Between a Wok and a Dead Place

spice shop mysteries

A Spice Shop Mystery, #7
In trade paper, ebook, and audio!
Seventh Street Books: July 18, 2023

Available at:
Barnes & Noble
And your local booksellers!

From the cover:

It’s the Lunar New Year, and fortunes are about to change.

Pepper Reece, owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, loves a good festival, especially one serving up tasty treats. So what could be more fun than a food walk in the city’s Chinatown–International District, celebrating the Year of the Rabbit?

But when her friend Roxanne stumbles across a man’s body in the Gold Rush, a long-closed residential hotel, questions leap out. Who was he? What was he doing in the dust-encrusted herbal pharmacy in the hotel’s basement? Why was the pharmacy closed up—and why are the owners so reluctant to talk?

With each new discovery, Pepper find herself asking new questions and facing more brick walls.

Then questions arise about Roxanne and her relationship to Pepper’s boyfriend Nate, away fishing in Alaska. Between her worries and her struggle to hire staff at the Spice Shop, Pepper has her hands and her heart full. Still, she can’t resist the lure of the Gold Rush and its tangled history of secrets and lies stretching back nearly a century.

But the killer is on her tail, driven by hidden demons and desires. As Pepper begins to expose the long-concealed truth, a bigger question emerges: Can she uncover the secrets of the Gold Rush Hotel without being pushed from the wok into the fire?


“Leslie Budewitz delivers the goods again in her latest captivating cozy, Between a Wok and a Dead Place. A twisty-turny plot, seasoned just right with plentiful suspects and lots of culinary delights, this is one page turner of a mystery no reader should miss!” — Jenn McKinlay, New York Times Bestselling author

“In Between a Wok and a Dead Place, Leslie Budewitz serves a literary feast showcasing Seattle’s Chinatown-International District—spiced with murder. A complex mystery peppered with delectable recipes, inspiring quotes, and fascinating factoids.” — Jennifer J. Chow, Agatha & Lefty Award-Nominated Author of Death By Bubble Tea

Between a Wok and a Dead Place is the most tantalizing Spice Shop mystery yet!” — Maddie Day, Agatha Award-winning author of historical and cozy mysteries

Between a Wok and a Dead Place is an exciting mystery blended with great food, delicious spices, and fascinating details about the early Asian residents of Seattle, making this the perfect book for readers of all tastes, spicy or not. A fitting entry in one of the best cozy series being written today.” — Vicki Delany, bestselling author of the Tea by the Sea and Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mysteries

“The inclusion of Chinatown’s history, along with the stories of the culture and residents, adds a depth seldom found in cozy mysteries.” — Library Journal 

“[A] thoughtful and well written mystery.” — Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha’s Mysteries

“Although the spice shop setting, and all the discussion of food puts these mysteries in the cozy category, there’s a depth to the stories that is often lacking in cozies. This time, Pepper Reece, owner of the Spice Shop, learns about Seattle’s Chinatown, its culture and history, right along with the reader. … If Pepper Reece left the past alone, readers wouldn’t have such absorbing mysteries. She’s an amateur sleuth who loves her community, the people she works with, and the history of the area. She cares when someone dies, wondering about the people who loved and missed the victim. If Pepper didn’t care about people, she wouldn’t get involved in thought-provoking mysteries such as Between a Wok and a Dead Place.” — Lesa Holstine, Lesa’s Book Critiques

“[A] captivating tale that kept me entertained from beginning to end.” — Escapes with Dollycas

“A great treat to savor with a nicely executed and tantalizing mystery.” — Dru’s Book Musings

“A deftly crafted cozy mystery, Between a Wok and a Dead Place has more unexpected plot twists and turns than an Texas tornado and carries the reader along at swift and compulsive page turning speed. An original and fun read from start to finish.” — Midwest Book Review


“Try one of these, Pepper,” my mother Lena said, pointing at the fat, transparent steamed dumplings, her souvenir teacup tipping at a dangerous angle. “Shrimp, with ginger and scallions. Divine.”

The short, dark-haired woman running the booth plucked a perfectly pleated morsel from a bamboo steamer and set it on my plate. Behind her, an elderly woman slid another steamer onto the table. Lifted the lid and released a warm, heavenly fragrance.

