News Flash: Adrienne is Leslie’s lucky winner! Congratulations, Adrienne, and please check your email.
By Edith, vacationing in coastal Maine.
But I’m never too busy – or relaxed – to welcome my good friend, Leslie Budewitz, to the blog. First, you all need to know about her latest Spice Shop Mystery, which comes out next week.
Here’s what I said about it: “Between a Wok and a Dead Place is the most tantalizing Spice Shop mystery yet!” — and that quote appears on the front cover!
It’s the Lunar New Year, and fortunes are about to change. Pepper Reece, owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, loves a good festival, especially one serving up tasty treats. So what could be more fun than a food walk in the city’s Chinatown–International District, celebrating the Year of the Rabbit? But when her friend Roxanne stumbles across a man’s body in the Gold Rush, a long-closed residential hotel, questions leap out. Who was he? What was he doing in the dust-encrusted herbal pharmacy in the hotel’s basement? Why was the pharmacy closed up—and why are the owners so reluctant to talk? As Pepper begins to expose the long-concealed truth, the killer is on her tail, driven by hidden demons and desires. Can she uncover the secrets of the Gold Rush Hotel without being pushed from the wok into the fire?
Take it away, Leslie!
Recently I gave several presentations at a writers’ conference, including one called “Building Character.” The characters are the heart of every story—even in a mystery or thriller, where the plot is critical. When you tell someone about a book you loved, you don’t say “It’s about a bomb . . .” You say “It’s about a woman who . . .” And though I read and write both series and standalones, I know that when readers fall for a series, they remember the characters as much as the individual plots—sometimes more.
Why is that? If the writer’s done her job, we connect with these people of the page. We know where they live and work, their friends and family and pets, but we also get to see their hearts. Their quirks and secrets. Their fears and internal conflicts—and what they’ll do to get what they want and to protect the people they love. We like some more than others, and we’re curious: What happens next? Just like with real-life friends, we want to know what’s going on.
Of course, we get to know story people in installments—just as in real life. You might meet someone in a book group or a watercolor class, and quickly find out what they like to read, how they think about books and art, and a bit about their outlook on life. Then you meet up for a walk or coffee, and find out a little more. You learn more still when you run into them with friends or their partner at a gallery opening or down by the lake.
A few series characters who keep me coming back to find out what happens next: Maisie Dobbs, namesake of Jacqueline Winspear’s crime novels set largely in England from the mid 1920s into WW II, was put into service as a child by her widowed father, Frankie, a working man with few other options. The family recognized her potential and had her educated. During the Great War, at only 17, she signed on as a nurse and is still haunted by the ghosts of battle. She became an investigator and psychologist when both were new fields, and while she’s book smart, she also knows people. Thanks to her mentor, she’s learned to trust her instincts, and has an ability to tap into the unseen that serves her well. She’s not fearless, but she knows how to manage her fears. She understands the deep emotions that often drive people, and has a talent for using that, more gently at some times than at others, to solve the crime and reveal the internal wounds that led to it.
I love Frankie, Maisie’s father, and Billy Beale, the man she nursed in battle who later becomes first her employee, then her business partner. But the star to me, other than Maisie herself, is the wise-cracking, gin-loving, chain-smoking Priscilla, her best friend since college and the battlefield. I’m a sucker for women’s friendships on the page, and this one is a corker.
As soon as my next book goes in, you’ll find me on the back deck with a pitcher of iced tea and Hidden Beneath, the latest in Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake series. It’s great to watch a young woman navigate business, family, and the push and pull of small town life. I can hardly wait to find out what trouble finds Julia Snowden next—and what on earth happens in her love life!
My favorite series are those where I learn something and feel I could actually be friends with the main character in real life, as with Connie Berry’s Kate Hamilton mysteries. I’ve never been to the U.K. I like vintage treasures and antique furniture, but I’m no expert. So traveling with Kate as she uses her curiosity and her expertise as an antiques dealer to solve the crime is doubly fun. Plus it’s a treat to follow a mature woman as she deals with common mid-life issues: forging a new path after widowhood, parenting young adult children, finding new love— but where to live and what to do about his disapproving mother?
If I ever do get to England, I’d like to have a pint in a pub with Kate and Tom. Deborah Crombie manages to create dual protagonists, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, who are each equally appealing. Police officers who met in the line of duty and eventually become involved, they work together in some of the 19 books so far, but not all. We get to know their three kids, their friends, and their families along with their struggles and ambitions. In the latest, A Killing of Innocents, Duncan’s investigation into a series of murders forms the main plot, but when Gemma helps him out by going undercover, she realizes that her temporary part-time assignment is not satisfying, and that they have to find another way to manage career and family. I’ll be right there with them, watching as they figure it out—and keep on solving crime.
And I’ve got to mention the late Anne Perry’s Christmas novellas. Perry was incredibly prolific and I’ve only dipped a toe into her series, mainly the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series set in Victorian England. In the novellas, a minor character from a series book takes a lead turn, often discovering a hidden strength or passion. My favorites are A Christmas Journey and A Christmas Secret.
So what about my own Spice Shop mysteries, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market? I love giving readers a tour of the Market, a place I’ve loved since I was a college freshman, and a glimpse of other parts of the city. It’s deeply satisfying to spin a tale of crime and conflict and untangle it for the reader. But as much as I love the setting and plots, I’m in it for the characters—and I learn something new about them in each book. Between a Wok and a Dead Place takes us deep into Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, and I learned things about Pepper and her boyfriend Nate that I had not known. A minor character from an earlier book takes a major turn, another prepares to move on, and new staff join the shop. It’s a slice of life, spiced with mystery and history, and I hope it whets your appetite for a good read.
Readers, what draws you to a series? What are some of your favorites? One lucky reader will win a Spice Shop mystery of their choice.
Leslie Budewitz writes the Spice Shop mysteries, set in Seattle, and Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, set in NW Montana where she lives. As Alicia Beckman, she writes moody suspense, including Bitterroot Lake and Blind Faith. The seventh Spice Shop mystery, Between a Wok and a Dead Place, will be out July 18. Find out more and where to buy the book at http://www.LeslieBudewitz.com.
Join her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor or Instagram as www.Instagram.com/LeslieBudewitz , and find out what Leslie’s cooking and eating at www.MysteryLoversKitchen.com, where she posts on the 1st, 3d, and 5th Tuesdays.