by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we are reviewing the first book in a new series, Fresh Brewed Murder by Emmeline Duncan. We also have a fun interview with Emmeline. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to order it from Amazon and an indie bookstore.
Fresh Brewed Murder by Emmeline Duncan
Review by Lorie Lewis Ham
Fresh Brewed Murder is the first in a brand new series by Emmeline Duncan. When I saw that the main character owned a coffee cart in Portland, Oregon I knew this book was for me. I love coffee, and Oregon is one of my favorite places!
Sage Caplin has just opened her new coffee cart, Ground Rules, together with her friend and business partner Harley. Harley is a genius at roasting beans and devising new blends. Thanks to her entrepreneurial Uncle Jimmy, they get a coveted spot in a food truck pod called the Rail Yard in inner Southeast Portland. Across from the food cart lot, a new high-rise building is being built that is causing some controversy and demonstrators are out in force. On the plus side, this is bringing customers to their cart. Most of the customers are friendly, but one older gentleman is very gruff. Much to Sage’s surprise, he shows up again the next day. However, when she returns the following morning she finds the main entrance to the Rail Yard ajar, the gate unlocked, and the man’s dead body in front of her cart!
The dead man turns out to be David Stevens, a real-estate developer who is not only a rival of her uncle, but who had once been conned by Sage’s con-artist mother Saffron Jones. This, and the fact that the murder weapon is a box cutter that Sage had borrowed from a fellow cart owner, puts her at the top of the suspect list. Sage must find out who the real killer is before she loses everything that she has worked for. Since her father is a police detective, she knows a bit about how police investigations work. On top of being a murder suspect, she has to deal with her mother who abandoned her at 13 trying to work her way back into Sage’s life.
Sage has a complicated background and is a fascinating and well-developed character. She’s tough, fun, smart, and knows a lot about coffee. The other cart owners in the pod are also interesting, especially Zarek, the very attractive owner of a vegan cart. This book also does a great job of bringing to life the feel of Portland. While the story is mostly light and fun, Emmeline brings important subjects such as homelessness, food insecurity, and gentrification into the story. The mystery is well done, but is less the center of the story than some mysteries—this book is more about the people and the relationships and I really enjoyed it! To top it all off “Sage” even shares some coffee recipes in the back.
This is a great debut and I can’t wait for more!
Interview with Emmeline Duncan:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Emmeline: I’ve basically been a writer my whole life. Even before I knew how to read, I’d draw pictures and tell elaborate stories about what was going on in the image.
I became serious about writing for publication about 8 years ago. I began working on craft and wrote a couple of trunk novels (meaning manuscripts I finished but now reside in a metaphorical trunk.)
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Emmeline: My first novel as Emmeline Duncan is Fresh Brewed Murder, the first in my Ground Rules Mysteries series. It’s set at a food cart pod in Portland, Oregon.
Sage Caplin has high hopes for her coffee cart, Ground Rules. Her business partner, Harley, is a genius at roasting beans and devising new blends. Then Sage finds a customer’s body in front of her cart, a fatal slash across his neck. She knows the locals have intensely strong opinions, but who would be mad enough to commit murder? Sage is already fending off trouble in the form of her estranged, con-artist mother. So when Sage’s box cutter is discovered to be the murder weapon, she needs to focus on finding the killer – fast!
I also wrote the YA thriller, The Last to Die, as Kelly Garrett. It was an Oregon Book Award finalist and was re-issued by Sourcebooks Fire in November 2019. It’s very different from my Emmeline Duncan work. It’s darker, and The Last to Die has an unlikeable female narrator, which is very different from my Ground Rules Mystery Series.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense, and if not, what else have you written?
Emmeline: So far, everything I’ve written are mysteries or thrillers, although I have some future projects in mind in other genres. So stay tuned!
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Emmeline: I really wanted to show the Portland I know and love in a novel. The setting of a food cart pod felt like the right choice. Traditional and cozies mysteries tend to be set in small communities. I like how a food cart pod feels like its own small community set in a larger city.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Emmeline: My focus is on entertainment. Themes frequently pop up and tend to develop organically while writing the story. But they’re always secondary to enjoyment. In general, one element I hope people take away from novels is a sense of hope.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Emmeline: When I’m drafting a project, I set a word count goal of 1000 words/day. When I’m at full steam, I easily surpass my goal, which is always exciting. When writing a project, I tend to write daily. Although I usually go hiking or something over the weekend to take a mental break. I treat writing like a job and carve out ‘working hours during the week.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Emmeline: Morning writing sessions in coffee shops are one of my most productive times, followed by early evenings. I’ve really missed coffee shops during the pandemic!
KRL: Me too! 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?
