season takes on a whole new meaning in the coastal town of Busman's Harbor,
Maine, when local business owners sling dirt at one another in a heated feud
over a proposed pedestrian mall. Vandalism is one thing, but murder means Julia
Snowden of the Snowden Family Clambake steps in to clean up the case . . .
When Julia spots police cars in front of Lupine Design, she races over. Her
sister Livvie works there as a potter. Livvie is unharmed but surrounded by
smashed up pottery. The police find the owner Zoey Butterfield digging clay by
a nearby bay, but she has no idea who would target her store. Zoey is a vocal
advocate for turning four blocks of Main Street into a pedestrian mall on
summer weekends. Other shop owners, including her next-door neighbor, are
vehemently opposed. Could a small-town fight provoke such destruction? When a
murder follows the break-in, it’s up to Julia to dig through the secrets and
lies to uncover the truth . . .
Yesterday, Kensington released
the tenth book in Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake mystery series, Muddled Through.
a reader thought up this title, as Barbara explained in the postscript, and it
is an apt title given the season and state of main character Julia Snowden’s
can’t tell you how much I look forward to reading the books in this series.
When I start a book, I try to become aware of when I slide into the reading and
reality recedes. Total failure—I’m immersed before I know it.
puts the reader into intriguing action from the very start, and then she hooks
you in with each chapter. But the other aspect that hooks me is the historic
and other details that Barbara must research to write. Part of it is teaching.
I had no idea lupine flowers (see the cover) was pronounced loopin, not loo-pine
(long “i”), which begs the question—why isn’t the spelling lupin, solving the
welcome Barbara Ross to WWK. E. B. Davis
years ago, many small-town folk were wary of strangers, or in as they say in
Busman’s Harbor, the setting of this series, those “From Away.” But now? We’re
such a transient society and Busman’s Harbor has lots of outsiders who own
summer cottages there. Would that mentality still exist?
It would. I live part of the year in Key West, Florida.
The people who have the good fortune to be born in the Keys are “Conchs.”
People who’ve moved to the Keys from other places but have lived there
full-time for at least seven years are called “Freshwater Conchs.” The rest of
us are just passing through.
Maine doesn’t even have the “freshwater” gradation. I
love this joke, which Katherine Hall Page tells in the thirteenth book in her
series, The Body in the Lighthouse.
“A Down East man and his pregnant wife are visiting in
New Hampshire when she goes into labor. He bundles her into the car, and they
drive as fast as they can to the Maine border, but it’s no good. The baby is
born before they can cross it. The same day another baby is born somewhere on
the Maine coast. As soon as he can travel, his parents take him to Asia, where
he lives for the rest of his life. The other baby lives a long life, too, but
he never leaves the state again. They die at the same time. The Ellsworth
American runs both obituaries. “Local Man Dies in Singapore” and “Man from
New Hampshire Dead at Eighty-one.”
spring mud comes black fly season. Remind me why people love Maine so much. Don’t
the ocean breezes keep the bugs away?
Black flies don’t bother us on the coast. But in the woods…
in twelve thousand years, not enough topsoil has developed to absorb rain and
snow melt in Maine (leaving clay exposed for potters), how many years does it
take to develop topsoil?
Twelve thousand years is the blink of an eye in the
history of the earth. The main point about the topsoil is there’s not enough of
it to absorb and drain a combination of snow melt and spring rains, hence “mud
that Julia is living with her mother again, broken her relationship with Chris,
and unable to continue operating their winter restaurant, she has too much time
to think. She’s retrospective, thinking about the last ten years of her life.
She’s down. Is this natural or is she depressed?
I don’t think she’s clinically depressed (whatever that
might mean), but she’s pensive, betwixt and between, trying to make sense of
her life and figure out what’s next.
does animatronic mean and how does it apply to Busman’s Harbor?
Animatronic comes up in a heated town hearing. A local
complains about the “Disneyfication” of their resort town and says the
developers won’t stop until the citizens are all animatronic—like the moving
statues in the Hall of Presidents at Disney World. It’s a fight about what to
keep and what to let go of to accommodate the tourists on which the town
were “rusticators?” What was the purpose?
Rusticators are the first wave of tourists who came to
Maine in the late nineteenth century. They came specifically to get away from
the growing cities and experience a simple life for a week or a summer. They
came to Maine because it was rustic.
husband might be a Mainer. What is that, and is it the same as being cheap or
being a potential recycler?
Some people might say it has to do with being cheap, but
it really has to do with keeping anything you might ever have a use for, no
matter how unlikely. My husband may be one, too.
there a lot of New York City expats in Maine?
Oh, my goodness, yes. And since the pandemic, even more.
would have thought the most popular vehicle in Maine to be four-wheel drive
trucks, not Subarus. But are the Subarus four-wheel drive as well?
Subarus are all wheel drive and Maine is the second-best
market for Subarus in the country. (Following only Vermont.) However, there are
more Ford F150s here than Subarus. (I just had to look that up.) But Maine’s
love affair with the Subaru is well-known and well documented.
What does the psychological term
“well defended” mean?
