Because, my dear, no problem goes away until you have learned all it means to
teach you… You are exactly where you should be, when you should be.
Kindle Loc. 1107—1115
What do you turn to when you can’t turn to a grilled cheese sandwich?
Kindle Loc. 1726
Amy Pershing, A Side of Murder
As most of you know, I’m a beach person, which is one of the reasons I downloaded this book. One look at the cover, and my decision was made. A Side of Murder is the first book in Amy Pershing’s Cape Code Foodie Mystery series—another plus for me since I’ve never like reading books from the middle of a series.
Amy Pershing is a natural storyteller. The book flows effortlessly from beginning to end. It is a character-driven plot, and few readers could dislike main character Sam Barnes. She’s not just a foodie, she’s a trained chef, derailed from her Manhattan career, and is floundering when she returns to her hometown on Cape Cod. I loved the cooking/baking tips woven into the story. Luckily for Sam, old and new friends are there to help, along with her newly inherited big puppy, Diogi (D-O-G).
Please welcome Amy Pershing to WWK. ___________ E. B. Davis
Is Fair Harbor a real town on Cape Cod? Have you lived there?
Fair Harbor is fictional, but I did piece it together from four Cape towns that I know very well from summers spent almost every year of my life on the Cape – Orleans, Chatham, Brewster and Wellfleet. I did the math once and figured I have spent approximately 1,000 days of my life sailing the waters around those towns.
Crystal Bay is based on Orleans’ Pleasant Bay. In contrast to the larger and more protected Cape Cod Bay, which lies in the curve of the “arm” of the Cape, Crystal Bay is on the ocean side of the peninsula, created by a long spit of sand dunes known to locals as the Outer Beach. It consists of the more sheltered Little Crystal and, as you sail further out, the larger, wilder Big Crystal.
Sam probably describes the bay best, saying: “Crystal Bay is the most gloriously beautiful body of water in the world. On a crisp May morning, dazzled by the sunlight sparkling on its deep blue waters, entranced by the new green mantling its small, uninhabited islands, taking great breaths of the fresh salt breeze, one could be forgiven for thinking that this was what the dawn of the world had looked like.
What are Wellfleet oysters and where are they from?
Wellfleet oysters come from the Cape Cod town of Wellfleet. Oyster lovers know that all oysters are not created equal. Much depends on where the oysters are grown. Wellfleet oysters have a justified (in my purely objective – not – opinion) for being some of the best on the East Coast. They are plump and clean with a distinctive balance of creamy sweetness (created by Wellfleet’s clean, cold waters) and brine (from the water’s fairly high salinity). Also, oysters feed on a mix of nutrients and local phytoplankton, and the unique mix of both in Wellfleet’s waters give its oysters an added dimension of deliciousness!
Was architect Luther Crowell real? I found a Cape Cod inventor, who died in 1903. Is this his son or grandson? What types of houses did he design?
Luther Crowell (1912-1989) was a very real Cape Cod house designer/builder descended from a long line of early Cape Cod ship builders and captains (and, I suspect, the inventor Luther Crowell, who lived in West Dennis and died in 1903). Though not trained as an architect, Crowell designed and built more than 100 “modernist” houses in Wellfleet, including the iconic Kohlberg House on which the house belonging to Samantha’s neighbor, Helene, is based. https://ccmht.org/programs/restoration-projects/kohlberg-house/
Jenny, one of Sam’s oldest friends, is an interesting character. She never went anywhere or went to college, married an older lawyer, and has three children who all have names starting with the letter “E,” whom Sam names Thing One, Two, and Three. I like Jenny, but I’m not sure why. What is it about Jenny readers like?
I don’t know about readers, but I’ll tell you what I like about her. I like that despite the challenges of her dyslexia (which might explain the not going to college thing), she’s found other outlets for her smarts and creativity, including raising three terrific kids and being a talented videographer. But most of all, I like her emotional intelligence. Jenny is the friend who sees the depths below the surface – including why Sam has really come back to the Cape…
I’ll let Sam tell it in her own words: “I was proud of being a successful woman chef in a decidedly male field. I was tough, and I didn’t let the male chefs intimidate me. For the first time in my life, my height was working for me. Those macho men literally could not look down on me.”
