Solace of Bay Leaves by Leslie Budewitz!
“The character-driven mystery is darker than many cozies. Readers attracted to unusual settings and mature, introspective amateur sleuths will appreciate this intricately plotted story depicting the impact of murder on the family and community.
— Library Journal Starred Review
A cozy and savory mystery blend of spices, murder and amateur sleuths in Seattle
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.
Legend says that in the late 1950s, aspiring rocker Jimi Hendrix often met friends
in Seattle’s Pike Place Market and played late into the night,
on the steps in front of a passage called Ghost Alley.
“This is magic,” Nate whispered to me as the waiter poured our wine. “I can’t believe I’ve never been here.”
I smiled my thanks to the waiter. There are pockets of magic in every city, and since Nate and I got together a few months ago, we’d made a point of exploring them. The glow of new love adds its own magic to the mix, and we’d made a point of enjoying that, too. But this was our first evening at Jazz Alley.
Across the dark, gleaming table, Eric Gardiner raised his glass, catching a flicker of light. His wife Kristen, my BFF since before we were born, raised hers. Nate and I followed suit. “Cheers,” Eric said. “Great to finally have a Friday night out, the four of us.”
I heard my phone buzzing in the small beaded bag at my hip. I ignored it. No interruptions tonight. Besides, the Spice Shop was already closed. Nobody needed me for anything important.
“How you scored seats for the dinner show,” I said, “don’t even tell me. She always sells out the house.” Diane Schuur, one of Seattle’s best-loved musicians, wouldn’t take the stage until after plates were cleared, but the promise and the wine had already begun to work their spell.
“What looks good?” Nate scanned the menu. Fish scores high in Seattle restaurants, but as a commercial fisherman, Nate is picky about his pesce, not to mention his salmon, crab, and halibut.
“The crab or sole,” I mused, “and Key lime pie. I had it once in Florida and ever since, I’ve thought that’s what vacation tastes like.”
On the floor between us, Kristen’s phone buzzed in her purse. A flash of worry flitted across her face and she fished for the bag, then snuck a peek under the table. Cell phones were frowned upon here, with good reason. But they’d left their girls home alone, so I didn’t blame her.
She held it out for me to see. The text wasn’t from one of her young teenagers, bored or ticked off at the other. It was from our good friend, Laurel Halloran.
Detective Tracy is in my living room, I read. FBI on the way.
“The girls are fine,” Kristen told her husband, showing him the screen as she nudged him to slide over and let her out.
“It’s Laurel,” I told Nate. “Something’s up. Be right back.”
I followed Kristen down the hallway to the women’s room. Inside, we huddled in the corner and she made the call, her blond head next to my dark one, the phone between us. This was not a place, or a topic, for speaker phone.
“They have new evidence,” Laurel said, her voice barely a whisper. She lives on a houseboat on Lake Union, and short of closing herself in her own bathroom, there aren’t many places to hide. And like most cops, Detective Michael Tracy seemed to possess almost super-human hearing. “He won’t tell me what it is until the FBI agent gets here. What do I do?”
Kristen’s eyes met mine.
“Put the coffee on,” I said.
Excerpted from The Solace of Bay Leaves by Leslie Budewitz (Seventh Street Books, 2020)
Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two light-hearted mystery series: the Spice Shop Mysteries, set in Seattle, and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in northwest Montana. Her books focus on strong women who share her passions and have a talent for finding trouble!
Leslie is the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Her guide for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure, won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction.
A Montana native, Leslie graduated from Seattle University and Notre Dame Law School. After practicing in Seattle for several years—and shopping and eating her way through the Pike Place Market regularly—she returned to Montana, where she still practices law part-time. Killing people—on the page—is more fun.
A true believer in the power of writers helping other writers, Leslie served as president of Sisters in Crime (SinC) in 2015-16, and a founding member of the Guppies, the SinC chapter for new and unpublished writers. She is the Montana representative to the board of the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and is also a member of the Authors of the Flathead and Montana Women Writers.
Leslie loves to cook, eat, hike, travel, garden, and paint—not necessarily in that order. She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, Don Beans, a singer-songwriter and doctor of natural medicine, and their gray Tuxedo, named Squirt but usually called Mr. Kitten. Because what else would you call a 13-year-old, 17-pound killer and cuddler who always dresses in formal attire?
Leslie is a 2018 Agatha Award winner for Best Short Story and also a recipient of the 2018 Derringer Award in the Long Story category.
CONNECT WITH LESLIE BUDEWITZ ONLINE
Where are you from? Does the area you live in influence you writing?
I’m a Montana girl, born and raised, but I went to college in Seattle and after law school, worked there for several years before coming home. Place is hugely important in my fiction, inspiring a series set in each state—the Spice Shop Mysteries set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries set in a lakeside community in NW Montana, on the road to Glacier National Park.
I fell in love with the Market as a college freshman and made it my life’s mission to eat my way through it. Since it’s constantly changing, and I only get to visit once a year or so, I’ll never finish, but I keep trying!
Tell us your latest news??
