Welcome to Cozy Wednesday!
I am thrilled to have Dorothy St. James stop by for a visit to tell us about her new series!
The Making of a Chocolate Murder
by Dorothy St. James
When I was writing Flowerbed of State (the first book in the White House Gardener Mystery Series) way, way back in 2010, the idea for a mystery series set in a chocolate shop started dancing around in the back of my mind. Why? Because I luuuv chocolate and, you know, you can’t write a book without research!
I knew there were already several popular bakeshop and chocolate shop mystery novels being published, so I wanted to make sure mine was a new and different twist on the theme. So I did some research—yummy research.
Did you know that if a chocolate bar doesn’t state the percent chocolate it contains, it’s not really considered chocolate? Did you also know that there are three main varieties of chocolate beans being commercially grown, but the most flavorful bean is hard to grow and even harder to find in the stores? And did you know even though the cacao bean originates in South America, most of the world’s chocolate production occurs in Africa under some questionable labor practices?
I didn’t know any of that until I started my yummy research. And those facts gave me an idea. My fictional chocolate shop wouldn’t simply create truffles and bonbons. It would be what is called a bean-to-bar chocolate shop. And it would use the most flavorful and rarest cacao bean in the world to create a chocolate that few in the world have ever tasted. Think of it this way. The chocolate you can buy in the stores could be compared with the perfectly round, watery tomatoes grown on large farms. The rare chocolates sold in the Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery Series are like heirloom tomatoes that are bursting with so many flavors it makes your tongue happy.
Now that I knew what kind of chocolate I wanted in my mystery series, I needed to decide where to put this special chocolate shop of my imagination. After thinking it over, there was really only one place the Chocolate Box could be—Folly Beach, South Carolina. That’s the quirky seaside town where I’ve lived for the past twenty years. Folly Beach is perhaps too quirky, so I decided invent a toned-down fictional town for the mystery series. Camilla Beach is a beach town that hasn’t yet been redeveloped into a tourist town. The residents who live on the small island treat each other like family. (Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes that’s not.)
And there had to be a dog. I based Stella, the feisty papillon in the book, on Iona my best girl and a dog I miss with all my heart. I was so, so pleased when my publisher (Crooked Lane Books) used a photograph of my Iona to create the drawing of Stella on the cover of the book.
Finally, I had to come up with a murder. Of course the method of the murder in this first book had to involve some kind of chocolate. But that part was easy. And the rest…? Well, you’ll have to read the book to know how it turns out.
And that’s how a new series was born. I hope you enjoy this special book.
Are you hungry yet? I’m running a contest on my website (http://www.dorothystjames.com/contest.html) where I’m giving away a chocolate bar made using one of the rarest cacao beans in the world. The contest is open until September 30, 2017.
Thank you Dorothy for visiting today!!
Asking for Truffle: A Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery
Brand New Series
Setting – South Carolina
Crooked Lane Books (September 12, 2017)
Hardcover: 304 pages
Kindle ASIN: B06XW8GW16
When Charity Penn receives a letter saying she won a trip to Camellia Beach, South Carolina complete with free cooking lessons at the town’s seaside chocolate shop, The Chocolate Box, she’s immediately skeptical. She never entered any contest. Her former prep school friend offers to look into the phony prize―only to end up drowned in a vat of chocolate.
Struck with guilt, Penn heads to the southern beach town to investigate why he was killed. But as wary as she is of the locals, she finds herself lured into their eccentric vibe, letting her defenses melt away and even learning the art of crafting delicious chocolates. That is, until delight turns bittersweet as she steps straight into the midst of a deadly plot to destroy the seaside town. Now, only Penn’s quick thinking and a mysterious cask of rare chocolate can save the town she’s learning to love.
As soon as I saw this cover pop up on Facebook I knew I needed to read this book! Look at those truffles and the cute puppy.
Ms. St. James starts us out just up the highway from where I am sitting here in Wisconsin, when Charity Penn (Penn) learns she has won a trip to Camellia Beach, South Carolina and The Chocolate Box. Thinking is has to be some kind of scam she doesn’t get too excited. Then a friend, Skinny McGee, says he is going to be in South Carolina area and tells her he will check the place out. After a phone call from Skinny gets cut off and she learns he was found later dead in vat of chocolate, she has no choice but to venture south to find out what happened. She is not welcomed with opened arms by everyone but the ladies at The Chocolate Box are sure happy to see her. But there is something very wrong in Camellia Beach, in addition to the death of her friend, and Penn is not heading back to Madison until she gets to the bottom of it.
I really enjoyed this story. Penn reminds me a little bit of myself, we both have the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” mentality. She has kind of closed herself off due to her upbringing making her very independent but hard for people to get to know. She is clearly an individual that has a deep hurt that has affected her for a long time. Still she hops on a plane to a place unknown to her to find out why her friend was killed. Everyone in the town was sketchy from police chief, to the local lawyer, and even the ladies at the chocolate shop were hiding something. Her skeptical nature serves her well in this town. I appreciated the character development throughout the story while still allowing room for the characters to continue to grow over the course of the series.
The plot itself has several twists giving several viable suspects but I was on the right track early on. I always say, first books in a cozy mystery series are a heavy lift because the author not only has to introduce the main character and the people around them but give us a mystery that clicks with the readers and engages them to come back for future books. The author did that here with an extra twist in the plot away for the murder/s. Something that the reader is unsure about until almost the very end of the story. While the murder was solved she left other questions I need answered. I am definitely excited for the next installment.
Learning about the cacao beans, where they come from and how to work with them was super interesting too. The candy descriptions had be drooling and craving chocolate.
Oh and just a little heads up – that cute little puppy on the cover is a feisty little creature known to bite even her owner. 🙂 She also has to deal with another animal in this story and when it was introduced I could have fallen out my chair laughing.
This series is off to a great start and I am excited to see what happens next.
About The Author
Mystery author Dorothy St. James was born in New York but raised in South Carolina. For the past 20+ years, she made her home on an artsy island community in South Carolina with her husband. Though writing has always been a passion for her, she pursued an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Biology and a graduate degree in Public Administration and Urban Planning. She put her educational experience to use, having worked in all branches and all levels of government including local, regional, state, and federal. She even spent time during college working for a non-profit environmental watchdog organization.
Switching from government service and community planning to fiction writing wasn’t as big of a change as some might think. Her government work was all about the stories of the people and the places where they live. As an urban planner, Dorothy loved telling the stories of the people she met. And from that, her desire to tell the tales that were so alive in her heart grew until she could not ignore it any longer. In 2001, she took a leap of faith and pursued her dream of writing fiction full-time.
* Dorothy St. James is the alter-ego of award-winning multi-published author, Dorothy McFalls. She enjoys writing in several different genres. Her works have been nominated for many awards including: Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, Reviewers International Organization Award, National Reader’s Choice Award, CataRomance Reviewers’ Choice Award, and The Romance Reviews Today Perfect 10! Award. Reviewers have called her work: “amazing”, “perfect”, “filled with emotion”, and “lined with danger.”
Find out more about Dorothy and her books on her webpage here.
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