Last month, the boys and I met my mom and dad in Williams, Arizona to tour the Grand Canyon and Bearizona. In between eating (which tends to be a major activity in our travels), visiting haunted coffee shops and of course, standing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I read Still Life in Brunswick Stew by Larissa Reinhart. If you’ve never been to Williams, it’s a small town and the perfect place to get into this map cap mystery about Cherry Tucker, an artist and the anti Southern Belle who defies her cop boyfriend and all common sense to find out who killed her best friend who ate poisoned stew at the Sidewinder Annual Brunswick Stew Cook-Off.
Cherry has a great talent for stumbling into compromising situations with her ex-husband, as well as stalking the wrong suspects which makes the real killer’s revelation all the more surprising and poignant. Even though this is the second book in the series, it stands on its own two feet. If you like cozy mysteries with sass, then you’ll love Still Life in Brunswick Stew and end up getting the entire series just to find out exactly how Cherry ended up in a love triangle with her boyfriend and her ex, how she tangled with Max and see more hair-pulling between her and her high school nemesis!
Q&A with Larissa Reinhart
What is your inspiration for Cherry?
I have somewhat of a background in art, so having an artist heroine felt natural. I’m also from a small town, so that kind of story setting was also in my wheelhouse. The characters came to me first, and I felt the story and voice gravitated toward a humorous romance, but I wanted to plot it as a mystery. My family and I were living in Japan at the time, and not long after these ideas began to stir, my father died. I flew back to my hometown to live with my mother for about a month and that’s when the story really started to congeal. A few days after my father’s funeral, I saw a local news story about a small town thug that had been murdered and I told my mother, “I’m going to have an artist paint a coffin painting of a murdered man. Her name is Cherry Tucker.” And because my mom knows me well, she just gave me a nod and went about her business.
What is the most challenging part of writing small town mysteries?
For me, I want to characterize the small town fairly. There are pros and cons to small town life and it was important to me that these points remained balanced. Yes, everybody knows your business and that can be annoying, but it also means you live in a community where people can watch your back. Interesting people live in small towns. They don’t always have to be the stereotypes you often see depicted in small town stories. The town I grew up in was smaller than Halo, only six hundred people. As a teenager it felt claustrophobic, but as an adult I can reexamine the individuals and see some unique stories.
What is the best part of writing these stories?
I love seeing the characters changing from one-dimensional characterizations to real characters. For example, I never intended for Todd and Max to become such strong anchors in Cherry’s supporting cast. I love how these characters take a life of their own as I’m writing. You’ll hear other authors talk about this strange phenomenon. I love those kinds of surprises as I’m writing. It makes the work feel fresh and exciting.
How many more adventures will we have with Cherry?
I hope many more to come! HIJACK IN ABSTRACT, is Cherry’s third mystery, which releases in November. Max plays an even bigger role in this book. There’s also truckers, methheads, copper thieves, and an Eastern European immigration lawyer with an antebellum mansion in Buckhead, the richest part of Atlanta. When her Uncle Will, the sheriff, asks Cherry to sketch a composite portrait of a hijacker, she finds herself involved in a related murder while trying to save her local reputation after the town labels her a “pervert artist” for some classical nudes bought by the Buckhead lawyer.
I’m also thrilled to have a Cherry Tucker prequel novella, QUICK SKETCH, in the mystery anthology, THE HEARTACHE MOTEL, coming out in December. Two other Henery Press authors, LynDee Walker and Terri L. Austin, also have stories set at the Heartache, a sketchy Elvis-themed motel in Memphis. We’ve all got Elvis impersonators and drag queens in our stories and had so much fun writing together. QUICK SKETCH is a prequel to PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY. Cherry and Todd are on their way to Vegas with a side stop at Graceland to help Todd’s cousin who has fallen victim to a scam. Of course, we all know what happened in Vegas, but Cherry and Todd don’t, so that novella was particularly fun to write.
Cherry Tucker’s fourth mystery is due to my editor in December, so look for that in 2014. I’m excited to dive back in to her world with a new mystery and more tangles in her personal life.
About Larissa Reinhart