Award-winning author and judge Debra H. Goldstein writes the Sarah Blair Mysteries as well as two previously published mysteries. Her short stories, which have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, have garnered several prestigious award nominations. Learn more about Debra and her books at her website.
Cozy mysteries are usually defined as mysteries that take place in a confined environment, keep blood and sex off the page, and feature amateur sleuth protagonists who demonstrate a talent for sewing, knitting, or some other craft, or are expert cooks or bakers. This formula wasn’t a problem for me as a reader of cozy mysteries, but it became an issue when I decided to write one.
Not only have I never been good at crafts, I don’t enjoy them. You can get an idea of my expertise in the kitchen by the fact that if I offer to cook dinner more than two nights in a row, my husband insists on going out. Faced with the dilemma of not being able to “write what I know,” I debated whether to give up on the idea of writing a cozy mystery. Then, it hit me!
If I find cooking from scratch terrifying, there must be readers out there like me. Women whose good china is floral paper plates and who only make dishes using pre-made ingredients.
Armed with the idea of creating a non-traditional cozy mystery protagonist, I created Sarah Blair and imbued her with my fear of the kitchen.
Because I knew this type of character and the disasters that might befall her from my own kitchen exploits, I thought it would be simple to write against formula, but I quickly realized that just as any protagonist needs to be fleshed out, a protagonist built around one joke can’t sustain a series. I needed to do extra research to make her a full character.
My research took me behind the scenes of several restaurants, and it made me delve into cookbooks like Peg Bracken’s I Hate To Cook Book and the simplistic recipes appearing in numerous women’s magazines. When I came across a 1950’s recipe for Jell-O in a Can, I knew I’d found the perfect recipe for One Taste Too Many, the first book in the Sarah Blair series.
Not only is Jell-O in a Can easy to make, but the title of the recipe created by Dole Pineapple and Jell-O is memorable and funny. Its humorous aspect sends a subliminal message to readers that although she may not be a traditional cozy protagonist, spending time with Sarah is going to be fun.
Two Bites Too Many, the second book in the Sarah Blair series, which was released this month, continues the dual theme of Sarah doing anything to avoid a kitchen and the series being enjoyable. Apparently, Kensington Publishing, agrees. Kensington originally bought three books, but now has contracted for at least two additional books. Each book will include a grouping of recipes Sarah might make, running from side dishes to drinks. All of Sarah’s recipes are guaranteed to be simple. Of course, the books might contain a few recipes that are a tad more complex because I didn’t abandon the cozy formula entirely.
I may have gone with a non-traditional protagonist, but I gave her a twin sister, Emily, who is a gourmet chef. Although she is a secondary character, Emily shudders at the thought of making anything with pre-made ingredients. Consequently, if I can overcome my fear of typing a recipe for food made from scratch, one of the books may have a “true” cook’s recipe. In the meantime, please enjoy Jell-O in a Can and the Sarah Blair cozy mystery series.
Jell-O in a Can:
20 oz. can of sliced pineapple
1 cup boiling water
Open the can and pour off the pineapple juice, but leave the pineapple in the can. Dissolve the Jell-O in boiling water and permit it to cool slightly before pouring it into the can, over the pineapple. Chill until set.
To serve, run a knife around the inside of the can and either tip it out or push it through using the bottom of the can.
Slice between the pineapple rings and serve.
Two Bites Too Many
A Sarah Blair Mystery, Book 2
Things are finally looking up for Sarah Blair following her unsavory divorce. Settled into a cozy carriage house with her Siamese cat, RahRah, she has somehow managed to hang on to her law firm receptionist job and – if befriending flea-bitten strays at the local animal shelter counts – lead a thriving social life. For once, Sarah almost has it together more than her enterprising twin, Emily, a professional chef whose efforts to open a gourmet restaurant have hit a real dead end…
When the president of the town bank is murdered after icing Emily’s business plans, all eyes are on the one person who left the scene with blood on her hands – the twins’ sharp-tongued mother, Maybelle. Determined to get her mom off the hook ASAP, Sarah must collect the ingredients of a deadly crime to bring the true culprit to justice. But as neighbors turn against her family, can she pare down the suspects before another victim lands on the chopping block?