Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two light-hearted mystery series: the Spice Shop Mysteries, set in Seattle, and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in northwest Montana. Her books focus on strong women who share her passions, and have a talent for finding trouble!
She’ll make her suspense debut with Bitterroot Lake, written as Alicia Beckman, in April 2021.
Leslie is a three-time Agatha Award winner: 2011 Best Nonfiction for her guide for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure; 2013 Best First Novel for Death al Dente (making her the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction); and 2018 Best Short Story (in a tie) for “All God’s Sparrows,” her first historical fiction. Her work has also won or been nominated for Derringer, Anthony, and Macavity awards.
A Montana native, Leslie graduated from Seattle University and Notre Dame Law School. After practicing in Seattle for several years—and shopping and eating her way through the Pike Place Market regularly—she returned to Montana, where she still practices law part-time. Her practice focuses on civil litigation and employment law, with an unhealthy dose of criminal law. Killing people—on the page—is more fun.
Leslie served as president of Sisters in Crime (SinC) in 2015-16, and is a founding member of the Guppies, the SinC chapter for new and unpublished writers. She currently sits on the national board of Mystery Writers of America, and is also a member of the Authors of the Flathead and Montana Women Writers.
Leslie loves to cook, eat, hike, travel, garden, and paint—not necessarily in that order. She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, Don Beans, a singer-songwriter and doctor of natural medicine, and their gray Tuxedo, officially named Squirt but usually called Mr. Kitten. Because what else would you call a 15-year-old, 17-pound killer and cuddler who always dresses in formal attire?
What do love most about Seattle’s Pike Place Market?
The food first, of course—fresh, local, wild and wonderful. Creative and colorful, funky and flavorful. But I also adore the vibrance and energy of the place, from the street corner musicians to the flying fish to the artisans who run the craft stalls, and the ever-changing mix of merchants in the “stores with doors.” As a student at Seattle University and then as a young lawyer working downtown, I ate and shopped my way through the Market weekly. It’s a treat to imagine the place from the inside—thanks in part to the merchants and vendors who’ve shared their stories with me—and share it with readers.
Why create another spice shop in the Market?
Because one is never enough! (The famed Market Spice Shop is located in the Market, and World Spice Merchants is just below it, on Western Avenue. Several daystallers also set up shop in the Market, selling lavender, Washington-grown saffron, barbeque sauces, and other herbery and spicery.) I created my own spice shop so I wouldn’t be limited by reality—and so I could kill people.
How on earth can Pepper afford that loft?
I’ve asked myself that, too. All I can say is, it’s fiction. Plus she’s a great scavenger, so most of the furniture and fixings were cheap!
Is there really a Merc, the heart of the Village series?
Readers familiar with Northwest Montana often ask me this. Over the century-plus since the village of Bigfork, my model for Jewel Bay, was founded, there were several mercantiles “downtown,” including one close to the location of my fictional Merc. A sandstone block building on the north end of the village of Bigfork, now a sculptor’s gallery, housed another early Mercantile, and still bears the sign. It closed in the late 1960s when a supermarket was built out on the highway, but my husband remembers visiting it as a child, and I remember similar mercantiles in other Montana towns. I chose to create my own Merc, so I could play around a bit and give Erin her own memories.
What’s next for Pepper?
Pepper’s sixth adventure, set in the Market at Christmas, will be out in the summer of 2022. The working title is Peppermint Barked. Seattle Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece investigates when a young woman working the Christmas rush in her friend’s Vinny’s wine shop is brutally attacked, on the busiest shopping day of the year.
What’s next for Erin?
Erin’s next appearance will be in a short story in Murder at the Mountains: A Destination Murders Short Story Anthology, edited by my friends Karen Cantwell and Cathy Wiley, to be published in February 2022.
What’s next for you?
After making my suspense debut in April 2021 with Bitterroot Lake, written as Alicia Beckman (Crooked Lane Books), I’m channeling Alicia and hatching another suspense novel, set partly in Seattle and partly in Montana. Alicia also has a novel out on submission, so cross your fingers!
Why the pseudonym?
Simply to avoid confusion with my cozies. It’s an open secret, though, so do spread the word that Leslie and Alicia are the same author! The name honors my mother and her family, and I’m delighted with it.
Your series books are often called “cozies.” What is a cozy mystery?
The easy answer is “no graphic sex or violence. Lots of graphic food.” But it’s more than that. Murder disrupts the social order of the community. In any amateur sleuth mystery, there are two parallel investigations. The official investigation by law enforcement restores external order, by bringing the killer into the judicial system. The amateur sleuth has access to information and insights that the police lack, because of her role within the community. She can identify the killer and turn him or her over to law enforcement, but in doing so, she can restore the ruptured social order. And ultimately these books are about community.
