After leaving a dicey marriage and losing a beloved job in a corporate crash,
Pepper Reece has found a new zest for life running a busy spice and tea shop
in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Her aromatic creations are the talk of the town,
and everyone stops by for a cup of her refreshing spice tea, even other
shopkeepers and Market regulars. But when a panhandler named Doc
shows up dead on the store’s doorstep, a Seattle Spice Shop cup in his hand,
the local gossip gets too hot for Pepper to handle—especially after the police
arrest one of Pepper’s staffers, Tory Finch, for murder.
Tory seems to know why she’s a suspect, but she refuses to do anything to curry favor
Tory seems to know why she’s a suspect, but she refuses to do anything to curry favor
with the cops. Convinced her reticent employee is innocent, Pepper takes
it on herself to sniff out some clues. Only, if she’s not careful,
Pepper’s nosy ways might make her next on the killer’s list…
Leslie Budewitz surprised me with her new Spice Shop Mystery series. Only two books into her Food Lovers Village Mystery series, featuring main character, Erin Murphy, and Leslie created a new merchant, Pepper Reece, spice shop owner, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The similarity between Erin and Pepper ends with both characters being merchants. Erin, in her early thirties, contends with her partner mother in a family owned business, which is located in a small, rural Montana town. Pepper is ten years older, divorced, loves living in Seattle’s urban environment, and her parents retired to Costa Rica. I can only assume that both characters stem from Leslie’s experiences in both locales.
Assault and Pepper will be released on March third. The third book in the Food Lovers Village Mysteries, Butter Off Dead, will hit stores in July. Both books can be pre-ordered now. Look for them at your favorite indie or on Amazon.
Please welcome Leslie Budewitz back to WWK. E. B. Davis
Where did the idea for this series come from, and how did you sell it?
I went to college at Seattle University and after law school, moved back to the city and started my practice there until returning to my home state, Montana, twenty-some years ago. My husband loves Seattle, too, and we visit often. When I first started thinking of a cozy series, years ago, I wrote a proposal set there; it didn’t sell, but the setting kept calling me. I wanted to start a second series---I’m hoping to continue them both---and my agent loved the idea. The booksellers at Seattle Mystery Bookshop were enthusiastic---at that point, only a couple of ongoing series were set in the city, although Tracy Weber and the duo writing as Waverly Curtis have since started series set there. An urban cozy needs a defined community, and the Pike Place Market fits the bill perfectly.
My agent sold it to the editor at Berkley Prime Crime who bought my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries. I’m even lucky enough to have the same cover artist!
How much did you know about spices going into this series?
Probably about as much as the average avid home cook with no professional training. I’ve learned a lot about the history and folklore of spice. Now, I go looking for recipes featuring a particular herb or spice, try new-to-me combinations, and look for varieties of the same spice. For example, we all know paprika, but Hungarian differs from Spanish and smoked paprika adds a woodsy dimension reminiscent of cooking on an open fire. (And yes, I have done that!) It’s all tasty fun.
I liked that Pepper reads. She starts on Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael series. During her investigation, she asks herself, “What would Brother Cadfael say?” Out of all the fictional sleuths you could have chosen, why Brother Cadfael?
That came from the music. I knew Pepper had grown up in a communal household in Seattle with parents deeply involved in the peace and justice movement. Her mother has an unsettled relationship with religion but dearly loves the old chants and medieval harmonies, which occasionally sing in Pepper’s head. One night, Pepper is searching for distraction and stumbles across a box of Brother Cadfael mysteries her mother had tucked into the storage locker in Pepper’s loft building. Cadfael becomes a sort of mentor to her. That he was an herbalist helps, too. Plus, it’s given me a chance to reread a much-loved series, albeit slowly and in snatches.
Seattle street people play a role in Pepper’s investigation. The 1990s grunge movement attracted youth to Seattle, and it became a mecca of sorts, but are street people still in the backdrop of Seattle’s landscape?
They are, as in any city with a relatively mild climate. I wanted to portray them as humanly as I could. Two men you meet in Assault and Pepper---neither of them actually homeless, but without much use for walls---will be semi-regulars in the series.
Pepper’s employees are a curious bunch. One, Tory, is arrested for murder and put in jail. Tory frustrated me. Pepper is the only person willing to help her. Why doesn’t Tory talk to Pepper to help the case?
By nature and nurture---with no mother and a distant, workaholic father---Tory withdrew into herself and her art. It just isn’t like her to depend on someone else, although (no spoilers here!) there is one character who breaks through her walls. And she half-believes she deserves the punishment. I like to explore various aspects of a theme in the plot and subplots. Here, it’s the fine line between protecting someone and interfering ---and I hope Tory’s relationships with Pepper and her own father shed some light on that tug-of-war.
