by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of the first in a brand new series by Maria DiRico aka Ellen Byron, and an interesting interview with Maria/Ellen. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Here Comes the Body, and links to purchase it.
Here Comes the Body: A Catering Hall Mystery by Maria DiRico
Review by Sandra Murphy
Mia Carina was living in Florida when her husband disappeared. His adulterous ways, the lack of a body, and her mob connections (dad), made her a person of interest. It was time for a major change. She’s back in Astoria, Noo Yawk, living with her cat and Nonna (Italian grandmother). Her new job is technically the event planner at her father’s newly acquired banquet hall. In reality, it’s trying to keep him on the straight and narrow while running the business. The “newly acquired” means there was a guy who couldn’t pay his gambling debts and the mob was involved, and now there’s the banquet hall to run, totally legit, of course.
Her first event is a bachelor party. After meeting the couple, she’s not at all sure they should get married, but the event is her business, not their love life or readiness for marriage. He wants a traditional sort of party, the kind where a stripper pops out of a cake. Plans go awry when the dead body of a woman is found inside, definitely not the stripper.
The police see a mobster and a dead body and zero in on Ravello Carina, aka Dad. The last thing the mob needs is extra scrutiny on the new (legit) business, so Mia has to figure out who set them up for the fall—all while planning a wedding, hosting the pet grief group, and finding new clients. And then there’s Ravello’s girlfriend to consider. That was a surprise.
This is the first book in a new series. Filled with humor, the aroma of Nonna’s cooking, side characters you’ll love, each with secrets, arson, a missing bird, an old flame, an unscrupulous realtor frightening neighbors into selling, and a jailed brother who wants to be an internet sensation, this is pure delight. On top of that, there are recipes: eggplant parmigiana, cookie cup shot glasses (use most any kind of cookie, they’re chocolate lined to hold in the liquor), spanakopita (Greek spinach pie), and Greek farina cake. A party planning tip with help make your event a success.
Maria DiRico is the pen name of Ellen Byron, author of the Cajun Country series, reviewed here. Byron makes the transition from Naw’lins to Noo Yawk without a misstep. Mia Carina has a reserved spot on my Best of 2020 list (disclaimer: there was no mob threat involved in this decision. Totally legit.)
Interview with Maria DiRico aka Ellon Byron:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Maria: I didn’t set out to be a writer. I wanted to act. During a lull in auditions, I wrote a play that kicked off my writing career. My first play was produced in 1982 and published shortly afterwards and I never looked back!
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Maria: My first novel, Plantation Shudders, was published in 2015. It was the first book in my Cajun Country Mystery series about a thirtysomething artist who returns to her hometown of Pelican, Louisiana – town motto, “Yes, we Peli-CAN!” – to regroup after a failed relationship. She gets a temporary job as a plantation tour guide while helping her parents and Grande-mere run the family’s struggling ancestral plantation-turned- B and B. When a couple of elderly guests pass away under suspicious circumstances, she has to help solve the crime in order to save the business.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Maria: I segued from writing plays and magazine articles to writing for television, working my way up the writers’ room ladder from Story Editor to Co-Executive Producer. Sidebar: an irony of television is that there’s only one time the word “writer” is in your job title: when you’re a staff writer, which is the lowest entry level.
KRL:How fun! What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Maria: My mother was born in Italy. Growing up, we had relatives who ran two catering halls in Queens, NY. I thought a catering hall would make a perfect cozy mystery setting. I was nervous about writing a cozy in an urban setting, but I really focused on the neighborhood aspects of life in Astoria, the section of Queens where my series takes place. It’s very personal to me. My protagonist and her nonna live where my late nonna lived. (sidebar: Maria DiRico, my pen name, was my nonna’s maiden name.) Mia works in one of the catering halls my cousins ran. She shops at the real Astoria bakery where we shopped. Writing each book is like a visit down memory lane for me.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Maria: My new series, the Catering Hall Mysteries, is really pure entertainment, but the Cajun Country Mysteries touch on issues ranging from racism to #metoo. I call it stealth commentary.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Maria: I’m not working a television job right now, so I do try to keep to a schedule. I exercise in the morning and do a big chunk of social media. Then I write all afternoon, and into the evening if necessary.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Maria: Oh, I definitely outline. I need to know where I’m going. I create what I call a fluid outline. Plot points may change or get added. I’ve even introduced entirely new characters, but I’ve found the basic structure I created in the outline generally remains the same.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Maria: I wish I was a functional morning writer, but I’m not. It takes a little time for me to stop procrastinating and get up to speed.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Maria: I’ve been earning my living as a writer since my late twenties. I’ve had a long career as a television sitcom writer. None of that meant anything when I began pursuing a book career, which was kind of refreshing. It’s all about the material. My first manuscript, You Can Never Be Too Thin or Too Dead, won a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished authors. It still took me nine months to find a book agent and then he couldn’t sell the book. Luckily, I wrote Plantation Shudders while I was waiting, and that did sell. It became the first book in my Cajun Country Mystery series. I’m currently writing the seventh.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Maria: I hosted a launch party for A Cajun Christmas Killing, my third Cajun Country Mystery. It featured a plotline inspired by Dance it Out, a dance program at my gym. I hired one of the instructors to choreograph a short dance to Cajun music, invited gym members to the party and we did the dance for the guests!
KRL: Future writing goals?
Maria: I’m working on a stand-alone inspired by my grandfather’s disappearance in the 1930s. I have another stand-alone idea and an idea for a new cozy series I’m excited about.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Maria: So many! But primarily Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, and Agatha Christie.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Maria: Tons of books, along with travel to New York and Louisiana. With my new series, I also went to my memory bank of Italian family events and hunted down any photos I could find.
KRL: What do you read?
Maria: Mysteries! And non-fiction.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Maria: I loved Jo Jo Rabbit this year. I’m a religious Saturday Night Live viewer, although I think the writing the last few years has been generally subpar. Love Schitt’s Creek and Succession. Really miss Veep, Mad Men,and Downton Abbey.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Maria: Write. Write, write, write. And learn. Never stop learning. I’ve been a professional writer for more years than I can admit to thanks to ageism in the entertainment business, but I never stop taking classes and getting feedback on my work from people I respect. And micro advice: if you get the same note more than once, take it.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Maria: I’m a sucker for fart jokes. I can’t not laugh at them.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Maria: All of them! Pick and choose from the following links:
To enter to win a copy of Here Comes the Body, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “body,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 11, 2020. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week!
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Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.