by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of another holiday mystery, along with an interesting interview with Amy. 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.
An Eggnog to Die For: A Cape Cod Foodie Mystery by Amy Pershing
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the holiday season rolls in, restaurant reviewer Samantha Barnes is thoroughly enjoying being able to treat her (picky) friends as they taste-test the best of Cape Cod Cuisine. Since she’s also been hired to film short foodie videos for the local newspaper’s online edition, Sam is thrilled to have more excuses to eat out when she receives the news that her newly-retired parents are flying in from Florida for the New Year’s holiday. Sam is less enthusiastic about hosting them in her late Aunt’s house, but at least the kitchen has been completed on the list of the much-needed renovations. Downscaling their traditional holiday dinner of the Feast of seven fishes to five will help, but the requests and suggestions for soy, “non-fishy fish,” or simply Chinese takeout are rather frustrating. The town’s Santa Seashore Selebration event that’s designed to promote Fair Harbor during the holidays gives Sam the somewhat traumatizing experience of seeing her hot harbormaster boyfriend Jason Captiva dressed up in elf tights as he pilots in Santa’s boat. That vision has barely been burned into her eyes – and memory – before Sam encounters that very Santa, bludgeoned to death in the office of her latest review site, the Ginger Bar.
Tradition has it that the town’s Santa is always played by the latest select board member, and this year it happens to be Cape Concrete owner Caleb Mayo. He was also the person rumored to have made complaints about the Ginger Bar’s owners, siblings Julie and Martin Bruni. Their food and craft cocktails are delicious, but accusations that they were not of “good moral character’ could have cost them their liquor license. The motive and means places both of them high on the Police Chief’s suspect list, but it’s a quickly growing list. It becomes apparent that Fair Harbor’s late select board member considered himself to be the town monitor of correct and proper moral behavior, threatening many with his refusal to waiver and show compassion when enforcing the rules. As much as Sam might wish she could focus on creating her version of Martin Bruni’s secret eggnog recipe, her own mother’s enthusiastic immersion back into her (retired) role as an investigative reporter means that the Barnes family will be deep in the case and sifting through rumors, past crimes, and blackmail.
This second in the series quickly picks up with the life of Sam Barnes, who was driven out of Manhattan and her dream career as a chef ended due to a cheating boyfriend and a YouTube video gone viral. While Sam considers her mother to be reckless when following up with shady mob sources, it is Sam who interrogates suspects on her own and without proper back-up. So it’s fortunate for her that she has the harbormaster as her emotional and legal support, and Jason is as adorable as her quickly growing Lab-mutt-possibly-Shetland-pony pup Diogi (sound it out). Interwoven throughout are Sam’s loving food preparations in the kitchen, with helpful food tips included for those interested in puff pastry hacks and seafood shopping advice. Readers will become immersed in Fair Harbor’s winter holiday season as it leads up to Sam’s New Year’s birthday, making this a seasonal delight for cozy and foodie mystery reading fans.
Interview with Amy Pershing:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Amy: I’m only recently a full-time fiction writer, but I’ve always written for a living, first as a book editor, then as a journalist in Rome, then as restaurant reviewer and a financial journalist in New York, and finally as the head of employee communications for a major Wall Street firm. It was a great way to hone my craft, but I’ve got to say, nothing, but nothing, beats writing a novel (or three, so far).
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Amy: An Eggnog to Die For is the second novel in the Cape Cod Foodie mystery series. The first mystery in the series, A Side of Murder, was my first novel. It was published last February and Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) called it “the freshest, funniest mystery I have ever read.” The series features Samantha Barnes, a disgraced but resilient ex-chef who retreats home to Cape Cod, where she finds herself juggling a new job as the local paper’s “Cape Cod Foodie,” a complicated love life, a posse of just-slightly-odd friends, a falling-down house, a ginormous puppy (named Diogi, pronounced dee-OH-gee, as in D-O-G) and a propensity for falling over dead bodies – and, I’m happy to say, solving crime.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Amy: I am hopelessly in love with the mystery genre. I am, and have been since I was a child, an indefatigable fan of the traditional murder mystery. I have read, at a conservative estimate, about a zillion of them. So, it was always a dream to write one of my own – and now I’ve written three (counting next summer’s Murder Is No Picnic).
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Amy: I’m a big believer in writing what you know. I don’t know a lot, but I do know mysteries, my absolute drug of choice (after grilled cheese sandwiches). I know and love Cape Cod, having spent every summer of my life there and spent, I once figured, 1,000 days sailing its waters.
