Wednesday, July 22, 2020

An Interview with Agatha Winning Author Leslie Budewitz by E. B. Davis

…when I stumbled over my husband and a parking enforcement officer practically
plugging each other’s meters in a downtown restaurant, just before scandal
destroyed the law firm where I worked and took my HR job with it, all within months
of my fortieth birthday, I never expected to find solace in bay leaves.
Leslie Budewitz, The Solace of Bay Leaves, Page 20

Pepper Reece never expected to find solace in bay leaves.

But when her life fell apart at forty and she bought the venerable-but-rundown Spice Shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, her days took a tasty turn. Now she’s savoring the prospect of a flavorful fall and a busy holiday cooking season, until danger bubbles to the surface . . .

Between managing her shop, worrying about her staff, and navigating a delicious new relationship, Pepper’s firing on all burners. But when her childhood friend Maddie is shot and gravely wounded, the incident is quickly tied to an unsolved murder that left another close friend a widow.

Convinced that the secret to both crimes lies in the history of a once-beloved building, Pepper uses her local-girl contacts and her talent for asking questions to unearth startling links between the past and present—links that suggest her childhood friend may not have been the Golden Girl she appeared to be. Pepper is forced to face her own regrets and unsavory emotions, if she wants to save Maddie’s life—and her own.

The Solace of Bay Leaves is the fifth book in Leslie Budewitz’s Spice Shop Mystery series. Main character Pepper Reece and her Airedale, Arf, continue to solve mysteries involving those close to them, in this case, the attempted murder of a friend, Maddie. The weapon—a gun used previously in a three-year old unsolved murder of another friend’s husband, Pat, who was an Assistant US Attorney.

Yes, the two victims knew each other, but mainly due to their kids’ mutual interest in soccer. Not much motive for murder and attempted murder. Perhaps because Pepper enjoys the simple pleasures in life, making her living via her senses to sell spices, her intellect needs to solve more complex mysteries than spice blends. Keeping her fictional sleuths as role models, Pepper asks herself, “What would Brother Cadfael do?”

You can read my interview with Leslie about the first book in this series, Assault and Pepper, here. Please welcome award-winning Leslie Budewitz back to WWK.                                                                                                         E. B. Davis

The series is set in Seattle, which you describe as a city of water and hills. But you also start one chapter with an explanation of why the city is complex to navigate. What’s the story here? You can dead end in water and get lost in hills, the insane joke of dead men?

Back in the 1850s, the founders couldn’t agree on whether the fledgling city’s streets should be oriented to Elliott Bay, part of Puget Sound, or to the cardinal directions. So, each man oriented his own plat to his own pleasure, creating streets that angle and butt into each other. Later, several hills just above the bay were regraded, further skewing the streets. The construction of I-5 in the 1960s created dead-ends. In some neighborhoods, ravines, canals, and lakes add to the chaos. But I like your explanation, too!

Were you being facetious when you describe Kristen being Pepper’s best friend before they were born or is there a story there? Were their mothers’ friends?

Pepper and Kristen’s mothers met in college. Later, with their husbands, they founded a peace and justice community known as Grace House, headquartered in a large, late 19th century house built by Kristen’s great-grandparents. The two couples and their children lived together until Pepper’s family bought their own home the summer the girls, who were born two weeks apart, turned twelve. Sadly, Kristen’s mother died before the series started, but her father and Pepper’s parents remain close.

You describe Key Lime Pie as tasting like vacation. I agree, but why is that?

I suppose it’s because the taste is so distinctive – and because we don’t get to enjoy it often enough!

Does Detective Tracy eat a lot of Vitamin C, causing him to be resistant to Pepper’s questions?

Vitamin C for cookies? He does enjoy them!

The FBI is involved because the first victim, Pat, Laurel’s husband, was an Assistant US Attorney. But if they didn’t establish that his murder was the result of his job, why are they involved?

The FBI has jurisdiction over any attacks on federal law enforcement, including Assistant US Attorneys. In practice, they share the investigation with local law enforcement, because jurisdiction isn’t always clear, local cops know the territory so well, and both want the case solved. By law, the FBI takes the lead. (The conflicts we often see on TV are largely a myth.) In a case like the murder of Patrick Halloran, where the motive isn’t clear, the FBI will be the primary agency unless and until it’s clear that the killing was unrelated to the victim’s work. 