Did Pepper’s upbringing and flight from the corporate world give her insight into Tory’s problem?
Yes. Another theme is identity---choosing who you will be in the world. We’ve all known people---I was one---who seem to come alive at forty, shedding the past and creating their own identity. Pepper doesn’t mind being the poster child for the cliché. She recognizes a similar struggle in Tory, although Tory’s quite a bit younger.
Sandra is a wonderful secondary character—so supportive of Pepper. But Sandra’s love life is truly inspirational. Tell our readers about Sandra.
She’s an Italian pixie, a foodie who loves retail, a native Seattleite who loves the rain and complains---generally in good cheer---whenever the mercury rises over 75. She’s deeply in love with her second husband, whom she calls Mr. Right. (Online friends will recognize my nickname for my own husband, although Sandra draws more from an old friend, including her name, than from me.) I’m just starting the third Spice Shop book, and we may learn a bit more about Sandra and her sweetie there. (Or not. I’m an outliner, but some things only become clear as I write.)
Laurel, a good friend of Pepper’s, disregards the potential danger to Pepper charging her to investigate and find out the truth about the murder to give closure to the family. Why does she do this?
Well, Laurel doesn’t actually think Pepper will be in danger. She just thinks the victim needs someone to stand up for him---in part because of her own experience, losing her husband to a still-unsolved murder---and that Pepper is in the perfect position to do so. Of course, neither of them realize until almost too late that doing so makes Pepper the perfect target.
Fabiola irritated me. She’s hip, happening, now, and dresses the part of the creative genius. Why does Pepper like her so much, especially considering that the created image came from herself, not Fabiola?
Fabiola created some wonderful designs for Pepper, but she can’t get the logo quite right---and as you noticed, Pepper ultimately solves that problem herself. I’ve done a lot of remodeling over the years and worked with designers who are absolutely certain they know what you need; they’re about 95% spot-on, but that last 5% just doesn’t feel right. It’s the piece you have to figure out yourself, learning to trust your own instincts as a creative person, even when it isn’t quite comfortable. That’s the experience Fabiola gives Pepper.
Tag, her policeman ex, and her current love interest disappoint Pepper, but she doesn’t let them get her down. What is it about women in their forties?
It comes back to that thing about finding yourself and standing up for your own choices, I’d say. Tag represents that protection-interference theme, big-time.
It’s explanation/vocab time! Could you explain about:
The viaduct (it doesn’t have water in it, does it?)
Well, it does rain a lot in Seattle! The Viaduct is the term for the two-level elevated highway that runs along the waterfront. Major earthquake hazard---you may remember pictures of a similar highway in Oakland collapsing like a stack of pancakes in the 1989 earthquake. The Viaduct is slated for removal.
Rachael, the brass pig?
She stands at the main entrance to the Pike Place Market, as a fun symbol of the Market’s commitment to farmers and producers. She’s also a piggy bank, literally. Donors can tuck bills and coins through the slot in her back to contribute to the Market Foundation, providing social services for the Market’s several hundred low-income residents. (The Market was the first mixed use---commercial and residential---project on the National Historic Register.) Kids love to sit on her back.
What’s a Bumbershoot?
Bumbershoot is the arts and music festival that takes over Seattle Center, home to the 1962 World’s Fair, every Labor Day weekend. Some say bumbershoot is English slang for an umbrella, but that may be apocryphal. Whatever the origin of the word, it’s fun to say---and Bumbershoot is a fun weekend.
Public Development Authority, the organization that runs the Market, which is owned by the city.
Mezcal (does it have to do with magical mushrooms?)
A Mexican alcoholic drink made from agave, a cousin of tequila.
Your next book in the Food Lovers Village, Butter Off Dead, comes out in July. Can you give us the synopsis?
Erin Murphy and her pal Christine Vandeberg think a Food Lovers’ Film Festival is just the thing to brighten the bleak midwinter in Jewel Bay and cheer up the town folk. But when Christine is found dead only a few days before the curtain rises, Erin suspects someone is attempting to stop the films from rolling.
To make matters worse, Nick Murphy—Erin’s brother and Christine’s beau—has top billing on the suspect list. Convinced her brother is innocent and determined that the show must go on, Erin must find who’s really to blame before Nick gets arrested or the festival gets shut down. And as the anniversary of Erin’s father’s death in a still-unsolved hit-and-run approaches, her own beau isn’t so keen on her leading role.
But the closer Erin gets to shining a spotlight on the killer, the more likely it becomes that she’ll be the next person cut from the program…
Pike's Place Market pictures courtesy of http://www.pikeplacemarket.org/