought to camp by our counselors, young women in their late teens and 20s, who came from all over the country, bringing songs they’d learned in other camps as well as on the radio or from recordings. When I first quoted “Poor Man” in the manuscript, I did a google search and came up with nothing. Neither had my reader. I sent her a picture of my notebook page.
A few weeks ago, she wrote me again. She’d found “Poor Man” in a folk song pamphlet she bought on line, titled Sing We Now, later called Pocket Folk Song Library Unit 18, originally published by Cooperative Recreation Service in Ohio, and later reprinted by World Around Songs. She also found it listed as “Poor Man Who Can’t See Beauty” in a book called Camp Songs, Folk Songs by Patricia Averill, which popped up on a Google search and listed it in a chapter on songs Girl Scouts often sang. She sent me a shot of the page, showing lyrics and music. There’s one slight variation in the tune I learned—not bad considering the long trip that song took to get to me and then to Assault and Pepper. http://books.google.com/
Readers: do you have a favorite quotation? Enjoy extras like cast list, epigraphs, and recipes? And if you come across a fun fact about spices, Seattle, or the Market, send it my way! I’ll send one commenter your choice of Assault and Pepper or Peppermint Barked.
Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two cozy mystery series, the Spice Shop mysteries set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, set in NW Montana. Watch for Peppermint Barked, the 6th Spice Shop mystery, in July 2022. As Alicia Beckman, she writes moody suspense, beginning with Bitterroot Lake in April 2021 and continuing with Blind Faith in October 2022. A three-time Agatha-Award winner (2011, Best Nonfiction; 2013, Best First Novel; 2018, Best Short Story), she is a current board member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime. She lives in northwest Montana.