I can’t believe I totally flaked out and forgot that September 15 was National Cozy Mystery Day!
How did that happen?
Silly me, I was recovering from my launch of MURDER AND A MEDIUM on Wednesday and busy writing the next book, CHRISTMAS MURDER OF A MISER coming out in November.
In case you missed it, cozies are fun, traditional whodunnits that exercise your brain to solve the puzzle without scaring the daylights out of you. A fast-paced frolic.
Aggie Burnside, intrepid nurse ,working in a small town in the Berkshires, Massachusetts in the 1930s, is somehow always in the middle of a murder case. Sometimes she is put in danger and often she beats the Inspector to the solution.
MURDER AND A MEDIUM was a fun book to write for two reasons.
First, the model of feuding faculty: I spent more years than I care to remember in academia. While my subject matter was fascinating and I loved doing research, the personal interactions were not very positive. And if you think the shenanigans among faculty members is exaggerated in my story, I’ve only scratched the surface.
Second, the manipulative medium: I grew up on Long Island, New York. Although I think reality shows are a waste of time, I had to watch the Long Island Medium which is exactly that, a show. You’ve got to admire the skill of her technique in leading people on during the question and answer phase of their interaction. And no, we don’t all ‘tawk like huh.’
So, mix them up, add a bit of murder and here’s MURDER AND A MEDIUM.
The end of August and the looming Labor Day weekend spell the end of summer for most of us.
Growing up on the East coast, it was the end of summer camp, the last full burst of garden vegetables, the beginning of school supply shopping and the start of cooler evenings.
Here in Arizona, we’re coming to the end of the summer rainy season with uncharacteristic humidity. At least the plants love it. It’s hard to imagine that once every yard in our neighborhood was once wall to wall grass year-round. Over the years, everyone has moved to xeriscape, low water use plants such as you find in the desert. It’s not all cactus.
Enjoy the end of summer and let’s celebrate all those people—our ancestors, our living neighbors and ourselves—who believe in the value of hard work to celebrate a holiday of joy and beauty.
To be honest, summer will be here in Arizona until October.
Right now we are experiencing the summer monsoons. Hot mornings, clear skies then as the day goes on the clouds roll in and a violent, brief storm hits.
I knew one was coming but had to get some groceries and—wham—the storm hit. Oh well, I wasn’t going to stand inside looking at the storm, so I waded in about six inches of water and got thoroughly soaked. As did the plants, which is a good thing.
Afterwards the backyard – there is actually a sidewalk there somewhere under the water.
Growing up, summer meant going to the beach on Saturday. Our parents took us to Oyster Bay, a beach on the North Shore of Long Island, that had gentle waves suitable for little kids. At low tide, you could walk quite far out and still have your head above water.
For a longer vacation, we went to Boothbay Harbor, Maine, which wasn’t really a swimming kind of beach place although we explored the rocks and tidepools. Some of those memories made it into MURDER AT THE BEACH HOUSE.
Next, we graduated to Jones Beach, on the South Shore, that had miles of beach to choose from but all with what seemed to me high crashing waves. We had my father’s Army blanket and a striped umbrella to shade us from the sun, but we always came home sunburnt.
Now I live in Arizona, about four hours from the nearest beach in the Gulf of California and eight hours from San Diego. With Covid, we’ve been reluctant to travel and I really miss the ocean.
I hope you get a chance to get away somewhere where it’s cool and there’s water. Our pool will have to do for now.
Nurse Aggie Burnside is looking forward to a quiet vacation at a beach house in Morgan’s Cove, Maine. But neighbors quarrel, old feuds erupt and someone dies. Can this amateur sleuth sift through the strands of deception to solve the crime?
In Southern Arizona, we have two rainy seasons. If we’re lucky.
In the winter, there are the slow, long rains that prep the plants for spring blossoms.
In the summer, we get the violent thunderstorms and torrential rain of the monsoons.
Dia de San Juan, June 24, is the traditional start of the summer rainy season.
There are parties, fiestas and invocations to any spiritual entity that will take pity on us suffering through the hot, dry days that are frequently over 100 degrees. And then we get humidity which tells us that the rains are coming soon.
Today, there are dark clouds on the horizon and at night we can hear the rumbling of thunder and see flashes of lightning. But so far, the only evidence of rain is slightly dirty car windshields in the morning.
We’re in a period of drought here in the Southwest US in addition to climate change, and we converted our entire yard to what is called ‘xeriscape’ using low water using plants. The grass is long gone. But even these drought tolerant plants need some moisture now and then. So, come on, already! Let’s have some rain!
In the summer, I like to read books about cool climates to take my mind off the heat. This spring and summer, I decided to write a mystery set in Maine where our family spent many summer vacations. Alas, we were not so lucky to have a beach house of our own, but I have fond memories of picking blueberries and wading in the cold waters. I tried to capture those sensations in MURDER AT THE BEACH HOUSE.
Aggie Burnside generously offered to retreat to the kitchen and make peach pies for the family at the beach house. There were a lot of peaches to use up, but she did it mostly to stay out of the way of an impending confrontation in the adjacent room.
She made the pie crusts from scratch and everyone who bakes has a special technique and preferred shortening to use. I’m taking the easy way out on that debate and suggest you either use your favorite two-crust recipe or bail and buy pre-made crusts instead.
Two piecrusts for a 9” pie
Enough peaches for about 5 cups of cut up peaches (5 or 6 large)
Juice of half a lemon
¼ c white sugar
¼ c brown sugar
4 Tablespoons corn starch
Pinch of nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt
Get your pie crusts ready and pre-heat the oven. (See below for temperatures.)
Working with one peach at a time, peel (yes, peel), pit and slice them into chunks and dip them in a bowl of water with the lemon juice and then into a colander to drain. Let them sit for about 20 minutes.
Mix the sugars, cornstarch and spices together then combine them into the drained peaches.
Pile the peaches into the bottom crust.
Put on the top crust and seal the edges by pressing them in a decorative way. Make a few vents in the top crust to release the steam as it cooks.
For extra credit, you can make a lattice top by cutting strips of the upper crust dough and weaving them into a pattern.
You may want to cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil or a pre-made crust protector.
Bake according to the idiosyncrasies of your oven:
If you have an oven that responds quickly and easily to adjusting temperature settings, then start at 425° for 10 minutes and reduce to 350° for 30 minutes.
If you have an oven that is slow in responding to temperature settings or you’re absent minded, set the temperature at 400° and bake for 40 minutes.
I’ve been informed that vanilla ice cream is de rigeur with peach pie.
It’s time to catch up with 1930s nurse Aggie Burnside and her uncanny sleuthing instincts as she invariably figures out whodunnit. A charming small town, quirky neighbors, a gossip network to die for and the usual suspects. And always, a murder to solve.
Valerie Geary is the author of several suspense novels, including the Brett Buchanan Mystery Series, Everything We Lost,and Crooked River, her debut and a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband where she finds inspiration for her stories by taking long walks in the woods.
I began this series of female mystery authors, now up to #26, with the idea of focusing on classic, contemporary and indie writers in rotation. I need to include Patricia Wentworth, a woman largely forgotten today although she was incredibly popular and productive during her career and her books are still in publication.
Wentworth began by writing historical fiction in 1910 then jumped into the genre now known as cozy mystery initiating many of the familiar tropes: the amateur female sleuth, the upper-class clients, the English village setting and knitting.
She published over seventy novels with over thirty devoted to the detecting skills of Miss Maude Silver. The Grey Mask is the first in that series. Click on the cover for a sample.