Just a pinch of murder… When her life fell apart at age 40, Pepper Reece never expected to find solace in bay leaves. But her impulsive purchase of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market turned out to be one of the best decisions she ever made. Between selling spice and juggling her personal life, she also discovers another unexpected talent—for solving murder.
In The Solace of Bay Leaves, the 5th in the series, Pepper is about to celebrate her second anniversary as the Mistress of Spice. The shop is doing well, and her love life is heating up nicely. But when evidence links a friend’s shooting to an unsolved murder, her own regrets surface. Can she uncover the truth and protect those she loves, before the deadly danger boils over?
Solace releases on October 20, in paperback, ebook, and audio.
When and why did you begin writing? What inspired you to write your first book?
I started writing at 4, on my father’s desk. Quite literally—I didn’t yet grasp the concept of paper. My parents laughed too hard to be mad, and kept me well supplied in paper and pens. I didn’t start writing seriously until my late 30s, when the creative impulse insisted on being honored. Like a lot of writers, I’ve got several practice novels in the closet. My first published novel, Death al Dente, winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, was inspired by the village where I live—truly a cozy community, though not in a location that readers would expect for a light-hearted mystery of this type, often called a cozy. My Spice Shop series is an urban cozy, set in a community within a community. And that’s been a big part of the fun—introducing readers to unexpected places I love, taking them on a journey with me.
What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
Oh, gosh, so many! I adore the way the late Ivan Doig wrote about Montana. Laura Lippman, Catriona McPherson, and Lori Rader-Day write about women’s lives, using crime as a trigger to explore internal and external conflict in a way I deeply admire—and enjoy. Elizabeth Strout’s linked story collections, Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again, take us into uncomfortable places, and illuminate them; plus, they’re great fun. I love books that take me somewhere I can see and feel on the page, and books that show me more about the world through lives I’ve never lived. The world is so much more interesting when you know more about the people in it, and that’s what good books do for us.
Tell us about your characters and how they came to be? Have they been in your head for a long time?
The Solace of Bay Leaves is the 5th book in the Spice Shop series, so I’ve known Pepper Reece and the other continuing characters for quite a while. But I’m always learning new things about them—in this book, I was surprised to trip over an episode in college involving an old friend that has continued to bother Pepper for twenty years, and to discover how it’s influenced her view of her friend, herself, and her choices in life. Other characters are pure delight, like Edgar, a Salvadoran chef who Pepper first met as a sous chef in her then-boyfriend’s bistro and who now runs an Italian restaurant, and Jamie, an artist new to the Market who discovers an important clue to one of the mysteries in the book. Some characters are inspired by people I know, like Sandra in the Spice Shop, while others emerge from the story itself, like Maddie Petrosian, Pepper’s old friend. I love exploring the relationships between my characters and discovering their secrets. It’s like living a hundred different lives, while still getting to enjoy my own!
What motivates you to write?
Besides the contract and a deadline? <smile> I love exploring the world and people and situations through storytelling. I love playing with language and structure, and the amazing high of getting into flow, and the aha! moments when all the pieces click and my fingers can barely keep up with my mind. Now that I’m published, I love sharing stories with readers and hearing how my little books transport, educate, comfort, and entertain them.
What is the hardest part of writing?
For The Solace of Bay Leaves, the biggest challenge was recognizing that my original plot belonged to a different book, and that Pepper’s relationship with Maddie Petrosian was the heart of the story. Once I find the central emotional conflicts—both the one that leads to the murder and the one that compels my amateur sleuth to investigate—the story flows.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned—and this shouldn’t have felt new, but somehow it did—to trust my process, even though it varies with each book. To keep digging for that emotional core, for how it links the characters, and what it drives them to do. Therein lies story.
Where do you get your ideas?
Some come from the setting—in the Spice Shop books, for example, I’m always looking to portray the vibrant world of Pike Place Market as well as Seattle’s art, architecture, history, and food scene. Some come from history—as soon as Maddie Petrosian walked onto the pages of Solace, I knew her Armenian heritage would play a key role in the story. Driving around her neighborhood with a friend while on a visit to Seattle, stopping for coffee, and walking through the community center and playfields, gave me more details of her life and Pepper’s and how they were linked. Some come from more traditional research. And others, I’ll be honest, come from eating.
What does your family think of your writing?
“She’s in writing world,” my husband often says at the end of the day, or when I’m not quite part of the conversation! He’s enormously supportive, and is always willing to help me scout out locations, attend a book talk, and test recipes. My late mother claimed to have always known I’d end up writing, and helped me every way she could. And my brother sends me pictures of my books on bookstore shelves when he travels!
What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?
Read, write, study the craft, and repeat. Find what matters most to you, and delve into it on the page; writing is hard, but when you use your passions, you’ll do good work.
What book are you reading now?
A friend sent me Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I’m nearing the end and so intrigued. It’s wonderfully atmospheric; I know little about coastal North Carolina, but I feel like I’m there with Kya–even though I don’t know how to pronounce her name!
So excited to read & review this one!