I'm pleased to welcome Mary Keliikoa to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Mary writes the Kelly Pruett Mystery series. DENIED is the second book in the series and was released earlier this month.
Kathy: Your Kelly Pruett Mystery series features a strong and relatable female lead. Why is it important to have such strong female protagonists, particularly in crime fiction?
MK: Crime fiction often portrays women as the victims, and that a man comes in to save the day, or solve the crime. PI novels in particular are dominated by male leads. But women are fully capable of saving themselves and solving crimes. They even bring an entirely different skill set when doing so! When I set out to create a series, I aimed to create that woman.
As for relatability, having Kelly not be from a law enforcement background was a conscious choice, along with her not having some of the vices that many investigators in detective novels fall victim to. She’s a mom, looking to be a role model to her deaf daughter. She’s a woman trying to find her own place outside what society thinks she should be doing. And she can kick butt! I wanted to show that strength is not all about physical capabilities. It’s the desire to get up and keep getting better at what she’s doing, and balancing her world. I think we can all learn from that, and that was my goal for Kelly.
Kathy: In DENIED PI Kelly is hired to find the estranged father of a pregnant woman and winds up dealing with the mafia. Why bring mob ties into your series?
MK: Because I chose to bring in the element of gambling, it felt like an interesting angle to explore and especially so because I like to challenge preconceptions in the reader. Not everything is exactly as it first appears and in Kelly’s case, she had her own preconceived notions not only about these mafia types, but of the people her father associated with in general. Bringing this aspect into the novel challenged those beliefs.
Kathy: While searching for clues in the trash she finds gambling debts and and a blood-soaked body part. What's the worst thing you've ever found in the trash?
MK: Oh my – well, nothing severed, thank goodness!! Or dead, doubly grateful for that! I have to admit, I have no great or juicy answer for this. All the action happens for Kelly clearly. And I’m okay with that!
Kathy: What first drew you to mysteries?
MK: I came to mystery in my adult years. I’d been working in the legal field, and started to gravitate to books by Patricia Cornwell first. But it was when I found Mary Higgins Clark that I realized how much I loved the suspense genre, and then finding Sue Grafton, JA Jance, Faye Kellerman, Janet Evanovich grounded me in mysteries. From then on, I couldn’t imagine reading anything else.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
MK: I’m team mystery/suspense all the way and I can’t imagine writing in any other genre at this point.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
MK: My series centers around PI Kelly Pruett, who is the single-mom to a deaf daughter. She grew up in her father’s detective agency, but when she buries her father and her marriage in the same year, she’s faced with choosing to continue her father’s legacy. The series covers Kelly’s growth not only as an investigator, but as she balances motherhood and being a career woman, as well as negotiating her complicated extended family.
I do have another series that will be released in September 2022 featuring a Portland homicide detective turned small town sheriff in the fictional Oregon coastal town of Misty Pines. His first case centers around a missing 14 year old and ties back to a cold case he had as a detective.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
MK: In this series, I really love Arlene, who is Kelly’s ex-mother-in-law and who lives next door. In the beginning, she comes across as a little judgy towards Kelly, her career choice and sometimes her mothering skills. But I loved writing her because her motivations run much deeper, and I’ve enjoyed exploring her and Kelly’s complicated relationship throughout the series.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
MK: I was in the legal field for many years and loved working in downtown Portland, Oregon. I knew I wanted to center a mystery in the city I knew so well, and having been a long-time fan of Sue Grafton, I decided a PI would be just the protagonist to solve those mysteries.
After that, Kelly came in pretty formed. Single mom to a deaf daughter, living next to her ex-mother-in-law, taking over her father’s agency after he’s died and trying to become a good PI in her own right.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
MK: I woke up one day and realized how much I truly loved writing and how I’d like to make it a career. When I started penning novels, I was in my late twenties. So other than vanity presses, traditional was the way to go. And that’s what I set out to do, get traditionally published so I could do this full-time.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
MK: Marry Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich and Faye Kellerman. Just to spend an evening with these ladies, talking story, plot and inspiration would be a dream come true.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
MK: I just finished BAIT & WITCH by Angela M. Sanders and FINDING TESSA by Jaime Lynn Hendricks. And I am anxiously awaiting my friend Dianne Freeman’s novel, A FIANCEES GUIDE TO FIRST WIVES AND MURDER out in July! Until then, I’m diving into a little darker story by Tessa Wegert, DEATH IN THE FAMILY.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
MK: I would love to! I’m a musician, and have been since I became fascinated with the organ at 6 years old. While I don’t own an organ now, I used to play theater organ and pipe. I went on to piano, and in the high school band played oboe in the concert band, and bells in the marching band. As an adult, I still own a piano and have taught myself the ukulele. All in all, I can play 10 instruments without making people run for the hills… I also love to golf, snorkel, and ride bikes.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
MK: Coffee, salad fixings, Healthy Choice fudge bars and ginger beer.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
MK: Book 3, DECEIVED, will be out next May, and that will wrap this part of Kelly’s journey. That’s not to say I won’t be back, but I really felt this 3 book character arc worked for her. When she returns, I will likely fast forward her a bit and I anticipate her working life could look a little different, given how I end the last novel! Intrigued?
As for a new series, I have signed with Level Best Books for two books in a new series set in the fictional Oregon coastal town of Misty Pines. It features a former Portland homicide detective turned small town Sheriff, Jax Turner. In the first book of that series, HIDDEN PIECES, a case from his past might rear its head in the present case of a missing 14 year old girl.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
MK: Connecting with readers who love mystery, as well as other writers/authors in the mystery genre, and having the opportunity to talk story! Whether it’s about the book I’ve written, or just stories and writing in general, I find that to be the most rewarding part of the journey.
About the Book:
The Second Kelly Pruett Mystery
Camel Press, May 11, 2021
PI Kelly Pruett has a lot on her plate – working with clients at the detective agency, handling a difficult ex, and caring for her Deaf daughter. If motherhood taught her anything, it’s that the best things in life are never easy, so, despite recent injuries, PI Kelly Pruett is eager to get back to work.
When a mommy-to-be hires Kelly to locate her estranged dad, Kelly is thankful for the straightforward missing-persons case. But as she rummages through the trash in search of clues, she uncovers gambling debts to gangsters… and a blood-soaked severed finger. With her investigation suddenly heating up, Kelly’s hunt takes a deadly turn when her quarry is found driven off a cliff to his doom. She’ll need more than her cop boyfriend’s help to expose the truth when the mob sends her a cease-and-desist notice with an explosive ending. Can Kelly take on the mafia and make it out alive?
At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her fur-kids. When not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is. To learn more about Mary’s life and work, please visit: https://marykeliikoa.com/