After a viral video disaster, Sam realizes that all is not as it seems. I was surprised she hadn’t known that before since her parents were journalists, who ran the local paper until her father had a heart attack. They quit to retire to Florida. With a mother who specialized in investigative journalism, you’d think a suspicious nature would have come naturally to Sam. Why didn’t it?
I think Sam inherited her mother’s curious nature, but you’re right, not her mother’s suspicious one. As she fully admits: “Until recent events taught me better, I tended to take what people said and did at face value. What you saw, I thought, is what they were. This misconception has not always worked out well for me. In fact, that spring, the spring I came metaphorically limping home to the Cape, you could say it worked out very badly indeed. …In retrospect, I got every player in this little drama wrong. And one of them disastrously, murderously wrong.”
As to why Sam is the way she is? I’ve no idea. She just came to me that way!
Aunt Ida left her house to Sam. But who is she? Sam is an only child of only children without cousins. Why did Aunt Ida get a puppy for Sam before she died?
Aunt Ida was Sam’s father’s unmarried aunt, and thus Sam’s great aunt. Ida was a Cape Codder of the old school and never approved of her grand-niece’s move off-Cape (and to the big city no less!). So when she leaves Sam her house and a ginormous puppy, Sam thinks she’s figured out what she calls “Aunt Ida’s evil plan”: “Sorry, Aunt Ida, but if you think you can trap me into coming back by giving me a falling- down house and a not very bright dog, you have another think coming.” But, of course, it’s Sam who has another think coming!
Next-door neighbor Helene is also a memorable character. She’s older but provides advice to Sam as a parent could not. Why is it that kids can accept advice from an older friend but protest such advice from a parent? Or does Helene’s background give her a distinct advantage?
You’ve touched on something that I’ve noticed (and experienced) myself. Even in the best relationship between parent and adult child, there are issues -- if only the son or daughter’s entirely understandable wish to be independent and the mother or father’s entirely understandable wish to be needed – that create barriers to communication. But an older friend can provide the experience and honesty that a younger adult sometimes needs (without even knowing they need it). Yes, Helene does have certain, shall we say, qualifications for this role, but in my experience, all that’s really needed is affection, honesty and a sense of humor.
When Sam finds the body of a woman she disliked years ago when they worked together, it brings the past back forefront in her mind, stirring thoughts of her first crush/love, Jason Captiva. Why did Sam dislike murder victim, Estelle?
I’ll let Sam answer that one: “Estelle was a piece of work. She was in her early fifties and had a passion for flat red lipstick and hair in a clashing orange shade never seen in nature. She was a little overweight but still what my grandfather would have called a fine figure of a woman. She was the kind of waitress who called her regulars “hon” and knew their drink orders by heart. She had ruled the Logan Inn cocktail lounge for years, and she made it her mission to keep Krista and me in our place. It seemed she found me, whom she insisted on calling Miss Daddy’s Girl, particularly objectionable.”
And it only gets worse!
What are truffle fries?
Truffle fries, which Sam calls “an easy A,” are generally thin-cut deep-fried potatoes topped with truffle oil and sometimes fresh herbs and spices, garlic, cheese, or other toppings. Ideally, the truffle oil is made from olive oil infused with real truffles, those rare and coveted fungi that grow wild in the forests of Italy. In reality, a lot of truffle oil is made with truffle “essence,” a manufactured aromatic compound. In my experience, real truffle oil, because of its expense and true truffle flavor, is best saved for drizzling over special pastas or salads. But “essence” truffle oils are great for truffle fries.
Jason Captiva is now the Harbormaster. What is a Harbormaster? Does every coastal town have one?