Is “interrupted burglary” police-speak for attempted murder?

I have heard it used that way, but how widespread the usage is, I couldn’t say.

Do you have an Airedale? Does Arf tolerate being put into a yellow raincoat? Does he ever get into any of the shop’s spices?

Arf is the perfect little gentleman who never causes any trouble. Well, unless there’s a cat involved or he really needs to pee. Although I’ve owned several dogs, I’ve never had an Airedale or its cousin, the smaller Welsh terrier. Honestly, I have no idea why an Airedale, but the moment he walked on the page at Sam’s side in Assault and Pepper, it was clear that’s what he was.

I was thrilled you explained why the FBI has “special” agents. Please explain this term to our readers as no one else has ever explained it!

Pepper’s former husband, Tag, a Seattle bike patrol officer, is a student of history, and here’s what he tells her: “The term ‘Special Agent’ dates to the early twentieth century, when the automobile changed the nature of crime. The FBI needed authority to make arrests across state lines, but Congress and the states were afraid of a power grab. So ‘special’ actually means ‘limited.’ The FBI’s jurisdiction is limited to federal crimes, even when they cross state lines.”

What are:

Chai  masala?

In India, “chai” means “tea” and a “masala” is a blend of spices. In contrast, in this country, we use “chai” to refer to the combination of tea and spices.

Baking Blends?

The Spice Shop sells a variety of spice blends, including two chai-related masalas---one consisting of whole spices, made for steeping in milk and tea for a drink, the other ground, without tea, and suitable for baking. In the previous book, Chai Another Day, Pepper attempts to recreate a chai masala her friend Seetha’s mother sends Seetha, with unexpected results. She also creates a baking blend to give cookies, cakes, and other desserts the spicy flavor we associate with the drink, but without the tea.


A piroshky or pieorgi is a handheld meat pie or turnover popular in Central Europe. Piroshky is the Russian spelling. Options for fillings abound, and there actually is a terrific piroshky stall in Pike Place Market.

Samovar? Fake Samovar?

A samovar is a Russian tea urn, used for brewing tea and keeping it hot. They are often elaborately decorated. The Spice Shop had an electric version Pepper called a fake samovar that met an unfortunate fate in Assault and Pepper, and it took her a while to find a replacement, but happily she did. It presides over the tea cart where samples of the shop’s spiced tea are served. It’s also my homage to The Russian Samovar, a tearoom once located on First Avenue in Seattle near the Market, a place my friends and I loved ages ago.
Pepper has issues with Maddie, the victim of attempted murder. She feels guilty about winning a position that she thinks Maddie probably should have been given over her. But she also feels like Maddie and her life have been perfect. Intellectually she knows this is nonsense, knows that it is immature thinking. Is jealousy, guilt, or something else the impetus of stereotyping people into the have and have nots, the spoiled or the hardworking, the successful or unsuccessful?

What a wonderfully probing question! I think it’s all of those, but in Pepper and Maddie’s case, it’s also based on misunderstanding. Sometimes, a failure to understand something that happened when we were children or teens, or when we didn’t know all the facts, colors our view of a relationship so much that only a major shock can reorient our thinking---and that’s what happens with these women.

Pepper describes her brother as smarter than she is. Combined with her issues with Maddie, does Pepper have an inferiority complex?

No. She just has a really smart brother. But Carl has followed a more conventional career path than Pepper, and she respects his success---which is funny considering that they were raised in a communal household founded by hippies and activists!

After three years, Pepper realizes that Tag, her ex, wasn’t the only one responsible for the end of their marriage, and she tells him so. Does hindsight change perspective? Or is it more the softening of emotional hurt?

Both, I think. With time, and a couple of other relationships behind her, Pepper is willing to acknowledge both her share of the responsibility, and that she was reluctant to give up blaming Tag for such a deep violation of her trust. She’s very much in love with Nate, and knows Tag’s part in giving that relationship a boost, and those things help to, as you say, soften her a bit.

What is Pepper’s real name?

You’re not going to have any better luck prying that out of me than Pepper’s staff has! But the name is revealed in Killing Thyme, where Lena, Pepper’s mother, makes her first appearance.

After Maddie recovers from a coma, her family provides prompts helping her memory. One is a photo album of Maddie’s family history, which helps Pepper piece together information. When did the genocide of the Armenian people occur? Was Seattle one of the areas where Armenians settled or did they spread out around the US?

