It’s been a hot, dry spring in Westbury, Massachusetts. As organic farmer Cam Flaherty waits for much-needed rain, storm clouds of mystery begin to gather. Once again, it’s time to put away her sun hat and put on her sleuthing cap when a fellow farmer is found dead in a vat of hydroponic slurry—clutching a set of rosary beads. Showers may be scarce this spring, but there’s no shortage of suspects, including the dead woman’s embittered ex-husband, the Other Man whose affair ruined their marriage, and Cam’s own visiting mother. Lucky for Cam, her nerdy academic father turns out to have a knack for sleuthing. Will he and Cam be able to clear Mom’s name before the killer strikes again?
Keeping A Series Fresh
The Local Foods Mysteries are cozy, with a small-town protagonist, a crew of series regulars who pop up again in book after book, and a setting readers grow to know and love. Of course every book includes a new murder victim or two, a new method of killing, new suspects, and a new villain. But one of the core elements of cozies is that familiar small town setting, even if the small town is a village within a big city, and those familiar characters.
So how do I keep my stories from getting boring after five books, or myself—and my readers—from getting bored?
Certainly those new aspects I mentioned help. I love researching unusual ways to knock people off—fictionally, of course. Lucy Zahray, a Texan pharmacologist, gives talks on readily available poisons at mystery conferences, and I’ve picked up several from her, including the method in Mulched. Yes, if the NSA is listening in, I’m definitely on the watch list.
Coming up with a fresh crew of suspects is always fun. Who might have reason to kill a new-to-town hydroponic farmer, for example? All but one will be a red herring, and I hope I keep you strung along until very close to the end.
So far I haven’t taken my protagonist out of town, but that’s another trick authors use in long-running series. She has occasion to go to Maine, California, or Italy for a book, and sure enough, becomes embroiled in a murder case there, too. Nobody wants their town to turn into Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, because everybody dies there!
Another thing I do is send a supporting character away for a book. We don’t need all of them in every episode. My farmer’s youngest volunteer went off on a spring break service project in Murder Most Fowl, book four, for example.
Most important is to keep my protagonist growing, changing, learning. I especially don’t want her to stagnate and be the same in every book.
Readers: What’s your favorite mystery series, cozy or otherwise? Which authors do long series best, and which have bombed at it?
Agatha-nominated mystery author
A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens (and wastes time as a Facebook addict) north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and at www.edithmaxwell.com.