A Spice Shop Mystery, #6
Seventh Street Books: July 19, 2022
From the cover:
A Dickens of a Christmas turns deadly…
As the holiday season lights up Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market, Pepper Reece’s beloved Spice Shop is brimming with cinnamon, nutmeg, and shoppers eager to stuff their stockings. Add to the mix a tasty staff competition—a peppermint bark-off—along with Victorian costumes for this year’s Dickensian Christmas theme, and Pepper almost forgets to be nervous about meeting her fisherman boyfriend’s brother for the first time.
But when a young woman working in her friend Vinny’s wine shop is brutally assaulted, costumed revelers and holiday cheer are the last things on Pepper’s mind. Who would want to hurt Beth? Or were they looking for Vinny instead?
The vicious attack upsets everyone at Pike Place, but none more than Pepper’s own employee, Matt Kemp. At first, Pepper is baffled by his reaction, but his clandestine connection to Beth could hold the key to the assailant’s motive. Or perhaps it’s Vinny’s ex-wife who knows more than she’s letting on . . . and what about the mysterious top-hatted man with whom Pepper saw Beth arguing that morning?
As the secrets of the market come to light, long-held grudges, family ties, and hidden plans only further obscure the truth. Is it a ghost of the past rattling its chains, or a contemporary Scrooge with more earthly motives? As Pepper chases down a killer, someone is chasing her, and in the end, the storied market itself may hold the final, deadly clue.
A cozy holiday mystery full of culinary delights and a rich cast of characters, the sixth installment in the Spice Shop Mystery series will keep you turning the page . . . and reaching for another piece of peppermint bark.
PRAISE FOR PEPPERMINT BARKED:
“Budewitz is a dab hand at cozies, portraying the Market and its denizens as a ‘community within a community’ while weaving a murder mystery into this placid backdrop. [An] irresistible mix of holiday and murder.” — Library Journal
A master at immersing her readers in the sights, sounds, and scents of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, with Peppermint Barked Leslie Budewitz adds another addictive mystery to her Spice Shop series. — Ellen Byron, Agatha-Award winning author of the Cajun Country Mysteries
It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
And smell like it, too. Cinnamon, of course, along with nutmeg and cardamom. Pumpkin pie spice, a blend that’s skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. I caught a hint of sage and the tang of rosemary as I filled a bag of poultry seasoning, a kitchen essential people forget until November rolls around, when they can’t get enough of it. Fine by me. Every season has its own rhythm and its own flavors.
“This isn’t tea,” a man said. I glanced across the front counter to our tea cart, where a beautiful electric samovar, blue enamel with red and pink flowers, brewed one of today’s samples. The man held a tiny paper cup, his wrinkled nose skewing his glasses.
“Hush,” the woman standing next to him said. “It’s peppermint.”
“Tastes like grass clippings.”
“Just pour out what you don’t want,” I called, pointing to a plastic bucket on the floor beside the cart. Our version of a winery’s spit bucket. “You might prefer our signature spice tea. It’s in the stainless steel pot.”
Instead, the man glowered and drained the cup, then crushed it and dropped it into the waste basket. His wife refilled hers and they left.
“There’s a grinch in every crowd,” my customer said, and everyone in earshot, staff and customers, laughed. While I readied her order, we chatted about her holiday cooking plans.
“Those are new,” she said, pointing at a display of colorful syrups.
“Perfect for gift-giving,” I replied. “Hyper-local. Joy Rockwood, the maker, rents space in the same commercial facility as we do. Grows most of her own herbs, even forages the wild varieties. You’ll love this blueberry-lavender—it’s great with club soda or gin. And they’re not just for cocktails. Try the lemon-sage in a glaze over pound cake—we couldn’t eat it fast enough. Like a taste of summer sunshine.”
Seriously. One bite and I’d thought I was lounging in a comfy Adirondack in a lush garden, wriggling my bare toes, not standing on a cold cement warehouse floor beneath a bank of LEDs.
