I'm pleased to welcome Jen Collins Moore to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Jen writes the Maggie White Mystery series. MURDER IN THE PIAZZA is the first book in the series.
Kathy: MURDER IN THE PIAZZA finds American Maggie White staying in Rome. Why did you choose Rome as the setting for your mystery?
JCM: I love Rome. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and so when I was thinking about where I wanted to “be” as I inhabited the world of my book, Rome was a natural. As a writer, I can’t think of a more appealing city to write about. With the windy cobble streets, the cafes everywhere, the wonderful scents of food cooking and the sounds of people laughing in a piazza, there’s always something to bring to life for readers.
Kathy: I was briefly in Rome in the mid 1980s as part of a school trip. What would you or Maggie recommend visitor's see and do?
JCM: My top piece of advice is not to try to see it all. Rome has so many wonderful sites, and if you focus on checking them all off your list, you’ll miss the magic of the city itself. So balance the “Big” sites with a relaxed afternoon walk through a neighborhood and a morning coffee and cornetto in a piazza. The magic of the city is the city itself.
Find a guidebook you like and choose the big sites that appeal to you. For some it will be the Roman Forum, for others it’s the Vatican museum. Once you have your list, supplement it with these ideas:
· Relax in a piazza. I’m not a coffee person, but like Maggie, I do love Italian cafes. Find one in a pretty piazza, order a coffee (or, like me, a cioccolata calda, or hot chocolate) and watch the world go by. Notice how the locals are dressed, how they greet their friends, how animated their conversations are. This is what you came to Italy for.
· Consider yourself an artist. Maggie’s tours cater to painters, but anyone with a camera can make art in Rome. Look at the architecture, ruins, sculptures and vistas around you with an artist’s eye and take a few arty pictures for the fun of it. It’s less about having a instagram-ready photo than having a mindset for appreciating the beauty around you.
· Eat outside of the main tourist zone. Rome has wonderful restaurants, but if you choose a restaurant right next to a big site, you’re probably going to end up with mediocre food at sky-high prices. Walk a few extra blocks and look for a place that caters to locals.
· Stay in, or at least visit, the Trastavere neighborhood. This is where Maggie lives and it’s completely charming. Winding streets, actual locals, great food, and walkable to every site you’ll want to see.
· Go to an outdoor market. There are so many choices, and they are wonderful way to get a glimpse into Italian life. Even if you’re eating all your meals in a restaurant, buy a wedge of cheese or some olives to sample, pick up some fruit for your room or some nuts to nibble. You’ll appreciate the flavors of the city and the magic something as simple as grocery shopping can have when you slow down and enjoy it.
Kathy: Maggie manages a tour company that offers painting instruction. Do you paint? Who are some of your favorite artists?
JCM: Neither Maggie nor I are artists, and so learning about painting has been part of the fun of this series. I wanted Maggie to be out of her element, working for a company that offers painting tours without having that skill set herself, and a painting tour seemed like a perfect way to do that.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
JCM: I have always read and loved cozy mysteries. I like spending time with familiar characters in charming locations, not to mention the challenge of the puzzles.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
JCM: I’m a mystery writer through and through.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
JCM: MURDER IN THE PIAZZA is the first Maggie White Mystery. The series follows Maggie, a downsized American executive stuck in Rome on her husband’s expat assignment. She thinks offering painting instruction to well-heeled travelers will unlock the secret to living the dolce vita, but when she discovers murder, Maggie can’t resist getting involved.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
JCM: It’s an impossible question! I love them all, and one of my biggest surprises was how much I appreciate my villains. But one of my favorite characters, aside from my hero Maggie, is her husband’s Great Aunt Gertrude, who pops in and out of the series on visits to Italy.
Gertrude was widowed sixty years ago, after which she’s lived an independent life, traveling with the Peace Corps, running a poetry magazine in Istanbul, and spending her time now visiting pals around the world. At least that was what she says. Maggie likes to joke that Gertrude is really a high-ranking spy or arms trafficker, and who knows? She might be right.
