by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of The Body in the Beaver Pond By Cathy Perkins, along with a fun interview with Cathy! Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of the book and a link to order it from Amazon.
The Body in the Beaver Pond: A Keri Isles Even Planner Mystery By Cathy Perkins
Review by Cynthia Chow
A former event planner in Seattle, Washington, Keri Isles, never expected to find herself in the Cascade Mountains saddled with a Christmas tree farm that she most definitely didn’t want and is unprepared to maintain. That’s what happens after the dissolution of her marriage and an unfair settlement with Brian the Jerk, which is why Keri Isles is determined to make a quick sale and profit off of the property. A nearby rude archeologist and trespassing students ensures that her mission is both more difficult and necessary, but said archeologist’s death in the Beaver Pond also makes it nearly impossible. Not only does Dr. Mark Grant’s on-property demise give the Christmas Tree farm less curb appeal, Keri’s confrontation with him places her high on Deputy John Searls’s suspect list.
Fortunately for Keri, her new friends and the owners of the Coco’s Café have a family connection with a talented attorney, although the cost of hiring expensive Richard Anderson may be too high. The roguish and irritatingly charming high-end lawyer is willing to barter his services in exchange for Keri standing in as his plus-one at professional and personal events. Richard plans to use Keri as stand-in to avoid his family’s attempts at matchmaking, and Keri is broke and desperate enough to accept. While Keri finds “Richie Rich’s” snarkiness too much of a match for her own commentaries, she can’t deny his professional skills nor the lure of his tesla-driving lifestyle. She’s going to need more of the former as they track down Dr. Grant’s academic rivals, disgruntled grad students, and environmental protestors.
This first in the series is a fun romp that mixes together small-town nosiness, academic shenanigans, and rom-com antics. Keri and Richard’s banter is snappy and clever, and their arrangement stays aboveboard and more flirty than creepy. Keri is a very likable, acerbic, and frequently sarcastic heroine who is finding herself falling in-like with her temporary new hometown. Seeing Keri make her way towards a new career and life is rewarding for readers, especially when the extremely unappealing ex returns for an untimely showdown. An energetic Labrador named IRA (for dog-phobic Brian’s retirement fund) adds the perfect amount of joy and humor to this entertaining read. That IRA ultimately helps to save the day is just the bonus for those looking for a fast-paced, humor-filled mystery.
Interview with Cathy Perkins:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Cathy: While I’ve had a life-long love affair with reading, I didn’t start writing until later in life. This probably isn’t how most people start, but I had a consulting job in a city about ninety miles away. I’d listen to music and daydream during the commute. Pretty soon the daydream had dialogue and I thought, hmm, this is turning into a good story. That particular book lives in a box under my bed, but I was hooked on writing and creating worlds and characters.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Cathy: After writing The Professor, the third book I’d written for my own pleasure, I joined a critique group. These writers encouraged me to join RWA and enter a few contests, including the Golden Heart. The Professor won those contests and was a Golden Heart finalist, but I kept hearing ‘romantic suspense is dead’ so I really didn’t try to sell the book. A few years (and another book) later, I pulled the earlier story out and thought, I love these characters and I want to share them with a wider audience. Carina Press made an offer for The Professor and I happily accepted it.
Set in South Carolina, stopping the serial killer who’s terrorizing college campuses drives the plot of The Professor. The tension and stakes build as the characters’ wants and needs set them on a collision course: Charismatic State Agent Mick O’Shaughnessy wants more from life than work and a pretty face. Fiercely independent graduate student Meg Connelly always wanted a loving family and professional success but has to learn to trust in order to get either. The Professor knows the only way to get what he wants is to take it – and taking Meg’s life will destroy Mick with the same stroke of his knife.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Cathy: After publishing several books at the darker end of the mystery/suspense spectrum, I started giving myself nightmares with the research. I moved to the lighter end and started an amateur sleuth series (the Holly Price Mysteries). I call them amateur sleuth stories rather than cozies because there’s more emphasis on the plot and characters and less on a craft or food. (And some of my characters do curse at times.)
I enjoyed the challenge of getting the entire story onto the page through a single character, bringing the secondary characters to life through the sleuth’s interactions with them, and giving myself room to explore themes I’d touched on in the darker books. My mysteries tend to be more character-driven than strictly action-oriented. I enjoy the way the character’s internal challenges and relationship conflicts play into the external plot. Sometimes it’s fun to explore family dynamics; in other stories, the relationship adds to the conflict or raises the stakes.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Cathy: One night I was cutting up with Joelle Charbonneau, idly brainstorming about what to write next. She offered up the mantra, write what you know. I laughed and said, I live on a Christmas tree farm and watch the critters on the beaver pond for entertainment. There was a long pause, then Joelle said, “How many people can use all those words in the same sentence?”
I laughed it off and finished the Holly Price book I was writing, but the idea sent down roots and grew in the back of my mind. Before long, I had Holly’s recently divorced half-sister on…wait for it… a Christmas tree farm with a beaver pond. I’ll never tell which events in the book actually happened and which came out of my imagination.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Cathy: I write primarily to entertain. As I write and develop the characters and plot, I realize I’m exploring aspects of their lives which readers experience along with the characters. As the characters make choices, it offers a glimpse at a different perspective. I don’t deliberately set out to teach or preach, just ask readers if they want to come along on the journey.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Cathy: I still work a demanding “day job” which I enjoy, so while I try to set aside the early morning for writing and evenings for editing, sometimes reality puts a wrinkle in that.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Cathy: I’m a night owl, so once I decide to quit my day job, I suspect you’ll see lights on at my house in the wee hours of the morning.
