Arson, a bad beating, and a recluse who claims someone is trying to kill her all collide in this third Blue Plate Café Mystery with Kate Chambers. Torn between trying to save David Clinkscales, her old boss and new lover, and curiosity about Edith Aldridge’s story of an attempt on her life, Kate has to remind herself she has a café to run. She nurses a morose David, whose spirit has been hurt as badly as his body, and tries to placate Mrs. Aldridge, who was once accused of murdering her husband but acquitted. One by one, Mrs. Aldridge’s stepchildren enter the picture. Is it coincidence that David is Edith Aldridge’s lawyer? Or that she seems to rely heavily on the private investigator David hires? First the peacocks die…and then the people. Everyone is in danger, and no one knows who to suspect.
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The countryside east of Dallas is dotted with small towns, some with populations under a thousand. Each town has at least one country-style café. If you take the interstate you whiz right but if you meander on the old highways, as I love to do, you go smack through the middle of town after town.
Hungry? How do you know which café might have really good home-style cooking? One guide my family and I have found reliable is the number of pick-ups parked outside. Only one or two cars, no pick-ups? Drive right on by. Seven pick-ups in varying ages and condition? You might stop at that one.
The town of Edom has boasted raftsmen for years—several potters, an artist who works in leather, another whose medium is oils, a silversmith. It also has a restaurant called The Shed. You’ll find a lot of pick-ups in the dirt lot outside the shed, and on Sunday morning, churchgoers gather to sit on the wide porch and exchange small talk while they wait for a table.
Inside, customers are seated at tables of four—with one for eight—and mismatched old wooden chairs, as though several grandmothers had cleaned out their attics. The menu is on a chalkboard, but everyone knows that Saturday night’s special is fried catfish and lemon meringue pie. My children and I used to eat at The Shed often when we visited family friends who had acreage nearby.
In 2014, I was writing urban mysteries set in Fort Worth—the Kelly O’Connell Mystery Series—but I itched to start a new series and set it in a small town. I felt from visiting several friends who live in small Texas towns I could capture the atmosphere, and indeed one friend said, “You get small-town life.” But what would the specific setting be? My urban mysteries featured a real estate broker who specialized in renovating Craftsman houses. I could hardly transport her to a small town where there are no Craftsman structures.
The Shed came to my mind and stayed. The protagonist of the stories, Kate Chambers, grew up in Wheeler (fictional) where her grandmother ran the local café—the Blue Plate Café When Gram is murdered, Kate and her two inherit the café, and Kate buys out Donna’s half. Having gone to Dallas to seek her fortune, Kate has to learn the ways of her hometown all over again plus run the café at a profit—and solve a couple of murders and a food poisoning that nearly closes the café.
The series opens with Murder at the Blue Plate Café, and continues with Murder at the Tremont House, in which Kate’s ditzy sister tries to open a B&B to capture the increasing tourist trade And then there’s Murder at Peacock Mansion which involves Kate with an old and unsolved murder and a contested legacy. Peacocks? Yes, some ranchers in that part of Texas keep the screeching birds.
About the author:
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West. In The Gilded Cage she has turned her attention to the late nineteenth century in her home town, Chicago, to tell the story of the lives of Potter and Cissy Palmer, a high society couple with differing views on philanthropy and workers’ right. She is also the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series. With the 2014 publication of The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries.
Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame. http://judyalter.com/