I spent two years in New York reviewing restaurants, so I know that world and that job. And a bit about cooking (thanks to a mother who worshipped St. Julia of Child). So, I guess it makes sense that my heroine, Samantha Barnes, is a disgraced ex-chef, current restaurant reviewer, reluctant returnee to her hometown on Cape Cod and a dynamite sailor. On the other hand, she is also tall (very tall), brave and an extrovert – three things I know absolutely nothing about! Go figure…
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Amy: I absolutely write to entertain. So did (and do) all of the great mystery writers, including Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Sue Grafton, Ann Cleves and Louise Penny, to name only a few, but they also do more than entertain. I am in awe of their mastery of the craft, of their understanding of the human condition and of their skill as writers. If I bring something of the same to my readers, I’ll consider myself their worthy disciple.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can? What is your ideal time to write?
Amy: I write six days a week, from about five in the morning until two or three in the afternoon (depending on when the coffee runs out), and love every minute I get to spend with my wonderful characters.
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?
Amy: I always begin my mysteries with a detailed 30- page outline focusing on who, what, where, when and why. This is actually pretty grueling, but I’ve learned from experience that if you don’t do that, there’s always one glaring loose end that’s going to need a lot of re-writing to fix. Once the outline is set, the rest is easy, and the fun part begins.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Amy: I gave myself three years to get published, mostly because a girl’s gotta eat, but also because I thought Mark Twain was probably right when he said, “Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.” Of course, it was difficult to get published, and, yes, there were rejections, but you learn a great deal from them (once you stop wanting to rip them up in tiny pieces and stamp on them). Then comes the magic moment when some lovely editor says, “I love it!” and you are on your way.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Amy: Well, what was most interesting to me, the poster child for Introverts Anonymous, was how much I loved bookstore book signings (once Covid allowed). Across the board, the owners of bookstores are smart, funny and warm hearted, and across the board, the people who frequent bookstores are smart, funny and warm hearted. Which makes me feel smart, funny and warm hearted. Which, let me tell you, is not the way an introvert often feels.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Amy: I’m sticking with Sam and the Fair Harbor gang. Poor Sam, I’m afraid, is going to be falling over more bodies. Of course, there’s an embarrassing YouTube video or two coming (which is almost my favorite thing to write about). The rest of the gang will be doing their bit, of course: librarian Helene offering her usual no-nonsense response to Sam’s, well, nonsense; her boss, Krista, being, well, bossy; and Jason the harbormaster still causing Sam to go weak at the knees. Diogi, of course, understands that the series is all about him and will be taking his usual starring role.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes and what do you like to read?
Amy: Certainly the mystery writers I mentioned above, but outside of mystery fiction, my tastes are eclectic. I will read anything by Elizabeth Strout, Amor Towles, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Liann Moriarty, or Hilary Mantel, just to name a few. I also annually re-read Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey-Maturin series of sea novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Amy: I write murder mysteries, which means that for every book, I do extensive research on how to murder people. Also, since I came up with a rather novel approach to murder in An Eggnog to Die For, I had to do even more research to be sure that what I was proposing was even possible. I truly hope nobody ever goes through my search history on that one.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Amy: Pretty much anything on Britbox or PBS Masterpiece.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Amy: First, I know it’s a cliché, but write the book you want to read. That’s what makes it fun. I tried to write a thriller once because I thought that was what the market wanted to read. Lesson learned – I am not a “dark” writer.
Second, do everything you can to find the right agent for that book. A subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace, though pricy, is very helpful there. Third, do what your agent tells you. She will probably make suggestions on the book. That’s fine. In fact, that’s great. Everybody needs an editor, especially before they actually have an editor.
And fourth, be patient! It takes a long time to get your book into the hands of the right editor, but eventually, with any luck, the stars will align.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Amy: I am essentially the polar opposite of my heroine. Sam is everything I’m not. Tall (really tall, like, over-six-feet-tall kind of tall), brave (wait until you see her take on the guy who kicks her dog), funny and snarky (I am boringly polite), and a terrific cook (I’m good, but I’m not chef-level good).
On the other hand, and this is where we’re soul sisters! She believes in the primary importance of food, friends and family. Cooking for and/or sharing a meal with people you love is, in both of our opinions, one of life’s great gifts.
KRL: Any pets?
Amy: Not at the moment, sadly, though that might change. We did have the privilege, though, of sharing our home for years with Ray, the Best Dog in the History of the World. I know others might think their dog is the Best Dog in the History of the World, but they would be wrong – that was Ray. She was an Australian Shepherd and as beautiful and smart and loving as the day was long. (Also bossy, I gotta admit.)
KRL: Our mini-Dachshund is bossy too lol. Is there anything you would like to add?
Amy: I’ve had so many wonderful readers tell me that they loved A Side of Murder, and I really do think they’re going to feel the same way about An Eggnog to Die For. Even the notoriously tough Kirkus Reviews raved about it (in a starred review no less), saying: “A delightful sleuth, a complex mystery, and lovingly described cuisine: a winner for both foodies and mystery mavens.” I have to say, I’ve never had so much fun writing about murder because, I ask you, what’s Christmas without a dead Santa?
To enter to win a copy of An Eggnog to Die For, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “eggnog,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 11, 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 MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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