Butter Off Dead

Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries

ISBN-13: 978-0425259566
Berkley Prime Crime: July 7, 2015

Now out in audio as well as paperback and e-book! 

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From the cover:
As the national bestselling Food Lovers’ Village mysteries continue, the merchants of Jewel Bay, Montana try to heat up chilly winter business with a new film festival. But their plans are sent reeling when a dangerous killer dims the lights on a local mover and shaker …

In an attempt to woo tourists to Jewel Bay and cheer up the townies, Erin Murphy, manager of the specialty local foods market known as the Merc, is organizing the First Annual Food Lovers’ Film Festival, popping with classic foodie flicks and local twists on favorite movie treats. But when her partner in planning, painter Christine Vandeberg, is found dead only days before the curtain rises, Erin suspects someone is attempting to stop the films from rolling.

To make matters worse, Nick—Erin’s brother and Christine’s beau—has top billing on the suspect list. Convinced her brother is innocent and determined that the show must go on, Erin must find who’s really to blame before Nick gets arrested or the festival gets shut down. And as the anniversary of Erin’s father’s death in a still-unsolved hit-and-run approaches, her own beau isn’t so keen on her leading role.

But the closer Erin gets to shining a spotlight on the killer, the more likely it becomes that she’ll be the next person cut from the program…

Includes delicious recipes!


Suspense Magazine says: “delightful, delicious, and non-fattening! A calorie–counter’s trifecta of yummy fun.”

Kings River Life writes: “This third in the Food Lovers’ Village Mystery series advances plots established in the début and follows characters finding preconceptions about their lives suddenly challenged. In additional to the descriptions of food and recipes, Budewitz also crams the novel full of movie lore, art appreciation, and the complexities surrounding the study and protection of wolves.

Jewel Bay feels populated by entirely real personalities as complicated as they are entertaining, with Erin being the most empathetic and engaging of them all. She may be an adult with a new and rewarding romantic relationship, but working with her mother can still reduce Erin to feeling—and acting—like a child. As long-established plots are resolved and misunderstandings cleared, it will be fascinating to follow the characters’ progressions in this very elaborate mystery of family, community, and the struggle to be responsible for both.”

Escape with Dollycas says: “The author knows the key to a great mystery series is having characters that continue to grown and evolve and story-lines that put them in precarious situations. She dishes up perfection in BUTTER OFF DEAD. … This story is so well written. It kept me captivated from the first page until the very last. … filled with many clever twists that left me guessing whodunit until the final reveal.”

The Billings Outpost writes: “The character development is top notch, and Erin is a truly likable heroine. Meanwhile, supporting characters such as Erin’s mother, nephew and pet cats provide solid comic relief.

Equally strong is Budewitz’s sense of place. Her description of a Montana tourist town in the middle of winter is just as evocative as her descriptions of Seattle’s Pike Place Market featured in ASSAULT AND PEPPER …

All in all, Jewel Bay proves to be a lovely place to spend a few hours. And with every passing novel stronger than the last, Budewitz is proving to be a bit of a mystery-writing jewel herself.”

“Budewitz’s gift for language and descriptions wraps readers into the story like a favorite garment.” — State of the Arts 


Chapter One 

“I need to talk to you.”

One hand on the aluminum stepladder, I peered out the broom closet door, wondering who needed me and why she whispered about it so urgently.

A blond teenager in gray leggings and purple running shoes, hair in a ponytail, stood at the open door to the Playhouse control room, her fleece-clad back to me.

“Later,” came the reply. Older, male, firm.

“Now,” she demanded, and I recognized Zayda George—high school senior, track star, president of the student Film Club.

“Coming through,” I called, and wriggled my way out the door and into the wide passage leading to the lobby, both hands gripping the six-foot ladder. In the shadows, Zayda froze. I didn’t need bright lights to know she’d been pleading with Larry Abrams.