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?
Cathy: Most of my stories start with a “what if?” For example, without giving away the plot and all the twists, The Body in the Beaver Pond began with, what if there really was a body in the beaver pond?
The “whys” lined up from there. Why was he dead? Why was Keri suspected of killing him? Why was she invested in the investigation? The characters grew and became three-dimensional as I thought through the implications and how that character might react to events unfolding around him or her.
Because I love tightly plotted stories that twist and turn, I generally outline the major story lines. I’m always surprised when I finish the first draft and find small setups and details my subconscious added. During edits, I weave these bits deeper into the story to build out a suspect or enhance a theme.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Cathy: Everyone’s goals and path to publication are different. I’m glad I’ve published with two well-respected publishers, but I’ve also enjoyed the creative and marketing control that’s available with independent publishing. I can easily see I’ll continue as a hybrid author.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Cathy: Do you remember the flooding in Nashville a few years ago? A group of wonderful authors participated in a fundraising auction and I “won” a critique with Toni McGee Causey. Rather than pat me on the head and tell me my baby was lovely, she explained in detail what wasn’t working – and why. It was fabulous and opened my eyes to things I now know to focus on. Toni’s become a wonderful mentor. She “blurbed” So About the Money, the first Holly Price novel, and her praise means the world to me because I feel I’ve worked hard to earn it.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Cathy: I feel I’m still growing and learning as an author. As I said earlier, I prefer writing mysteries. I enjoy exploring various points along that spectrum. After the dark twists of The Professor and CYPHER, for example, I’m loving the lighter amateur sleuth stories I’m currently writing, but there’s a deeper, character-driven story I’ve picked up and put down a number of times. It’s definitely a “goal” I want to complete.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Cathy: How much time do you have? So many favorite authors… Whew, narrowing it down to just one or two 😉
I attended Bouchercon (a huge reader conference for mystery and suspense people) before the pandemic brought large gathering like it to a screeching halt. That event was a constant fangirl moment for me. Every time I turned around, there was another favorite author! Two that especially stand out are Sophie Littlefield and Jonathon King. I’d just finished A Bad Day for Sorry and loved that Sophie’s heroine was middle-aged and divorced – such a departure from the usual. Sophie was incredibly sweet. Her more recent books are women’s fiction, but she’s still on my auto-buy list. I loved Jon King’s sense of place in The Blue Edge of Midnight—talk about setting becoming a character in the story.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Cathy: My research used to concentrate less on the characters and internal conflict and more in the twists of the external plot. One of the Holly Price books, for example, revolves around an extreme car sport called rock-crawling, so I tapped into my network for information on car parts, supply chain management, auditing financial statement discrepancies, and smuggling contraband through customs. I read and talked until I figured a way to make the crime(s) work. I even attended an event to get a feel for the dynamic.
With The Body in the Beaver Pond, I talked with an archaeologist about both the actual dig and the college politics behind a university graduate program. Other discussions with grad students (friends of my children) amplified the details of the art-form known as university infighting. Of course, most of the research has to be dribbled into the background to keep the story moving!
KRL: What do you like to read?
Cathy: I’m a voracious reader. Mysteries, thrillers and suspense are my “go-to” stories, but I also enjoy literary, fantasy… I’ve been on a women’s fiction binge lately. So many of those stories delve deeply into relationships.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Cathy: I’m not much of a television watcher – I’d much rather read. While I was at a writing retreat with a group of authors, however, the Outlander series launched. We were all glued to the set watching the first two episodes!
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Cathy: Read, read, read! Take stories you especially loved and reread them for the structure, the way the author developed character, whatever drew you so strongly to that story. Then keep writing, learning and growing.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Cathy: I actually have a Christmas tree farm. And a beaver pond. My friends and family will be happy to know the pond does not contain any human bodies.
Cathy: The Lab and The Puppy, who is no longer a puppy, but still looks like one. The resident deer and geese (I feed and clean up after them. That makes them pets, right?); and I can probably include the neighbor’s cat who sets off our security system on a regular basis when she’s trolling for another bird that’s smashed into one of the windows. Apparently, the bird network hasn’t passed along word there’s an obstacle in their old flyway.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Cathy: Nearly everyone knows friends or family who’ve lost loved ones, jobs, nearly lost their home, and faced a host of other challenges this year. Without dragging in the pandemic, The Body in the Beaver Pond touches on many of these challenges, offering a tangible (if somewhat snarky) perspective from Keri, as she struggles to adjust after losing her marriage, home, and job. And for an extra writing challenge – the book is funny!
Now that I have a main character, I hope people relate to, I need a place to make all this happen. (Imaginary) Liberty Falls is drawn from a number of small towns in Washington state’s Cascade Mountains. Lingering economic inequities, the pandemic, life throwing curve balls – all this hurt many people, especially in these smaller, rural areas where social services are few and far between. As a result, I’m donating the royalties from presales and the first month of sales, from The Body in the Beaver Pond to HopeSource, a multi-purpose agency, which serves Kittitas County (the first county you discover when you venture over Snoqualmie Pass from Seattle).
I’d appreciate your help in getting the word out about both the book and the donation.
KRL: That’s great! Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Cathy: Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorCathyPerkins
Twitter: I rarely “go there” these days, but it’s @cperkinswrites
BookBub – follow me! www.bookbub.com/profile/cathy-perkins
To enter to win an ebook copy of The Body in the Beaver Pond, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “beaver,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 29, 2021. You must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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