If you’ve ever been to a cocktail party where you’ve had to juggle your wine glass, a too-small napkin, and a plate of appetizers, all while avoiding elbows, trying to hear and be heard above the music, nodding when introductions are made because you can’t possibly free a hand, you’ve got an idea what the food walk during the Lunar New Year celebration in Seattle’s Chinatown–International District is like. But for that dumpling, I’d brave it all. I stuck my bamboo chopsticks in my pocket to reduce the risk of putting out an eye—my own or a stranger’s—and took the dumpling with my fingers.

“Har gow,” the woman said. “Best in the city.” A vinyl banner in the back of the booth, accented by a string of small red lanterns, repeated the claim, attributed to the Seattle Times food critic. Though I didn’t agree with all the critic’s reviews, her raves about my spice shop in Pike Place Market convinced me of her good taste. One bite and I knew she’d nailed it.

“Total yum,” I said. She rewarded my praise with another morsel. “Selfie with dumplings. Lean in.” My friend Seetha, in her puffy white coat, bumped shoulders with my mother while I, several inches taller with short spiky hair that exaggerates the effect, stood in back and snaked my arm between them to snap a couple of shots. Three dark heads, three happy faces.

“I always thought dim sum meant dumplings,” Seetha said. “But they’ve got all kinds of things.”

“Dim sum is a broad term.” Our host wore a white chef’s jacket, the name of her restaurant embroidered in red, in English and Chinese, over the left breast, and gestured to the array of dishes on the cloth-covered table with a graceful brown hand. “Dumplings, yes, but also rolls, small buns, cakes, and other dishes. And the tea. Always tea.”

I took a sip of mine. Green, scented with jasmine, perfect for the overcast January day. A good beginning for the Year of the Rabbit, though the new year didn’t officially start until tomorrow. Saturday afternoon was the better choice for a food walk and art fair, followed by an evening parade. My spice shop sells a similar blend, not quite as smooth, and I wondered where they got theirs. We supply hundreds of the city’s restaurants and food producers, from a crepe cart to a fourth-generation butcher known for his sausage and salami to an internationally renowned chef’s empire, but I’d only managed a small inroad in the CID, as it’s called. Hadn’t tried very hard. Many of the restaurateurs down here have long relationships with other suppliers, and guard their sources like the bronze lions and dragons guard the gates of the Forbidden City.

“Traditionally served at brunch, but these days,” our doyenne of dumplings continued, the rest of her explanation lost in a cacophony of sound. Barely ten feet from us, in front of the ceremonial gate that was as tall as some of the nearby buildings, a man dressed in red and black banged on a barrel-shaped drum. On either side of him, musicians clanged cymbals small and large. A trio of four-legged lion dancers prowled the urban jungle, two in yellow and one in red. Everyone in the crowd packing the street stopped to watch. The man carrying the giant head of the red lion swung it from side to side, then up and down, to the steady beat of the drum, while the man in back controlled the cape-like body. For a moment, I forgot the lions weren’t real. Not that they were particularly realistic. Not at all. Stylized, puppet-like, their red, yellow, and black eyes the size of saucers, the yellow-bearded tongues painted to match. Long furry fringe hung from the cape and wound around the men’s pant legs, swaying with their movements.


The beat grew more pronounced. The man in the back end of the red lion scooped the man in front up on his shoulders, holding tight as the mounted dancer swooped low, pretending to charge a small child who shrieked in delight. The dancer leapt back to the ground and the men resumed their intricate footwork.

Then a team of dancers swarmed around them, more modestly dressed in red and yellow pants and T-shirts. Each held a small lion head with a long tail that swept down his back. As the two-man teams had done, they swayed and swung, stomping their feet like the kings of the jungle whose spirits they were meant to invoke, lifting the heads high above their own and waving them in the air before pulling them back down over their faces.

“Oliver!” Seetha cried, and though I couldn’t imagine how he could hear her over the bang of the drum and the din of the crowd, the dancer nearest us stepped closer. Lifted the head of his costume and bowed to her, his long yellow-and-red tail sweeping the pavement. I caught the quickest glimpse of jet-black hair and dark eyes before he clapped the lion mask back in place and the troupe moved on.

“That’s him? That’s your mystery man?” I said. “That’s why you were so keen on coming.” The flush on Seetha’s brown cheeks answered for her.

“The lions dance to bring good luck and fortune,” the dim sum woman said, an impish smile on her broad face. Behind her, the old woman muttered something in Chinese, then bent and turned away.

available at

Barnes & Noble
And your local booksellers!