A Book Can Spring from a Single Word—if It’s a Tasty One
Mary Ellen Hughes
After having written and published five mysteries, including the Craft Corner mystery series, I was mulling over what to do next. Since I love writing cozy mysteries, I wanted a theme or topic that would fit with a cozy (no bounty hunters or blood-splatter forensic specialists, for instance) but that I would enjoy researching and writing about. I also wanted a subject that hadn’t already been done, and done well. After all, who could top Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand bookstore mysteries or Kate Collins’s flower shop mysteries, though I’d love to write about both bookshops and flowers!
Then one day my husband looked at me and said, “Pickles.”
“Pickles?” I laughed, thinking at first he was joking. But it got me thinking. And the more I thought, the more a story started to form around pickles. Not only dill pickles, though, or gherkins or bread and butters. There’s a whole world of pickles out there, from artichokes to zucchini, and everything in between. Just about anything edible can be pickled, I found—and deliciously.
Then there’s jams and preserves, which also go through the canning process. And we shouldn’t forget freezer and refrigerator pickles, which are easy as pie. Easier, actually.
My enthusiasm increased, and I began to picture my main character—named Piper, of course—a young woman who, I decided, had learned all about pickling and preserving during childhood summers spent at her Aunt Judy and Uncle Frank’s farm in upstate New York. Uncle Frank grew the vegetables and Aunt Judy preserved and pickled them in her big farm kitchen. This, I was sure, had fascinated Piper as a child and came to be her chosen profession as an adult.
But not without a few bumps in the road. Piper had to first work in an unfulfilling (for her) job in the state tax office in Albany, New York. It’s also where she met and became engaged to Scott, an assistant district attorney—a decent enough guy, but perhaps not quite right for Piper. So when the engagement ended, Piper took a long look at her life and decided it was time to do things that were right for her. She moved to Cloverdale, the small town near her aunt and uncle’s farm, and embraced her first love of pickling and preserving by setting up a shop called Piper’s Picklings.
Before I knew it, I had pretty much populated Cloverdale, including a new love interest for Piper (although her old one continued to distract her), and a variety of other shop keepers and friends. It became a delightful place, at least in my mind, but unfortunately I couldn’t let it stay that way. Conflicts had to brew, some small, but at least one huge one. I hated to spoil my newly-created Eden, but I bit the bullet and did it. I dropped a snake into my paradise, a person who appeared as likeable and harmless as everyone else, but who had committed that terrible crime of crimes: murder!
Poor Piper! Here she’d probably hoped I would let her spend her days whipping up batches of pickled watermelon rind or cooking raspberries into jams. But now I’ve gotten her involved in a murder investigation, and she’s getting death threats! What a pickle!
So my book was on its way. From a simple suggestion dropped by my husband to a town-full of characters and a mysterious plot. And for good measure, several enticing recipes scoured up and tested. That last part particularly pleased my husband, which, pickle-lover that he is, might actually have been his ulterior motive when he made his suggestion.
But then, I’d say he deserves his reward. After all, his single word—“pickles”—became the seed that grew about seventy-thousand more words. Hopefully my readers will find those words drawing them into an enjoyable read. A word of warning, though: more than one early reader has confessed to a craving for something pickled while flipping the pages of The Pickled Piper. It wouldn’t hurt to have a gherkin or a kosher dill on hand—just in case.
The Pickled Piper (A Pickled and Preserved Mystery - Book 1) by Mary Ellen Hughes
Publication Date: 05/06/2014
Publisher: Penguin Group
Imprint: Berkley Prime Crime
Genre: Cozy Mystery
(Received for an honest review from Berkley Prime Crime)
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Indiebound
Mary Ellen Hughes on the WEB: website, twitter, facebook, goodreads
After her dreams of romance are crushed, Piper Lamb decides to pursue her dream of opening her own shop of pickles and preserves, called Piper’s Picklings, in the idyllic small town of Cloverdale. But she isn’t in town long before she encounters a barrelful of trouble…
The Cloverdale fair offers Piper a sweet opportunity to promote her business. With her new assistant, Amy, she sets up a booth centered around an eye-catching display of the ever-popular dills in an old-fashioned barrel of brine.