In most coastal communities a harbormaster -- who in larger towns heads the Harbor Patrol -- regulates marine uses within the town’s borders. Harbor Patrol services include rescue, law enforcement, firefighting, lifesaving, medical response, and public assistance. But because a harbormaster is also an officer of the law, he or she can detain and arrest suspects and lead an investigation, though only within the tidal range of the waters they are responsible for. As Fair Harbor’s harbormaster, Jason’s brief is the waters that give the town its name.
As Sam would tell you, when she was a kid sailing on Crystal bay, she and her friends saw the harbormaster as a kind of “Old Testament god,” mostly because of his power to call you out for not wearing the required life vest. “I don’t know what we thought the harbormaster would do to life vest scofflaws. Keelhaul us?”
Sam catches herself in Freudian slips that give her shocks. She having to acknowledge some truths about herself. Is the truth in her life changing? Is she changing? Or is she reverting to her true self?
But is she reverting to her true self? I wouldn’t say reverting, as that would imply that her time away from the Cape was not meaningful. But, yes, I think she is finding her true self. As Helene points out to her, “You honed your craft and built a career. You learned about life and you learned about love. You are a better, wiser, more compassionate person for the challenges you’ve faced. You are exactly where you should be, when you should be.”
Krista, the new manager of the local newspaper taking over from Sam’s father, can be a demanding and has a questionable love life. Why does Sam consider her to be a friend?
It’s true, Krista can be a bit brusque and of-putting. And yes, her love life makes Sam very “flustery.” But she is, after all, Sam’s boss, so she has a right to be, well, bossy. And she did offer Sam a job when there was absolutely nothing for her on the horizon. And it was Krista who went to bat to keep Sam’s father’s dream of a local paper alive when she could have had her pick of journalism jobs. Plus, as it turns out, Krista has enormous integrity, even to the extent of being willing to sacrifice her own career for the truth. Now if only she would give Sam a raise…
Who is Anna Wintour?
Anna Wintour is the long-time editor Vogue, whose signature bobbed hair-style has literally not changed in decades.
Photo courtesy of Amy Pershing
Why does Sam decide to investigate, even though Krista warns her off, when the local police think Estelle’s death is an accident?
Good question! First of all, she keeps going because Sam is smart and she has pride and it gets her hackles up when people – Krista, Police Chief McCauley, even Jason – don’t seem to be taking her well-founded concerns about Estelle’s death seriously. But also, I think, that Sam feels that murder – no matter how unpleasant the victim -- is quite simply wrong.
Plus, Sam is nosy!
What is gunk-holing?
I’m not even sure gunk-holing is a real word, but it’s what my friends and I used to call exploring the little gunky tidal ponds (i.e. gunk holes) in the marshes around Pleasant Bay.
What did it cost Jason to be a Harbormaster?
It cost him his relationship with his fisherman father, who is no longer in Jason’s life after moving to Maine, “where there are still fish to be caught.” When Sam says she’s sorry to hear that, Jason responds stoically, “Not a problem. This way I can’t be a disappointment to him. Unlike my father, I happen to believe the overfishing theory … and all the other ways we’re not being the stewards of the land and the water that we ought to be.” But Sam knows it is a problem, and it hurts her to see Jason hurting.
Are there farms on Cape Cod? Does the soil have enough nutrients?
Despite a century-long downward trend for farms on the Cape, there has been a renaissance for today’s farmers, who are responding very successfully to a healthy demand for local food, especially that grown organically.
The Cape actually has the advantage of a longer growing season than that of many other New England regions because the surrounding ocean warms things up earlier in the summer and makes its winters generally mild enough to grow cold-weather crops under plastic quanset huts. Though it’s true that the Cape’s land is very sandy, the soil of old, established farms is quite good for growing vegetables, with 10-12 inches of loamy top soil created by decades of decomposing plant material.
What’s next for Sam and her Fair Harbor gang?
The rest of the gang will be doing their bit, of course – Helene offering her usual no-nonsense response to Sam’s nonsense, Miles making Sam laugh and trying keep Aunt Ida’s house from falling down, Jillian making up for Sam’s lack of baking prowess, and Jason still causing Sam to go weak at the knees.
Diogi, of course, understands that the series is all about him and will be taking his usual starring role.