In$urance to Die For By Charlotte Stuart: Review/Giveaway/Interview

Jun 8, 2024 | 2024 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Sandra Murphy

This week we are reviewing the latest book in Charlotte Stuart’s John Smith mystery series, and we have a fun interview with Charlotte. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to purchase the book from Amazon.

In$urance to Die For by Charlotte Stuart
Review by Sandra Murphy

John Smith, yep, that’s his real name, is a claims adjuster at an insurance company. He’s recently moved into jewelry and painting appraisals and losses. He doesn’t know much about those things but there’s an art appraiser, Carla, the company has used for years to help him along the way. He mostly stays in the background and agrees with her assessment.

John lives on a houseboat, has a murder of crows that assault him almost daily (it was his own fault), has an interfering mother who ignores any disagreement from him, a nosy and vengeful eight-year-old girl for a neighbor, and drives a bright yellow car that used to belong to that interfering mother. It also means when mom needs a ride, he’s it.

One of their trips is to the funeral home. A young man, while flying a drone, fell off a cliff and died. Mother decides the death was not accidental like the police have ruled and wants John and his police detective friend, Bruno, to investigate further. She never takes no for an answer.

If the divebombing crows were not enough, John inherited a tiny kitten with a big attitude, his mother’s idea. He named the cat Wild Thing which was appropriate. At least that got the eight-year-old neighbor to stop harassing him and to spend time with the cat instead. You’d think the crows and cat were his only problems but that fall off the cliff idea might have some merit after all.

With many twists and turns, a couple you’ll see coming, most you won’t, John manages to bring what look like unrelated clues and bits of information together and remain, if not unscathed, at least only lightly scathed.

I enjoyed reading about John’s mishaps and misunderstandings. Bruno is someone you’d like to meet but not in an official capacity. Mother, well, stay on her good side. Also, don’t annoy the crows. Or Wild Thing. Or the eight-year-old.

This is the second in the series. Other series include four Discount Detective books, two Macavity and Me mysteries, a Vashon Island book, and other singles.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Arch in St. Louis Missouri. She’s editor for Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s, with twenty-two cozy stories. She also edited A Murder of Crows, twenty-one stories featuring animals and crime (no animals were harmed). She also writes for magazines, newsletters, and the occasional guest blog. Both anthologies are available at the usual outlets, print or ebook.

Interview with Charlotte Stuart:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Charlotte: I wrote several books years ago but didn’t get serious about trying to get published until 2018. That was the year I pulled the earlier manuscripts from my “cabinet of shame” and started rewriting them. Since then, I’ve published eleven books with two more due out next spring.

KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?

Charlotte: My first mystery was published in 2019: Survival Can Be Deadly (A Discount Detective Mystery #1). I knew I wanted it to be the first in a series featuring a single mom struggling to balance her work life with her personal life. The protagonist Cameron Chandler and her two children live with Cameron’s opinionated mother. Their living situation lends itself to humorous moments that lightens the serious themes of the books. There are now four in the series with a fifth coming out next spring. Last year the series won 1st Place in the Chanticleer International Mystery & Mayhem Series competition.

KRL: That’s great! Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?

Charlotte: My focus is mystery/suspense with serious topics and complicated relationships interspersed with a sprinkling of humor. I do have one nonfiction book on job interviewing that I wrote to use in my former consulting business. It’s based on stories I collected about disastrous interviews with suggestions on how to improve the process. Many of the stories still make me smile – learning from other people’s mistakes beats the alternative.

Charlotte Stuart

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?

Charlotte: My most recent book is In$urance to Die For (A John Smith Mystery #2). I’m writing this series specifically to make readers laugh, although the insurance claims issues are real. I refer to the series as “Murder with a Laugh Track.” The main character, John Smith, is a nondescript claims adjuster with a penchant for finding himself in bizarre situations where luck and karma save him from himself.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?

Charlotte: Raven’s Grave was inspired by a desire to write about culture change and diversity in an adventure setting. I spent nine summers fishing out of a native village in Alaska and was intrigued with the lifestyle and challenges residents in remote places face. The book is also about friendship, moral obligations and betrayal.

In all of my books, there is an emphasis on how people relate to one another, especially in times of stress. My hope is that readers identify with some of my characters and root for them to succeed.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?

Charlotte: Writing is what gets me up in the morning. I write almost every day for about five hours. I say “almost” every day because I do attend meetings and occasionally take time off for fun. And sometimes, part of that writing time is taken up with marketing.

KRL: What is your ideal time to write?

Charlotte: Definitely in the morning. I try not to get distracted by emails, and most of my friends know not to call me until the afternoon. My husband is also a writer. We break late afternoon for a walk that frequently involves talking about plots we are working on. I worry about other walkers overhearing our discussions about such things as murder, blood splatter, poisons, and how to get rid of a body. There are times when I half expect to be greeted by a police officer at the trailhead.

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?

