So many doorsteps, so many bodies ...
By Leslie Budewitz
ASSAULT AND PEPPER by Leslie Budewitz, coming March 3 (Berkley Prime Crime) first in the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries
Just a pinch of murder... After the year from you-know-what, Pepper Reece finds a new zest for life running a busy spice shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Her aromatic creations are a hit and everyone loves her refreshing spice tea. Pepper is convinced she can handle any kind of salty customer until a murder ends up in the mix.
In Talking About Detective Fiction, the late P.D. James wrote that setting is important "since people react to their environment and are influenced by it. ... [T]he place in which the body is found is particularly revealing, and I regard the description of the finding of the body as one of the most important chapters of a detective novel. To find a murdered copse is a horrible, sometimes life-changing experience for most normal people, and the writing should be vivid and realistic enough to enable the reader to share the shock and horror, the revulsion and the pity."
ASSAULT AND PEPPER, first in my new Spice Shop Mysteries, is on its way. No spoilers, so I won’t tell you where the body is found, but I don’t mind saying the discovery rocks my protagonist, Pepper Reece, owner of the Seattle Spice Shop in the Pike Place Market, right down to her bay leaves. Nothing in her first year selling spice or her fifteen years managing staff HR at a giant law firm prepared her for the shock of finding a man she knew dead in a place she knows well.
(Although being a cop’s wife for thirteen years did expose her to the seamier side of life. Especially when she discovered him and a meter maid—she still can’t say “parking enforcement officer”—in a back booth in a posh new restaurant practically plugging each other’s meters when he was supposed to be working a shift for a friend. And of course, it doesn’t help that he’s the bike cop on the Market beat.)
What’s even worse is when the homicide detectives Spencer and Tracy, and yes, they’ve heard the jokes, and no, they’re not amused focus in on one of her trusted employees. She considers herself a good judge of people in both HR and retail, her livelihood depends on it. How could she have been so wrong? The only other likely suspects seem—to her, at least—just as unlikely. In investigating, Pepper is forced to confront the limits of her own judgment and her ability to work with other people. In the process, she learns new skills and draws on internal resources she didn’t know she had.
As a reader and a writer, I pay a lot of attention to setting. I also think it’s critical to explore how finding a body, pursuing a killer, and encountering danger affect the sleuth. While I’ve never witnessed a murder or found a murder victim, I have seen people die of natural causes in unexpected places, and I’ve witnessed horrific car wrecks. A good share of my legal practice involved personal injury work, and I’ve been on the scene of fatal crashes shortly after they happened. Seen the bodily fluids and the crumpled cars and the gouges carved across the road. Dealt with the families and friends as they adjusted to their losses. As Baroness James of Hyde Park said, those experiences change us. In light-hearted mysteries, or cozies, the challenge is to use those events to push the sleuth, to dig deeper, to investigate without being maudlin or gory. It’s possible, by focusing on character growth and development, on relationships, on motive and justice.
Because ultimately, we read to explore human experience. The full range of it the variety, the spice of life. Some bitter, some sweet, and all of it deliciously mysterious.
READERS, how important is the discovery of the body to you? How much emotional impact do you expect the protagonist to feel?
The first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction, Leslie Budewitz lives in NW Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their Burmese cat, a book cover model and avid birdwatcher. For more tales of life in the Great Northwest, visit her website www.LeslieBudewitz.com