Amy Pershing is visiting Ascroft, eh? today to tell us about Murder is No Picnic, her latest novel in A Cape Cod Foodie Mystery series.
Welcome, Amy. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
MURDER IS NO PICNIC is the latest in the Cape Cod Foodie mysteries series featuring Sam Barnes, a disgraced but resilient ex-chef and the world’s most reluctant YouTube star. While Sam tries to balance her new job as the local paper’s “Cape Cod Foodie” with her complicated love life, a posse of just-slightly-odd friends, a falling-down house and a ginormous dog, she also discovers a new talent – a propensity for falling over dead bodies … and for solving crime.
In MURDER IS NO PICNIC, the Fourth of July is coming, and for Sam, it’s all about the picnic. Okay, and the fireworks. And the parade. But mostly the picnic. What could be better than a DIY clambake followed by the best blueberry buckle in the world? Sam has finally found the perfect recipe in the kitchen of Clara Foster, famed cookbook author and retired restaurateur, and she’s thrilled when Clara agrees to a buckle baking lesson.
But when Clara dies in a house fire blamed on carelessness in the kitchen, Sam doesn’t believe it. Unfortunately, her doubts set in motion an investigation pointing to the new owner of Clara’s legendary restaurant—and a cousin of Sam’s harbormaster boyfriend. So, in between researching the Cape’s best lobster rolls and planning her clambake, Sam needs to find Clara’s killer before the fireworks really start….
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
I confess to having an addiction to Antiques Roadshow. To satisfy my fantasy of finding a goldmine in my attic (which is never gonna happen), I have Sam not only cash in on an antique clock from Aunt Ida’s attic but also begin to wonder if Clara’s killer has snatched something of value from Clara’s house (perhaps a rare book?) and set the fire to cover the theft.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
I think Sam’s neighbour, Helene Greenberg, explains it best:
“So what do you think?” I asked when I was talked out.
“I think that people with only one truth can be very dangerous,” she said enigmatically.
“Care to explain?” I asked.
She leaned toward me. “We all know people who believe strongly that ‘war is bad,’ right?”
“Right,” I said. “And they’re not wrong.”
“No, they’re not,” Helene said. “But if it is their only truth, if there are no circumstances in their mind when war, as awful as it is, might be necessary, the consequences can be unfortunate. If nothing is more important than peace, it allows the holder of that one truth to justify any inaction—like not standing up to fascism—or, conversely, any action—like committing a heinous crime—to prevent war.”
“So you think whoever killed Clara Foster was in the grip of one inflexible truth?”
“I have no idea,” Helene said frankly. “But I do think that most murderers have what they consider one overarching ‘truth’ that allows them to kill another person in defence of that truth. Sometimes it’s a conviction that they’ve been treated unfairly, or that money will, in fact, buy happiness and wholeness, or that family always comes first. There are any number of one-truths that can push a person to kill. Only sociopaths kill for no reason. And most murderers are not sociopaths, in my experience.”
And Helene’s experience was extensive. For more than two decades, the woman had evaluated people facing criminal charges, talked with witnesses, and consulted on murder investigations. I trusted that experience.
“Okay,” I said, “what do you suggest I do next?”
“I know you,” she said. “You’ll do what needs to be done.” Not super helpful.
Then she added, “But whatever you do next, I think you should be very, very careful.”
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
Honestly, as much as I admire intricate mysteries (and mine are very twisty!), the ones I love are always the ones in which the characters are fully rounded, smart and funny. They’re not perfect, but they’re definitely doing the best they can.
And if as an author you have characters like that in your books, they drive the bus (or my bus anyway). I would never do what my heroine, Sam, does. She is everything I’m not: tall (really tall, like, over-six-feet-tall kind of tall), brave (wait until you see her face down anyone who threatens her dog), and snarky (I am boringly polite). So I even though I put her into the scenes that I’ve outlined before I start writing, I really don’t know what Sam’s going to do or say until she does it.
But of all of my characters, I’d like to be Helene. After six decades on the planet — twenty five years of them spent as a legal psychologist with the Manhattan DA’s office — Helene has a certain wisdom (including a deep and cynical knowledge of human nature) that I very much admire. I also admire her style. This 60-ish librarian is like no librarian you ever met, with her mane of curly silver hair that she doesn’t even try to tame and a penchant for t-shirts that say things like “Don’t judge my journey.” When I grow up (if I ever grow up), I want to be just like Helene.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
I’ve always been drawn to mysteries in which the setting is a character in itself. Think of Ann Cleves’ Shetland Islands, Louise Penney’s Three Pines, Donna Leon’s Venice, or Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswana. This was what drew me to writing cozy mysteries, where the sense of place plays such an important role.
I’m an unapologetic cheerleader for Cape Cod, where I spent every summer of my childhood sailing, swimming, and never, as far as I can remember, putting on a pair of shoes from June to September. It was paradise. It still is. In the Cape Cod Foodie mysteries, I wanted to make the Cape I knew and loved as real as any other character in the book. And the only way to do that was through Sam’s eyes.
So, in every Cape Cod Foodie mystery Sam sails the Cape’s waters, which allows me free reign to try to capture the beauty and essence of the place. Here’s Crystal Bay from Sam’s point of view in MURDER IS NO PICNIC:
By this point, we’d reached the channel markers into the big bay, an enormous curve of blue water protected from the Atlantic Ocean to the east by a narrow, five-mile-long barrier bar of sand and dune grass known by locals as the Outer Beach. To the west, Big Crystal was bound by the curve of the Fair Harbor shoreline. Straight ahead of us, the bay seemed to stretch endlessly, which in a way it did, as eventually, slightly beyond the horizon, it emptied out into the ocean itself. A few small islands floated in the blue like green oases.
“It’s beautiful,” Vivian breathed.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
I write murder mysteries. Which means that for every book, I do extensive research on how to kill people. (It’s a nasty job, but someone has to do it.) Also, since I like to come up with novel approaches to murder, I have to do even more research to be sure that what I am proposing is even possible. I truly hope nobody ever goes through the search history on my computer.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
Well, what I’d actually like to do is thank my readers. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for buying my books and all your lovely reviews on Amazon and GoodReads! Thank you for patronizing local bookstores when you can! Thank you for loving Cape Cod! But most of all, thank you for taking Sam Barnes, aka the Cape Cod Foodie, and her faithful canine companion, Diogi (as in D-O-G, get it?), into your hearts.
Thanks for answering my questions, Amy, and good luck with Murder is No Picnic, the latest book in A Cape Cod Foodie Mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Amy Pershing: Amy spent every summer of her childhood on Cape Cod. She was an editor, a restaurant reviewer and a journalist before writing the Cape Cod Foodie mysteries, including A Side of Murder — which Elizabeth Gilbert called “the freshest, funniest mystery I have ever read” — and An Eggnog to Die For — which Kirkus Reviews gave a starred review, saying, “A delightful sleuth, a complex mystery, and lovingly described cuisine: a winner for both foodies and mystery mavens.” The third book in the series, Murder Is No Picnic, also received a starred review from Kirkus, which wrote: “A clever, empathetic and totally believable heroine sets this fine cozy above the competition.”