The Armenian genocide occurred between 1915 and 1923, when the Ottoman government murdered, relocated, or deported roughly 1.5 million ethnic Armenians from Turkey. Many came to the US, primarily the Northeast and California, though there was an Armenian immigrant community in Seattle, and there is still an Armenian Orthodox church in the Greater Seattle area. I first heard stories from a friend whose Armenian grandparents fled Turkey and ultimately settled in Portland, Oregon. 

I was surprised that Pepper invited Special Agent Meg Greer up to her loft, but I was dumbfounded when Meg made a point of telling Pepper she was armed while drinking tea. Does the agent have some issues? Like she has to be macho or something?

Oh, gosh, yes, Meg Greer “has issues”---what a great way to describe her! She stunned me, too, not by saying she was armed---FBI agents are required to carry, even off duty, and it is only polite to let someone know you’re bringing a gun into their home---but by her abrupt departure. I hope we can learn more about her in the future.

Like her friend Glenn, Pepper has the chance to buy the condo below her and turn her loft into a two-story dwelling. Why did she decide not to do that? Was her beau, Nate, a consideration?

The loft is perfect for Pepper just as it is, and she realizes that expanding it to make more room for Nate is premature, not because she doesn’t want a life with him, but because she doesn’t want to pressure him to change his work life. If he does, then they can decide, together, where to live and whether the loft works for the two of them.

Pepper thinks there are signs of change in her relationship with Nate. She defines his use of the word “home.” Does she want to change Nate?

Pepper is keenly aware that you can’t change another person, and that being involved with Nate means accepting his schedule as a commercial fisherman---six months in Seattle, six months in Alaska. But as they grow closer, each is choosing to make changes, and it’s apparent that “home” will be part of that. I wouldn’t say she defines his use of the word “home;” she’s trying to understand it, and how his thinking is evolving.

“Besides, it’s part of growing up, to learn how to live with ambiguity and unsettled things.” (Loc. 3109) Are black and white thinkers immature?

Not sure I can be so black and white about it! My understanding is that psychologists and spiritual thinkers see acceptance of ambiguity as essential to a meaningful life.

How is it that if someone steals a blend of spices made for a chef and someone uses the blend, it’s theft. But if someone uses the same recipe of an entrĂ©e the spices are used in, it isn’t?

Ah, perhaps that part of a subplot wasn’t as clear as it should have been. The list of ingredients in a recipe can’t be copyrighted, whether it’s for a cake or a spice blend, although the description of how to make a dish can be. So I can use the same ingredients Ina Garten lists in a published recipe, but I have to tell you how to make the cake in my own words. If Ina keeps her recipe a secret but serves me a slice and I try to recreate it, good for me – and good luck! But if she keeps that recipe locked in a drawer and doesn’t publish it, and I break in and steal it, I’m a thief. One with good taste, but still a thief.

What’s next for Pepper, Arf, and maybe Nate?

That, I’m afraid, is a bit of a mystery. This is the last book under contract, so it’s wait and see.

When will man buns go out of style?

Any minute now, we can only hope.


  1. Wonderful interview and congratulations, Leslie, on book 5 in the delicious Spice Shop series.

  2. Congrats, Leslie. You have a strong series going.

  3. Congratulations on your latest!

    I have a family samovar parked on a shelf, but have never attempted to use it. Some things are best admired.

  4. I love your novels, so steeped in atmosphere and with so many interesting details popping up everywhere.

    You've made me hungry for pierogies (I have my Polish mother-in-law's recipe, and a new air fryer. Time to experiment.)

  5. Loved this interview. Congratulations on your new book, Leslie!

  6. Awesome blog, and ditto re the titles of your books. And yum, who doesn't love spices! :)

  7. Congratulations, Leslie. It's great to see another book out by you. This one sounds great.

  8. Thank you, Elaine, for such great questions and for the opportunity to visit with your readers. And thanks for all the kind comments. (My apologies for the delay in responding -- I've been away from the computer literally all day, until now.) Margaret, wise choice on the samovar -- I feel the same way about my late MIL's Italian espresso maker. I consider it kitchen sculpture. And KM, perfect time to experiment! There's a new piroshky food truck in our valley, and we love their food! Barbara, the title comes from Pepper's comment that when her life fell apart at 40, she never expected to find solace in bay leaves -- that is, in running a spice shop.

    My thanks again, Elaine, and WWK!