Half a dozen kids from the Film Club who were running the projectors, lights, and sound for the weekend mingled in the Playhouse lobby. Christine Vandeberg pointed to a spot on the tile floor and I set up the ladder. She whipped a plastic bag off a five-foot-long hand-painted sign leaning against the wall.

“Like it?” Christine clasped her hands, squeezing her fingers as she waited for my opinion.

“Perfect.” For our first Food Lovers’ Film Festival, we’d rechristened the Playhouse in Jewel Bay, Montana, taking it back to its roots. You can’t go back again, not really. Times change. The places you love change. You change.

But the right sign can transport you anywhere.

“Perfect,” I repeated. “Like an old-time theater marquee.” Flamingo pink stripes emulating neon tubes ran across the top and bottom. On each end, faux diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires sparkled. And in the center, three-dimensional gold script read the bijou. Literally, the jewel. Figuratively, the Jewel Box.

“You’re too young to talk about old-time, Erin.” I hadn’t seen Larry Abrams approach. Not quite movie-star handsome but close, with white hair and chiseled features just beginning to soften “It’s Brooklyn, 1955, decades before you were born. I went to the movies every Saturday afternoon, sometimes twice.”

The red hair coiled on top of Christine’s head in a tribute to Marge Simpson bobbed like a buoy in a windstorm. “I used Larry’s movie poster collection and a picture of our original theater as inspiration. Larry, hold the ladder while we hang this.”

The longtime Hollywood lighting director forced a helpful expression. In his post-retirement volunteer work, he enjoyed being in charge.

I could relate. But this Festival was Christine’s baby, and to tell the truth, being the gofer made for a welcome break.

Larry steadied the ladder and Christine clambered up the rungs. I handed her the chain attached to the sign. She slipped the top link over a hook barely visible in the shiny tin ceiling and climbed back down. As I juggled the weight of the sign and Larry scooted the ladder over, I caught sight of Zayda a few feet away, one arm folded across her torso, absently biting the tip of her little finger.

Moments later, I stepped back. “What do you think, Zayda? Right height?”

“Um, it’s good. Sparkly.” Her voice lacked its usual zip, and she blinked rapidly as she glanced at Larry. His own eyes lit on her briefly before refocusing on the sign.

“Seriously, old man. You kept the posters from when you were a kid?” Zayda’s boyfriend, Dylan, , ran a hand through his dark blond hair. I’d spent enough time with the kids to realize that while she adored the movies, it was the technology that fired him up.

“They came later,” Larry said. “Took me years to build that collection.”

“What’s the deal about collecting?” Dana Grant, another Film Club member, tilted his head. “I don’t get it.”

“Think of Barbies or Legos you’re too old for, but you still love,” a girl with hair in shades of red from strawberry blond to cranberry  replied. Her parents ran the pizza joint. “Or tickets from a concert. You keep them to remind you how you felt.”

“Zayda’s got her number bibs from every race,” Dylan said. “Plus all her ribbons. They cover the back of her bedroom door.”

“’Cause she always wins,” the redhead said.

“Yeah, but buying stuff just to hang on to it . . .” Dana’s voice trailed off. Clearly, he was not in possession of the collector gene.

“Enough jabbering. Gotta make sure all this new gear runs like it’s supposed to.” Larry pointed toward the control room.

“Yessir.” Dylan gave a mock salute, and the kids swarmed out of the lobby.

Zayda trailed behind. “Larry, you promised . . .” she said in a low voice.

“Soon as the job is finished,” he said. Zayda bit her lower lip and followed the other kids. Larry headed for the men’s room.

“What was that all about?” I asked Christine.

Face raised, her gaze darted from one end of the sign to the other, measuring whether it hung straight and level. Years as a professional framer gave her a sharp eye for details.

The sign sparkled. Which was the point: To bring a little color and light to a village mired in the deep midwinter. Let other towns break the monotony of February with hearts and flowers. But a town that calls itself the Food Lovers’ Village and boasts first-class summer stock plus a vibrant community theater? Food and film, a natural combination.

