It takes a village . . . to catch a killer.
Friends, I am thrilled to celebrate the 10th birthday of Death al Dente, the first Food Lovers’ Village mystery and winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, by presenting a special edition of An Unholy Death, the historical novella prequel.
An Unholy Death originally appeared in Carried to the Grave and Other Stories, the 6th Food Lovers’ Village mystery, so if you have a copy of Carried, you’ve already got this story. It’s available in paperback and ebook, for all e-readers.
(To tell the truth, the novella actually released on Tuesday, August 29, but I was so focused on finishing the 8th Spice Shop mystery, To Err is Cumin, by my September 1 deadline that I waited to let you know. The manuscript went in this morning!)
As the cover copy says:
It’s 1910 and newly married Kate Murphy arrives in Jewel Bay, Montana, with her husband Paddy, proprietor of Murphy’s Mercantile, intent on building their life together in this unfamiliar place. The conditions are rough—as are some of their clientele—and get even rougher when Kate discovers the dead body of the widowed local preacher. She’s determined to keep his young daughter safe, but the task takes all the courage Kate can summon as she faces the first of many mysteries unfolding in her new home . . .
I’ve always been fascinated by Montana history and when my husband was asked to write and perform the music for a documentary, Bigfork: A Montana Story, on the history of the model for Jewel Bay, I decided to explore that history on the page. What would this rough Montana town have looked like to a new bride, fresh from Baraboo, Wisconsin? How would she have adapted? What conflicts would she walk into? What skills would she bring?
Turns out her great-granddaughter Erin’s talent for sleuthing may be inherited . . .
Like Kate, my own great-grandmother grew up in Baraboo as one of four sisters in an Irish family. I borrowed their names, ancestry, and hometown, but the rest is fiction.
Readers often ask about the titles and covers. Choosing a title can be a challenge. I wrote this novella without a title, not for lack of trying. A friend reminded me that good titles often come from the language in the book. Nothing worked, until I remembered that I could add a phrase for just that purpose. That led to this, at about the midpoint, during the funeral of the minister Kate found dead in the church just days earlier.
In the front pew, Grace sitting straight-backed between her and Paddy, Kate tried to focus on the minister’s words. Tried to forget that he stood on the very spot where she had found Reverend Haugen on what the minister called “that unholy day.”
Perfect, I think.
In the documentary, I spotted a picture of the church and school in about 1906. The cover artist stylized the image, creating a curved, narrow lane between them and adding trees and wildflowers. I love it.
But what makes the cover truly stand out, I think, are the mountains behind the town, done in the grand landscape traditions of the late 19th century painters Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt, who focused on the Rocky Mountains. Moran is best known for images of Yellowstone, Bierstadt of Yosemite, but their style translates beautifully to this area, on the edge of Glacier National Park.
I hope you enjoy the trip back in time with me. If An Unholy Death is your first visit to the Food Lovers’ Village, I hope you’ll make a return visit with the five novels. And remember, my gift to you as a newsletter subscriber is a Village short story, “The Picture of Guilt,” in which our modern heroine, Erin Murphy, and her husband Adam make an unexpected discovery while hiking and picking huckleberries in those very mountains. Sign up on my newsletter and follow the links in the Welcome letter. (I’m having a hard time updating it to mention the latest books and this short story, but the links all work!)
All my best,