Where can I find your books?
They’re available from all bricks-and-mortar bookshops and all on-line booksellers. In Western Montana, find them in Whitefish at Bookworks, in Kalispell at The Bookshelf and Montana Gift & Art at the airport, and in Bigfork, at Roma’s Kitchen Shop and the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center Gift Shop. In Missoula, find them at Fact & Fiction, Barnes & Noble, and Shakespeare and Co. I am a big supporter of independent booksellers, going back to my days as a Teenage Bookseller, and they have been important in my career as an author. Locally-owned and operated retail is critical to our small and big towns, and I hope you can share the love.
My books are also available in libraries across the U.S. and Canada. (I’ve been amazed to see how many Alberta libraries carry them!) Remember you can ask your library to purchase any book—library staff love to know what their patrons want to read.
And here are the books in order:
The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries:
Death al Dente (#1, 2013)
Crime Rib (#2, 2014)
Butter Off Dead (#3, 2015)
Treble at the Jam Fest (#4, 2017; reissued March 2021)
As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles (#5, 2018; to be reissued November 2021)
Carried to the Grave and other stories: A Food Lovers’ Village Collection (#6, May 2021)
The Spice Shop Mysteries:
Assault and Pepper (#1, 2015)
Guilty as Cinnamon (#2, 2015)
Killing Thyme (#3, 2016)
Chai Another Day (#4, 2019)
The Solace of Bay Leaves (#5, 2020)
Watch for Pepper’s next adventure in the summer of 2022!
Written as Alicia Beckman:
Bitterroot Lake (April 2021)
And you write short stories, too?
I do! I’ve included links for those available free on line.
“Coming Clean: A Stagecoach Mary Story,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (Jan/Feb 2021)
“Miss Starr’s Good-bye: A Stagecoach Mary Story,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (Nov/Dec 2019)
“A Death in Yelapa: A Food Lovers’ Village Short Story,” Mystery Most Edible: Malice Domestic Anthology 14 (May 2019)
“All God’s Sparrows: A Stagecoach Mary Story,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May/June 2018, winner (in a tie!) of the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. (Now available as a podcast, narrated by me.)
“With My Eyes,” Suspense Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018, winner of the 2018 Derringer Award for Best Long Story
“Carried to the Grave: A Food Lovers’ Village Short Story,” Summer 2017
“Consequences,” Mysterical E, Summer 2017 (flash)
“The Road Taken,” Mysterical-E, Summer 2011 (flash)
“Thicker than Blood,” Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (2011, Wildside)
“The Afterthought,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, October 2010
“Snow Angels,” Thuglit, May 2008 (listed in “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2008″ in The Best American Mystery Stories, Houghton Mifflin, 2009)
“The End of the Line,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, December 2006 (reprinted in Kings River Life, June 12, 2012; or listen to the AHMM podcast, narrated by me)
“Driving to the Warhouse,” Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, May 1999
Both your series characters—Erin and Pepper—like to read. A little auto-biography, perhaps?
Well, sure! But I find readers are the most interesting people, don’t you?
I didn’t know Pepper was a big fan of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries until she pulled that first book out of her mother’s box. She’s working her way through the series—giving me a chance to reread them—before moving on to Margaret Frazer’s Sister Frevisse books and Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma series.
A reader suggested I compile Pepper’s reading list — it’s on my blog, in three parts.
Erin tends to leave the mysteries to her mother, Fresca, in favor of nonfiction about food. She loves food magazines, and Chiara gives her the annual Best Food Writing anthology for her birthday. She also loves “chef lit,” like Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter and Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant by Scott Haas.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
I’m a big fan of cookbooks where the recipes turn out right every time, because they’re so well-written and tested. A few faves that measure up:
Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table is a delight, with mini-essays about eating in France, clear instructions, and photos that really do look like the dishes!
Lean Italian Cuisine by Anne Casale. Every recipe is perfect: simple, elegant, and easy to follow. Some will suit your taste more than others, but all will turn out like they should. This is an older book, no longer in print, but worth searching out.
The French Country Table: Simple Recipes for Bistro Classics by Laura Washburn. Like Greenspan, Washburn’s cooking is strongly influenced by the great Julia Child, and you’ll be glad of it! Her Macaroni Gratin and Petit Pots au Chocolate are divine.