“What? Something happen?”

I reached for the ladder. “No. But Larry may be a little too directorial.” Zayda was a good kid, eager to prove herself. Eager, too, to get on a pro’s good side and make contacts in the industry. Her mother, Mimi, had told me she had her heart set on film school in L.A. She’d work lights and sound, almost any job, biding time for a chance to get behind the camera. Let other girls crave the spotlight. Zayda George wanted to be the one telling them what to do.

Christine squinted at the sign through turquoise glasses frames. “Yeah. But without the money he raised for the screening equipment, we wouldn’t be having a film festival, so . . .”

“Did you convince him to display his poster collection in the lobby?”

“Your sister figured out some kind of insurance thing, so he finally agreed.” She scooped up the bag from the sign.

“Are all his posters for movies about Montana?”

“Just the ones he’s lending us—Jane Russell in Montana Belle, Gene Autry in Blue Montana Skies, a dozen others. I guess some are pretty valuable.”

“Speaking of collections,” I said. “Have you decided what to do with Iggy’s? I still can’t believe she had all that amazing art.” Iggy Ring, painter, collector, teacher, mentor, and a fixture in Jewel Bay, had died over the past winter. A tiny woman who’d left a huge hole in the community, and in my heart.

The red-haired buoy wobbled dangerously. “A few legal details to work out, but most of it’s going to the Art Center. What they can’t keep, we’ll sell to fund education programs. Art classes for teens, I’m thinking, and a business training course for artists. I’ve got to finish Iggy’s inventory, then get an appraisal.”

“Good work, ladies.” Larry crossed the lobby to join the kids.

“Thanks,” I called to Larry. To Christine, “good choice.” More than a century ago, settlers began floating logs cut from the surrounding mountains down the Jewel River to a mill beside the bay. Around 1900, construction of a small dam and power plant, and a new road for lumber wagons and trucks, spurred more growth. By the 1970s, the mill had closed, lights had dimmed, and town needed a new spark. Locals—including Old Ned Redaway and my family—fashioned Jewel Bay into an arts village, and in recent years, cooked up a reputation as a food lovers’ haven. Others built up the area’s recreational assets.

Now, those passions bloom side by side, making Jewel Bay, Montana, a most unexpected place. It melds mouthwatering food, eye-watering art, a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, tummy-churning whitewater, and the most dedicated volunteer force on the planet. The result? A village chock-full of charm. Not to mention that it sits on a bay of the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, with a backyard wilderness stretching more than a million acres, and Glacier National Park half an hour’s drive away.

Since moving back home nine—nearly ten—months ago to take over the Merc, my family’s hundred-year-old grocery, I’d come to understand the power of local in a whole new light. My mother and I converted the Merc into a market specializing in foods grown or produced in the region. Wine to wash them down, pottery to serve them, and soap to wash up, all of it locally made, too. We also created a commercial kitchen in the back of the shop, so vendors can cook and pack their products in a facility that meets health department specs.

But while I love my vendors dearly, it took about ten seconds to realize that knowing how to make fabulous pasta and pesto, cure award-winning salami, or cook huckleberry jam that makes grown cowboys tear up is a far cry from knowing how to market those skills. A whole ’nother kettle, as my grandfather Murphy would have said.

So I’d put my decade of experience as a grocery buyer for SavClub, the international warehouse chain based in Seattle, to work mentoring my vendors in the fine arts of inventory control and cost management, giving an occasional lesson in sales and marketing.

And after watching my sister, Chiara, launch a successful co-op gallery while other artists struggled to pay the bills, I firmly believe every working artist needs a crash course in business savvy.

As a painter and a framer, Christine had seen plenty of artists fight that same battle. She gave the sign a long, loving gaze. “This weekend is going to be a hit, isn’t it?”

I folded the ladder and hoisted it onto my hip. “Everything’s falling into place perfectly.”

Famous last words.

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