The way it’s used in Muddled Through it means
self-protective, not allowing oneself to be upset by events by pushing feelings
away. It’s not a good thing in the long run because the person isn’t feeling
their feelings, but it can be a crutch to get through a crisis in the short
does Busman’s Harbor have two main streets? Isn’t it confusing?
Busman’s Harbor only has one main street, called Main
Street, but it curls around a hill and crosses itself, thereby creating the
intersection of Main and Main. You can see a
map of it here.
is pine syrup/bitters? Does it taste like pine, just as yucky gin tastes like
It tastes like Christmas! Really, pine syrup and pine
bitters are lovely.
lobster stew sounds incredible. But even if you could grind up lobster shells
so fine as to not cut up your stomach, are they even digestible? They were used
to thicken the stew?
It’s lobster bisque that was traditionally thickened by
ground up lobster shells—and I mean truly ground up to powder. Some chefs still
make it that way.
do Mainers call tonic (that stuff you add to yucky gin)?
I think you’re alluding to what other people call soda or
pop. Old, true New Englanders (not just Mainers) call that tonic. It’s fading
from the language rapidly. You hear soda much more often today. I guess they
call tonic, tonic as well.
thought pecan pie was a Southern thing. The recipe is titled Cardamom Pecan
Pie, but with the substitution of maple syrup, maybe it should be called Maple
Nut Pie. It really is a different pie, isn’t it?
Hmm. Substituting maple syrup for another sweetener is a
common practice. I have a novella coming out next year where maple syrup gets
substituted for brown sugar in Irish coffee. I don’t think that makes it a
whole different thing, does it? I fully acknowledge that pecan pie is a
National Geographic Magazine has
only employed four female staff photographers in its history. True?
As of 2000, when the book Women Photographers at
was published it was true, and those four were widely
spaced in time. Further it says, “Until the 1970s (and some might say beyond)
the National Geographic Society was the publishing equivalent of a private
men’s club. Women worked at the society, but nearly always as secretaries or
clerks. Men and women ate in separate dining rooms.” Nonetheless from 1907 onward,
a small number of intrepid women, almost always submitting over the transom in
the early days, or later working as free-lancers, did get their photographs
published in the magazine. Some of their achievements are extraordinary.
it terrible to want to preserve memories of someone by avoiding the present-day
Such an interesting question. But yes, I think in particular
with a romantic partner, when the relationship is firmly in the past, it can be
better to remember than to deal with current reality. Sometimes with former
friends as well. Like when you rediscover them through Facebook and they’ve
turned into jerks.
would forensic psychologists think that having someone in your family murdered gives
anyone in the family more propensity to kill?
Because violence begets violence and someone raised in
violent circumstances is more likely to be violent. It doesn’t apply in the
situation in Muddled Through, though. In this case the psychologist, who
hasn’t met the person in question, is generalizing and is wrong.
it a journalist’s job to make the populace feel safe by portraying murder
victims as living unwisely, making them responsible for their own murders?
Sounds like blaming the victim and casting aspersions to me.
I don’t think it’s a journalism thing. I think it’s a
human-being thing. We look at the victims of anything horrible, manmade or
natural, and we think, “I’m a different person in different circumstances, so
that won’t happen to me.” It’s a defense mechanism. If we thought about all the
terrible things that can happen all the time we’d never make it through the
With that, with the murder cited in the newspaper
articles in Muddled Through, there is a degree of victim-blaming,
particularly when the stories instigated by “leaks” from the defense counsel.
Maine lupines are actually from
the West Coast?
Yes. The lupines we love to see in meadows and by the
side of the road in June are invasive. We do have one native type of lupine,
but it’s been wiped out by the visitors and taken a particular type of
butterfly with it. We do love the lupines, though. They are beautiful.
must be a lot like writing. It teaches you failure. Right?
After interviewing potters for this book, I came away
feeling like there was a difference. Both activities are about creating art,
but potters face uncontrollable failure all the time from the beginning of
their practice to the end. With writing it’s about trying to get close to an
ideal and failing. With potters it’s about things literally blowing up in the
character in the book tells Julia she needs to learn to fail in regard to her
relationship with Chris. I’m not so sure that’s correct. Perhaps in the short
term. But is it more that Julia has learned where she needs to draw the line,
and appreciate that lesson, for long-term success? She’s already done that in
her working relationship with Sonny.
You’re right about Julia’s decision of course. But I
think when a loving relationship founders, we’re all susceptible to feeling
like we’ve failed. Julia’s inexperienced at love. Her relationship with Chris
is the first romantic partnership in her life that’s lasted more than weeks.
Their relationship went on for a long time and was intense. They lived together
and worked together. Julia imagined a future together, and I think it’s that
imaginary future that she’s actually mourning.
next for Julia?
After Muddled Through, we pick Julia up in “Perked
Up," a novella in Irish Coffee Murder which will be published on January
31, 2023. The eleventh Maine Clambake Mystery is due to my publisher three days
from now. (Gulp.) That will be out summer of 2023.
Thanks so much for asking! Your questions always make me