Of course, I make my own cookbooks in fat, 3-ring binders that hold recipes printed from websites or torn from magazines and catalogs.
Where do you find your recipes?
Some, like the minted fettucine, stuffed mushrooms, and palmiers in Death al Dente are family favorites. My husband created the recipe for Huckleberry-Morel Tenderloin in Crime Rib after feasting on a steak served on a portabello in an Italian restaurant in Monterey. Others are adaptations of recipes in magazines or blogs—I’m a fan of Country Living, David Lebovitz’s blog and cookbooks, the Williams-Sonoma online recipe collection, and Deb Perelman’s “Smitten Kitchen” blog and cookbooks.
Occasionally, I go hunting for a recipe I need—something to fit what’s fresh in the Pike Place Market, or that Laurel in the Spice Shop Mysteries might bring home from Ripe, her downtown deli. The Spice Shop creates its own seasonal spice blends, so I like to offer those recipes and a dish or two highlighting them.
I share a recipe, with photo illustrations, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen on the first, third, and fifth Tuesdays. It’s a terrific blog, with thirteen fabulous writers who cook up recipes and crime, regular guests, and occasional giveaways. Do join us!
By the way, you can browse images that inspired my books on Pinterest, where I’ve created boards for the Spice Shop Mysteries and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, along with boards illustrating my year as Sisters in Crime president, my beloved Montana, and more!
Tell me about the cats on the cover of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries.
Erin’s companion, Mr. Sandburg, is a sable Burmese based on Ruff, who lived with us when the series started but crossed the Rainbow Bridge unexpectedly in May 2016. He was an excellent supervisor as well as a cover model and an avid bird watcher. The standard Burmese coloring is sable—dark brown with black pointing or highlighting on the face and ears, feet, and tails. Even young sable cats may sport flecks of silver—it’s a breed trait, not a sign of age. Burmese resemble their better-known relatives, the Siamese, with a characteristic small, round head and short nose. They tend to be small—a full-grown male may top out at ten pounds. Burmese combine a sweet friendliness with typical cat independence. Ruff often greeted visitors to my husband’s in-home acupuncture clinic and regularly left a dead mouse on the doorstep. Burmese make wonderful pets—especially if you like a cat who talks to you.
Pumpkin, who comes to live with Erin in Butter Off Dead, is a full-figured orange tabby based in personality and appearance on Autumn, who had a long and happy life with us and deserved a place on the page.
These days, we hang with Squirt, a “senior” Russian Blue tuxedo, with a rich gray coat and a quirky personality, who came to live with us when his original owners realized their life-long dream of full-time RV living. Squirt prefers a home that stays put, and settled right in. He, too, greets visitors with enthusiasm, and may be our best hunter yet. He also likes snow. (I told you he was quirky!)
What is Sisters in Crime?
Simply the best group for writers — and readers, and anyone who loves a good mystery — on the planet. Started in 1987 by Sara Paretsky, Nancy Pickard, Margaret Maron, and others, Sisters in Crime is an international organization with nearly 4,000 members, dedicated to promoting the advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers. (Men can join, too.) SInC now has more than 60 chapters in the US and Canada. Programs include We Love Libraries, We Love Bookstores, We Love Short Stories, craft and business education, and much more. Whether you love to read or are thinking of writing, check out SinC!
Will you visit our book club or library, or speak to our writers’ group?
I’d love to join any group for a discussion of my books by Zoom, Skype, FaceTime—you name it! Anywhere in western Montana, I’ll come in person (when it’s safe to do so).
I’m also available to speak and teach at writers’ conferences. I’ve had great fun as a panelist and moderator at all the major mystery fan conventions—Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and Left Coast Crime. If you’re a Sisters in Crime member, you can replay the webcast of my October 2020 talk on common mistakes writers make about the law. I’ve given presentations to Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America chapters, as well as at Colorado Gold, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ conference in Denver; the Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, MT; and the Writers’ Police Academy; and to other writers’ groups across the country, in person or online. I particularly enjoyed teaching a class on building character to high school writing students. References are available. My favorite topics include characterization, setting, publishing, and common mistakes writers make about the law.
Drop me a line for details and references.
How can I get bookmarks? If you’d like bookmarks to share with your book club, library, or friends, drop me a line at leslie at lesliebudewitz dot com with your mailing address.
Recipe corrections: The recipe in Death al Dente for Fettucine with Minted Tomato Sauce is missing the amount of mint. Use 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped.
And in Treble at the Jam Fest, the recipe for Omelet Muffins calls for baking powder in the ingredients and baking soda in the instructions. Use baking powder.