Michelle Hillen Klump is a former newspaper reporter who covered government, courts and crime throughout Arkansas and Central Texas. Although still a working journalist, she now also writes cozy mysteries. Learn more about Michelle and her books at her website.
In A Dash of Death, Samantha Warren, the former reporter/amateur mixologist protagonist turns to her kitchen in times of trouble. With counters full of drying herbs and jars of infusing spirits, Samantha’s kitchen looks more like a high school chemistry lab than a place to relax. But she does her best thinking while she’s muddling, grinding, or straining one of her homemade concoctions. She’s an expert at handcrafting her own bitters, tinctures, and cocktail syrups, creating interesting flavor combinations, and pairing those flavors perfectly with just the right spirit to make them sing.
At the beginning of the novel, Samantha’s fiancé ends their relationship a few weeks before their wedding, leaving Samantha with a broken heart and 300 bottles of the homemade cherry vanilla bitters she made as gifts for her wedding party. Hoping to help her make lemonade (or at least a fancy cocktail) out of the lemons she’s been dealt, her best friends finagle an invitation for Samantha to serve up cocktails and sell her homemade bitters at the Highland’s Historic Home Tour.
One of the cocktails she serves is the Cherry Gin Fizz. Her recipe is below:
Samantha’s Cherry Gin Fizz
1-1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce cherry simple syrup (see recipe below)
2 dashes cherry bitters
Champagne or other sparkling wine
Add gin, lime juice, cherry simple syrup, and cherry bitters to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled and strain into a coupe glass. Top with champagne. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.
Cherry Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh pitted cherries, chopped
Boil water and sugar; stir until sugar is dissolved. Add cherries and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until cherries have softened. Remove mixture from heat and mash cherries with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Allow mixture to cool and strain through a fine-mesh strainer, removing cherry bits.
The mixture can be refrigerated for up to a month and used in cocktail recipes or to flavor lemonades or other drinks.
A Dash of Death
A Cocktails and Catering Mystery, Book 1
Bad news for Samantha Warren: the plucky Houston, Texas, reporter lost her job and her fiancé in rapid succession. But Sam has a way of making lemonade out of the bitterest of lemons. At a meeting of the local historical-homes council, she serves up the homemade bitters that she made as gifts for her wedding party. She intends to use that as her “in” to become an in-demand party mixologist. But the party’s over for one of the council members, who keels over dead soon after he sips the bereft bride’s bitter brew.
It turns out that the victim, Mark, was poisoned—his drink spiked with oleander. Since Sam mixed the drink that Mark imbibed right before his demise, she finds herself at the front of the suspect line. Now she’ll have to use all her reporter’s wisdom and wiles to clear her name.
Who could have wanted Mark dead? His wife, Gabby? His girlfriend, Darcy? Someone who wanted his seat on the council? Or another citizen of this sweet Texas town that holds some seedy secrets?
Job hunting, building her mixology business, and fending off late-night phone calls from her nearly betrothed don’t leave much time for sleuthing. But if Sam can’t “pour” over the clues to find the killer, it may soon be the last call for her.