The bells on our door chimed as customers left and others poured in. “Sounds like I’d better take a few bottles.”
“Need a hand?” I asked after she’d signed the screen on our card machine and Reed had finished packing her order. Three large canvas shopping bags, all full. I added a bag of cinnamon sticks tied with red-and-green plaid ribbon as a thank you. “If you’re in the Market garage, Reed can help carry your bags to your car.”
She accepted the offer, not one I make often, but her shopping spree warranted it.
I filled my ceramic mug with tea and stepped outside. Kristen, my BFF, who pitched in when I bought Seattle Spice in the Pike Place Market just over two years ago and still works here a few days a week, had bought us each a holiday mug. Mine was covered with dancing peppermint candy canes, a nod to my name. My nickname, actually, bestowed by my baseball-obsessed grandfather who thought my birth name too long and weird for a fiery little girl and dubbed me Pepper for his favorite player, Pepper Martin.
My shop occupies the old Garden Center building, an Art Deco vestige of the 1930s, with a big front window and deep wooden awnings painted a dark forest green. I leaned against the salmon-pink stucco wall, safely out of foot traffic, and breathed in the hot, steamy mint. It’s funny how some herbs have a different effect depending on the season. Mint cools us in summer and warms us in winter. I took a sip.
It most definitely did not taste like grass clippings.
Much as I love the holidays, I’ve always hated to rush the seasons. I’d dragged my feet on turning the shop into a winter wonderland, wanting to savor the baskets filled with mini pumpkins and warty gourds we’d bought from the farm stalls and the bouquets of sunflowers and fall foliage as long as possible.
But after all we’d lost to what my pal Vinny calls “the time that must not be named,” there was no holding back the Christmas spirit. Customers had started shopping early and were buying more gifts and spending more money than in years. Call it rational exuberance. Call it a boon for the bottom line and a boost for my own Christmas spirit.
It was Black Pepper Friday, as my staff dubbed it, the day after Thanksgiving, and the shopping and eating season was off and running. This year’s theme in the Market was “A Dickens of a Christmas,” and Victorian touches accented the traditional holiday decor. The planter boxes that line the roof of the Main Arcade brimmed with greenery and giant red bows, neatly trimmed evergreens standing guard behind them. Below hung strings of lights in the shapes of fruit and vegetables.
Okay, the lights weren’t quite in keeping with the theme, but they were perfect for the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in the country.
Seattle weather can be nasty this time of year, cold and wet and windy, but today was clear and dry. A shopkeeper’s dream.
The crowds packing the sidewalk parted briefly and across the cobbled Pike Place, the Market’s main street, I spotted a young woman in a full-skirted Victorian dress, blond hair in a snood, a plaid shawl around her shoulders. She was standing in the narrow walkway between a produce stand and the pasta stall in the North Arcade, talking to a man I didn’t recognize. He interrupted, leaning in, almost looming. She threw one hand in the air and kept on talking.
Beth Yardley, who’d started working for my friend Vinny Delgado in his shop, the Wine Merchant, this past fall. Vinny had always resisted my suggestion that he hire a salesclerk, even part time, and then one day I’d popped in for a bottle of Walla Walla red and there she was. Early twenties, full of ideas and energy. Since then, she’d come by the Spice Shop several times, more interested in chatting with Matt, one of my salesclerks, than in basil or bay leaves. I’d wondered if they were dating, though he had to be six or seven years older. Not that he would say a word; he’s as private as an eye. My employees had been adamant about not dressing in costume, to my relief, sticking with the black-and-white scheme that matched our shop aprons, but Vinny, no surprise, had embraced the Dickensian doodah, and so had Beth.
A delivery truck rumbled into view and when it had passed by, the man was gone. Beth scowled and drew the shawl tighter. Then she stepped into the sea of traffic that filled the cobbled street, bobbing and weaving between the shoppers and browsers and the cars foolish enough to attempt driving through the Market, and disappeared from sight.