But what I love about Gertrude is that she is one of the few people in Italy who know Maggie from back home, who can remind her of her strengths and call her out when she’s off track.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
JCM: I wanted to write about a strong middle aged woman who is struggling with her identity without her job and with her children grown. I also wanted to set my story in a place where I’d enjoy returning to in my head while working away at my computer. I put the two things together and ended up with this series.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
JCM: One of my favorite things about writing is entertaining readers. Knowing that I’ve given someone a few hours of pleasure is my top priority, and so publishing was a natural step for me.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
JCM: Thank goodness this is fictional, because I think I’d be too nervous to have so many superstars together in one place! But I’d invite Kate Atkinson (so funny, so heartbreaking), Agatha Christie (what mystery writer would leave her off the list?), Kate Milford (author of the beautifully written and highly inventive middle grade Greenglass House series, which I adore reading together with my son) and R.A. Spratt (author of the hilarious middle grade Nanny Piggins series, which I love reading with my other son).
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
JCM: I’m reading lots of guide books these days! I can’t travel, and so I’m doing some serious travel-envy reading.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
JCM: I love running and am trying get back into knitting. I love food and cooking—I started a meal kit service here in Chicago—and am trying hard to stay on top of training for my year-old lab-cattahoula mix puppy.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
JCM: Lemons, red curry paste, hot chocolate and pasta.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
JCM: I started a middle grade mystery that I’m itching to get back to, but Maggie White gets top priority right now while I work on her next book.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
JCM: Definitely hearing from readers. I write the type of books I like to read, and knowing my work has brought some pleasure to another person is the highlight of my day.
The First Maggie White Mystery
Quickly bored with the leisurely expat lifestyle, Maggie White is excited to have a meaningful job in Rome. Managing a tour company that teaches painting to tourists would be wonderful, if not for her boss, the odious owner. When Maggie finds the man shot dead, she wonders if she'll become a suspect. She's disappointed when the police seem disinterested in investigating. What are the odds it's a robbery gone bad when nothing was taken? Maggie intends to help the police, whether they like it or not, but what happens when she truly becomes a suspect?
MURDER IN THE PIAZZA is an intriguing debut mystery. Protagonist Maggie White is a strong willed, capable woman of mature years who also has doubts and insecurities. She's well meaning, but not without faults. I love the camaraderie between co-workers Maggie, Thomas, and Ilaria. The British upper crust private school talk was a bit much, but John Aldrich was a good character to dislike. I loved the familiarity of the Cafe Antica and its owners and wished that I could spend time there. The city of Rome itself is a character here and I loved reading the descriptions of the Eternal City. I could feel the rumble of the scooters, hear the cries of the tourists, and smell the delectable aromas emanating from all corners. I really wish I could have been munching on a cornetto while reading!
The first Maggie White Mystery is a book about perceptions and assumptions. Do we dismiss people, or render them invisible based on how we view them? What can we get away with if we are underestimated?
MURDER IN THE PIAZZA is an intricately complex mystery that kept me guessing, not only about murder suspects, but the motives of other characters as well. I look forward to joining Maggie White on further adventures with Masterpiece Tours.
Murder in the Piazza: A Maggie White Mystery by Jen Collins Moore
About Murder in the Piazza
Cozy Mystery 1st in Series
Publisher: Level Best Books (September 22, 2020)
Paperback: 278 pages
Maggie White, a downsized American executive stuck in Rome on her husband's expat assignment, is finding the dolce vita isn't all it's cracked up to be. She's taken a job offering painting instruction to well-heeled travelers and her boss-a rather unpleasant English lord-has turned up dead in his penthouse. Maggie's left with a palazzo full of suspicious guests, a valuable painting her boss might have stolen, and a policeman who's decided she's the prime suspect. Now Maggie must keep the tour up and running while she tracks the killer and works to clear her name.
About Jen Collins Moore
Jen Collins Moore is the author of the Maggie White Mysteries. Her short fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly, and she is the editor of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest newsletter. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, as well an established marketer and entrepreneur. A transplanted New Englander, she lives in Chicago with her husband and two boys.
Author Link: https://www.jennifercollinsmoore.com/