FIRST IN A NEW SERIES!
Hamelin, Vermont, isn’t the most likely place for bagpipes and tartan, but at Peggy Winn’s ScotShop, business is booming…
on a transatlantic hunt for some authentic wares to sell at her shop,
Peggy is looking to forget her troubles by digging through the hidden
treasures of the Scottish Highlands. With so many enchanting items on
sale, Peggy can’t resist buying a beautiful old tartan shawl. But once
she wraps it around her shoulders, she discovers that her purchase comes
with a hidden fee: the specter of a fourteenth-century Scotsman.
if her Highland fling was real or a product of an overactive
imagination, Peggy returns home to Vermont—only to find the dead body of
her ex-boyfriend on the floor of her shop. When the police chief
arrests Peggy’s cousin based on some incriminating evidence, Peggy
decides to ask her haunting Scottish companion to help figure out who
really committed the crime—before anyone else gets kilt.
Poison for Dinner?
by Fran Stewart
Did you ever lunch out with a friend and hear two people at the next table discussing creative ways to kill someone?
Did you consider calling the manager? Or perhaps 911?
If I were you, I wouldn't do that immediately. Give it a minute or two. Listen a little more closely. You might be eavesdropping on a conversation between two mystery writers.
I've had people look at me askance occasionally, but so far I've never been asked to leave. We do try to keep our voices down, but when we think of the best possible way to do in our latest victim - maybe a particularly exotic poison, barely ever detectable - well, can you blame us if we sound like we're on a roller coaster?
When I'm in a restaurant, I do draw the line at discussing possible digestive-stoppers such as dismemberment, charred bodies, and the effects of a gunshot to the stomach or a baseball bat to the head, although I've carried on such conversations when I interview medical personnel and arson investigators. Such discussions don't usually take place over a meal, however.
But poisons, now. There are something like a gazillion possible ways to kill people by getting them to ingest, absorb, inhale, or swim in various toxic substances. Some poisons, of course, have more gruesome effects than others.
And just how do I know about all of these? I'm glad you asked.
Poisons have long been a favorite of mystery writers. From classics such as Arsenic and Old Lace, with two little old ladies knocking off lonely old men, and Dorothy Sayers' Strong Poison, in which white arsenic is served up in an omelet in front of guests, the trend of poison as the murder weapon of choice seems to have gained solid ground. Like many other mystery writers, I've combed the (metaphorical) woods searching for other inventive ways to kill my characters, but a writer can't go wrong with poison.
When I'm headed to lunch with a writer friend, I've been known to take along Deadly Doses: a writer's guide to poisons. I discovered this fascinating book (well, fascinating to me, maybe not to you) when I was researching my second mystery a decade ago, and it's had an honored place on my bookshelf ever since. Written by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klamer, Deadly Doses has enough information to keep any writer going for dozens and dozens of mysteries.
Poisons are rated by toxicity level - if it's a 6, a mere taste and you're zapped, whether the onset of symptoms is immediate or six hours from now, while you'd have to ingest more than a quart of a level 1 toxin before you died.
The book lists poisons by what color they are, what they can be dissolved in, where they come from - household poisons, plants, fungi, animals (snakes, spiders, insects, fish) pesticides, or industrial poisons - what the symptoms are, how long before the symptoms show up, and so on.
There's even a section on how to design your own poison. NO, NO! That chapter is not a how-to for someone with a basement chemistry lab. It explains how to make up a fictional poison that's believable.
And did I use poison in my newest mystery, A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP? Well, no. Sometimes a baseball bat is easier to work into a plot.
So, the next time I eat out, if you happen to sit at the next table, please don't call the cops!
I always wanted to write. The trouble was, I tried writing a mystery when I was in my teens, and once more in my twenties. My gosh, they were awful. Not only did I not finish them, I practically fell asleep over them. They were SO boring. Plot? Pretty much non-existent. Characters? About as dimensional as a three-inch straight line. Setting? Unh-uh. Pacing? Nada. Dialogue? Nyet.
So I wrote other stuff - a writer cannot NOT write - but I focused on non-fiction, things like articles for small town newspapers, various club newsletters (the Maple Sugar Square Club, Outreach for Earth Stewardship, Therapy Dogs of Vermont). I even had a byline for an article about recycling.
But no mysteries. Oh, I read dozens of them, hundreds more likely. But I'd given up that mystery-writer dream.
Until my uterus fell out. It's called a prolapse. It was fairly serious. It required a hysterectomy.
And after the surgery, I simply could not get my energy back.
So a friend finally took me to a meeting of the Georgia Writers Association. The speaker was Harriette Austin, the woman for whom the Harriette Austin Writers Conference was named. And she was talking about her class "Murder and Mayhem for Money: How to Write a Mystery."
"Did you ever try to write a mystery?" she asked, and my hand shot up.
"Did you give up?" Yes, I thought.
"Were you outlining?" Well, of course I outlined. That's how I wrote term papers in college - isn't that how you write a book?
"If outlining doesn't work for you," she said, "just start writing and see if your characters surprise you. If they do, you'll know you have a winner. And be sure to put a body somewhere in the first five pages. It's expected."
I looked down at my notebook and began to write, with no idea whatsoever who was talking through my pen. When my friend delivered me home, I transcribed my notebook paragraph onto the computer and just kept going.
When I started writing, I began to heal and to regain my energy.
That first paragraph never changed. It became the start of my very first Biscuit McKee Mystery, ORANGE AS MARMALADE. Now, there are seven books in that series (with colors in all the titles) as well as a standalone mystery, A SLAYING SONG TONIGHT about a serial killer whose favorite song is Jingle Bells; FROM THE TIP OF MY PEN: A WORKBOOK FOR WRITERS (non-fiction); and A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, the first book in my new ScotShop Mystery Series from Berkley Prime Crime.
Is this enough books? Nope. After all, I've come up with twenty-five more titles that start with "A WEE..."
What I Liked:
The author has introduced us to some really fun characters. Peggy is quite the protagonist and definitely makes the book.
I love the Scottish background to the theme of the book. Since Scotland/Scottish Highlands/All things Scottish seems to be all the rage, it puts itself right in the middle of the mix!
I laughed out loud. More than once. I LOVE it when a book can make me laugh! Peggy is great.
It's a clever whodunnit mystery. The clues are sporadically given, and while the outcome wasn't a hard conclusion to reach, everything leading up to the climactic reveal was worth the journey.
Because who doesn't love paranormal entities?!
What I Didn't Like:
The author writes well. She uses descriptive prose to project her story, but I felt like there was something missing. Like maybe there were things left out that created a sense of loose endedness (not a word, I know). It didn't detract from the story, really, but left me scratching my head and trying to piece things together. Perhaps it's part of the mystery and we'll be made privy to the unknown in later additions to the series? I hope so :)
I really did enjoy this first book of the series. It's a very promising beginning and I'm looking forward to whatever Peggy throws our way again!
Rating: 4 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All conclusions reached are my own.
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