But things soon turn sour when fairgoers witness a fight between Amy’s boyfriend, Nate, and town council blowhard—and bagpipe player—Alan Rosemont. When Rosemont is found floating in Piper’s barrel, Nate becomes the prime murder suspect. With Amy’s boyfriend in a pretty pickle, there’s no time to dillydally. But as Piper searches for the real killer, she needs to be careful to preserve her own life…or she may end up a pickled Piper herself.
Mary Ellen Hughes brings readers the first book in her new Pickled and Preserved series, The Pickled Piper. With a unique pickling hook, this new cozy series will appeal to those who love to pickle, freeze and can, as well as, cozy mystery enthusiasts. Engaging characters, a great small town setting and a bag-piping councilman combine to make this cozy an uncommon treat for readers. You don't have to be a pickle lover to love a good amateur sleuthing adventure!
What I liked:
If you have read very many cozy mysteries you have probably seen just about every kind of theme you can think of, from flower shops to bookstores, from knitters to fire fighters. But this is the first time I have seen a cozy series, based on canning, and pickling, a true lost art. When I was a little girl, the warmer months were filled with planting, gathering and preserving the harvest. We lived on a working farm and pickling was something that just came natural for us. I love the fact that Hughes is bringing readers a series based on the time honored art of pickling.
Piper Lamb is taking her dream of pickling and preserving to a whole new level, when she starts her own business based on the craft, Piper's Picklings. She is a smart and intuitive young woman, who has tried life from a different angle and found herself wishing for something more. I liked the way that Piper took a good hard look at her life after a failed engagement and decides to make a change. Change is difficult and she takes it in stride. I also liked she took something she loved and enjoyed as a child and turned into something she could do as a career, that's how some really great businesses have started over the years... have you seen that started in a garage commercial? Hughes gives readers a likable heroine with a very inquisitive nature.
The town of Cloverdale is full of interesting inhabitants and Hughes introduces readers to several of them in this first book of the series. When Piper decides to promote her shop by setting up a booth at the local fair, she doesn't expect to find a councilman, face down in her pickle barrel. But she does, and the mystery is on. Cloverdale is one of those towns where everybody seems to have a stake in everybody else's business. I liked learning about the secondary characters, like the cranky candystore owner and the eccentric librarian. Hughes draws the reader in with some great characters and doesn't let them go until the end.
The mystery was well paced and didn't let the reader get a chance to figure out who might have killed the ornery councilman who played his bagpipes at all the wrong times. There wasn't a ton of evidence to follow, and this mystery wasn't really a puzzle, it had an usual way of coming full circle until the killer is revealed. There were just several suspects who could have had a good motive and who could have been in the right place at the right time to kill the victim. It was a matter of figuring out which one. Very interesting way of going about it.
What I didn't like:
Now I like to follow the clues and let the evidence speak for itself. I like following the bread crumbs the author leaves until I just about have it figured out. There wasn't a whole lot of that in this book and I missed that. But I did enjoy the fact that Hughes used a unique way to find the killer.
This was a good book. It started the series out on solid footing and gave the reader plenty of unique and different aspects of the cozy to ponder on. I loved the Watermelon Rind Pickle recipe in the back and I think going forward we are going to see a lot of good books come out of this series.
The Pickled Piper is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.
I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
About the Author:
Mary Ellen Hughes is the author of the Craft Corner Mysteries, including Wreath of Deception, String of Lies, and Paper-Thin Alibi, as well as the Maggie Olenski Mysteries. She lives in Maryland with her husband, Terry, who has long provided her with bounties of homegrown vegetables for preserving and pickling as well as unique inspirations for mysteries. Mary Ellen is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
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