Charlotte: I always start with what I consider a “flexible” outline since I seldom end up where I thought I was going to. When working on a series book, I have to refer to my “comparison matrix” to make sure I’m consistent with ongoing characters. I also do a chapter matrix showing chapter titles, passage of time, and key things happening in each chapter. I rewrite my outline and update the chapter descriptions as the plot evolves. And then I rewrite. And rewrite.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Charlotte: I was lucky enough to get an agent who was persistent. She spread my different series around to several small publishers and one medium-sized publisher. It’s worked for me. But, like most authors, I would love to be published by one of the Big 5. Also, there are advantages to being self-published, and I’m considering self-publishing my next book.

KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Charlotte: I am one of three Women of Mystery. We recently did a presentation on how to cope with the rejection that every writer experiences – from readers, agents, publishers, and even from friends and family. The first agent I sent a query to, told me that my book was “interlarded with extraneous detail.” Ouch! Years later, when I read the manuscript, I unfortunately agreed.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Charlotte: Last month I got an email from someone who had read one of my books that is set on an island in the San Juans. Although I don’t name the island in my book, the reader recognized that it was where they were visiting. And, to my surprise, she got my book from a tiny library on the island. When I was last there, the library building had been a one-room school for island children. She also mentioned that the library only had the first in the series. So, I decided to send the library signed copies of the rest of the books in the series. And, since I was a dollar short of qualifying for free shipping, I included a package of chocolate cookies in the order.

KRL: What are your future writing goals?

Charlotte: My goal is to write for as long as my brain and body let me. Hopefully, my writing will improve, and it would be nice if I had a bestselling idea along the way. But as long as a few readers enjoy my books, I will keep writing them.

KRL: Who are your writing heroes?

Charlotte: I have so many writing heroes and am always delighted when I discover a new one. For example, I enjoy the humorous mystery writers like Carl Hiaasen, Lisa Lutz and Timothy Hallinan. I also admire authors who write page turners, like Ava Glass, Michael Connolly and S.A. Cosby. Then there are the authors who write books where I linger over and reread beautifully written passages, like David Mitchell and Colson Whitehead. And if it weren’t for the Jack London and Nancy Drew books I read when I was young, I probably wouldn’t have ended up an avid reader . . . and a writer of mysteries.

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Charlotte: I’ve always enjoyed research. I even liked writing my PhD dissertation. Although I confess that the topic was so narrow and detailed that one of my dissertation committee members admitted to not reading it all the way through. But my love of research is why each of my books explores a different topic, from art fraud to chimeras to Aztec treasure. I mainly do online research, but I attended a civilian police academy to learn more about policing and have joined groups and attended countless webinars that discuss other relevant topics.

KRL: What do you like to read?

Charlotte: I’m an eclectic reader and am in two book clubs, one that reads popular fiction and another that reads mysteries/thrillers. I’m particularly fond of books with a touch of adventure and foreign locales. Like Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. Or Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast. When I want a comfort read, I turn to something like Donna Leon’s mystery series set in Venice – no graphic violence, likeable but flawed characters, and good puzzles with satisfying endings.

KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?

Charlotte: I love TV mystery series in which relationships and plot are equally important. And it’s a bonus if there is a touch of humor. Series like Recipes for Love and Murder, Murdoch, My Life is Murder, Vera, The Brokenwood Mysteries, Astrid. My favorite movie last year was American Fiction, a great combination of humor and cultural commentary.

KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Charlotte: My advice: write. Don’t put it off. Just start. Also, I think it helps to join writing groups to interact with other people who are published or trying to get published. Take classes or attend conferences or engage in webinars about writing. And read about genre writing if that’s what you are interested in doing.

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Charlotte: Because I have animals in most of my books, people are surprised to learn that, unlike half of the US population, I don’t have any pets. Not even a turtle or a gerbil or a parakeet. When I was in college, I had a bejeweled Mexican cockroach that was attached to a tiny chain so he could be worn as a piece of jewelry. His name was “Morph,” inspired by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis in which a man wakes up to find himself transformed into a giant insect. Morph was popular with other residents of the dorm, and I received over fifty sympathy cards when he died.

Macavity in my Macavity & Me series is my imaginary cat that is as real to me as a child’s invisible friend. He doesn’t require a litter box, there are no vet bills, and he never ages. But he isn’t very cuddly.

KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Charlotte: Currently, I have been researching humor in mystery novels and have identified five categories: kooky, comic, amusing, edgy and dark. Not everyone likes the same humor, and with the matrix I’m developing, readers can choose authors who write the type of humor that best tickles their funny bones.

KRL: Where can our readers find you online?

X (Twitter):

You can click here to purchase this book from Amazon.

To enter to win a copy of In$urance to Die For, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “In$urance” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 15, 2024. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

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.

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.


  1. Sounds like a fun read. Great to see a son
    being intimidated by Mom. thanks

  2. Great interview! Count me in!

    • Glad you enjoyed it . . . hope you like the book. This series is so much fun to write.

  3. Sounds like an interesting story. Adding to my TBR list.

    • Hope you read an enjoy the book. Although there is an emphasis on humor in this series, I do try to create a twisty and realistic plot.


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