Emmeline: Many writers call themselves “plotters,” aka someone who writes an outline, or “pantsers,” aka people who write by the seat of their pants. I call myself a hybrid; I know where the novel begins and the logic behind the mystery. But I don’t map out every step of the story before writing.
The actions of my characters are grounded in who they are and what feels organic to their personal journeys. Meaning, I try to keep characters from making decisions based on plot reasons.
For some projects, I’ll create a spreadsheet while writing a novel that lists what happens in each chapter, including red herrings and clues. It’s an excellent way to get an eagle’s eye view of what happens throughout the novel.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Emmeline: I don’t think it’s ever “easy” to get published. Like most writers, I faced a lot of rejection when querying my first projects. Even after I signed with my agent, my first project didn’t sell. But that’s okay because I’m thrilled with how Fresh Brewed Murder turned out, and I’m happy it’s my traditional mystery debut.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Emmeline: For Fresh Brewed Murder, all of my events have been virtual. Thankfully, most have been successful with minimal technological issues!
A few years ago, I was leading a workshop at Vintage Books in Vancouver, Washington. I brought along stress balls that looked like soccer balls with the title of my YA Thriller printed on them. One of the bookstore cats thought this was the best author swag EVER. He jumped up on the table while I spoke and started playing. It was adorable.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Emmeline: I hope to continue writing novels in the Ground Rules Mystery Series! I also have few other projects in process that I hope will sell to publishers. I love being a writer and hope to continue publishing books for years to come.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Emmeline: This is always a tricky question because there are so many authors I love to read. One of my first favorites was Beverly Cleary. A friend gave me Ramona Quimby, Age 8, for my eighth birthday, and I ended up reading everything by Cleary I could find. To this day, I sometimes walk through the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden in Portland and appreciate how her novels have withstood the sense of time. I eventually moved onto mysteries and read every middle-grade mystery I could find at my local library.
I’ve also read and appreciate the crime and mystery classic writers, including Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Patricia Highsmith, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dashiell Hammett.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Emmeline: Research is one of the best parts of writing! For Fresh Brewed Murder, I researched the historical origins of coffee and read about the world’s different growing regions. I roasted my own coffee beans, which gave me a deeper appreciation of the many micro-roasters in Oregon. I also do my best to make sure the legal and investigative sides of my novels are accurate, so those are other areas I researched and continue to explore while writing future books.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Emmeline: I consider myself a literary omnivore. I read widely, and recently, I’ve been on both graphic novels and a fantasy kick.
As far as mystery writers, Jane Casey is one of my favorites. My current must-read series include Deana Rayburn’s Veronica Speedwell and Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series. On the cozy mystery side of life, I really appreciate Donna Andrews and Carola Dunn.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Emmeline: When people ask me about my favorite movies, I always want to default to my childhood favorites of Superman: The Movie and Raiders of The Lost Arc. I’ve also had a lifelong fondness for Clue and still quote it on occasion.
In the crime and mystery world, one of my favorite movies is Hell or High Water. The slow reveal of the logic behind the plotline is perfect. Knives Out was also a fantastic movie in a traditional mystery vein.
TV show-wise, I’ve recently been watching Banshee. The show ran for four years, and it’s simply bananas in a fantastic way. I was also a Leverage fan, and I’m happy the show is being rebooted with most of the original cast. I’m also waiting for the next episodes of Lupin to drop on Netflix because it ended on a very unfair cliffhanger! And the next half of Lucifer will arrive at the end of May, so I know my immediate TV plans.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Emmeline: Read widely and read critically. Be sure to take the time to think about why you like certain books, but also why other books don’t work for you. Build your writing community by attending events (including virtual events).
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Emmeline: I played saxophone in my university’s Symphonic band!
Emmeline: I have two animal sidekicks. Waylon came from the Great Pyrenees Rescue and is about 5 years old. His main hobbies include acquiring treats from our mail carrier, whom he loves, and keeping an eye on me, as he seems to think I’m a sheep in need of protection. Arabella is a 12-year-old cat who also came to us through a rescue organization as a two-pound kitten. She’s one of the most laid-back cats on the planet.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Emmeline: The last year has been a tough time for your local bookstores, so be sure to show them some love! And if you don’t have a local indie bookstore, check out Bookshop.org, which supports small stores across the country. And be sure to show your library some appreciation, too, because everyone knows libraries are the best.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Emmeline: You can track me online on my website, emmelineduncan.com, where you can sign up for my newsletter. I’m on Twitter as @DuncanEmmeline, and on both Facebook and Instagram as @writeremmelineduncan.
To enter to win a copy of Fresh Brewed Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “brewed,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 19, 2021. 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. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode goes up next week.
You can use this link to purchase this book from indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy, and KRL gets a portion of the sale:
You can use this link to purchase the book on Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:
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.