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Landscape architect Tory Benning returns in a holiday mystery tied up with a bow!
Still struggling with the death of her husband, Tory Benning is doing her best to get into the festive spirit of the holiday season, but when her landscaping company’s email is hacked and there’s a break-in at the office, it’s enough to make her see red. And then the unthinkable happens, when the owner of a specialty food truck is brutally slain at the company’s Christmas tree lot, and Tory finds herself mired in murder once again.
With a long list of suspects—including an untold number of revelers disguised in Santa suits, seasonal employees handling tree sales, and even a vengeful jilted suitor—the police investigation grinds along slowly and methodically. But as Tory begins piecing together clues on her own, she finds she’s the target of a menacing stalker who may be out to do more than just scare her. Refusing to be intimidated, Tory vows to nab the culprit, even if it means that catching a Christmas killer has become her lot in life…
Character Guest Post for Brooke Blogs: Tory Benning
(author Judith Gonda’s MC)
Hi everyone! I’m Tory Benning. Thank you, Brooke, for inviting me to post on Brooke Blogs today! I’m so happy to be here! Let me give you a brief introduction. I’m thirty-three. I’m a landscape architect based in Santa Sofia, California. When my father passed away, I stepped into his role as president of Benning Brothers, our family landscape design and nursery business. My life has been hectic ever since, working on projects and drumming up business. I’m five foot three, have green eyes, and blonde highlights in my dark blonde hair aka the frizz meter, a proven measure of the amount of moisture in marine-layer-laden Santa Sofia. I have a cream sable rescue Pomeranian named Iris and a black cat called Otis. I’m currently single, not by choice, since my new husband disappeared on our wedding day. You can find out the details of that highly stressful period of my life in MURDER IN THE SECRET MAZE. The silver lining to that horrible time is that I discovered I’m a pretty good amateur sleuth, if I don’t mind saying so myself. I also developed some new friendships and a new passion, seeking justice for the wrongly accused—that’s where my amateur sleuth skills come in handy.
Santa Sofia is a small town in Santa Barbara County, about twelve miles north of the city of Santa Barbara. I’ve lived here my whole life, except for college and grad school at USC in Los Angeles. Santa Sofia has a strong artist community which accounts for all the art galleries situated on our downtown’s main drag, the Avenue. Along with gourmet restaurants that showcase locally sourced ingredients, boutiques, and other retail shops, the Avenue is a little street that oftentimes finds some big names, visitors staying at the Hotel Santa Sofia resort, browsing its sidewalk stores.
Santa Sofia’s other main drag, the Promenade, borders the coastline. The aforementioned Hotel Santa Sofia is a twenty-five-acre luxury resort that attracts people from all over the world to visit their luxurious Mediterranean-styled hotel and bungalows on the Promenade overlooking the ocean. I designed and oversaw the renovation of their grounds a couple of years ago, adding a Hidden Garden and a Secret Maze to their lush property.
I love living in Santa Sofia for many reasons, my network of family and friends, its location right on the Pacific Ocean and nestled in the Santa Ynez mountains, its cozy atmosphere. It’s especially pretty at Christmas. Our main downtown drag, The Avenue, is decorated with white twinkle lights, evergreen garlands, poinsettias, and rustic twig reindeer. Many of the shops, restaurants and cafes tie in with the reindeer theme and add their own touches with trees, wreaths, and shiny ornaments. Last year my BFF Ashley Payne, a lawyer, tried to arrange for a Christmas romance to top off the season by creating dating app profiles for us both. As if that didn’t shake up my efforts to regain emotional equilibrium enough, a spate of people in Santa outfits showed up at our Benning Brothers’ Christmas tree lot making it feel like the site for the Santa Sofia branch of SantaCon. Things got worse when I discovered a body in the aisles of trees. I’m happy to report that my sleuthing helped track down the culprit and save someone who was wrongly accused from going to jail. To find out more, check out MURDER IN THE CHRISTMAS TREE LOT.
My latest project was designing a community garden adjacent to a new condominium project developed by the Hotel Santa Sofia corporation. It takes place a year later, post-pandemic, and Ashley and I become even closer besties since we bonded over Kpop during lockdown. But on opening day of the community garden, a brouhaha develops, about Hotel Santa Sofia exec Mac MacGregor’s stolen prize cabbage that results in, yep, you guessed it, another body. I hope you’ll be able to join me and my friends in my latest adventure, coming in 2022, MURDER IN THE COMMUNITY GARDEN.
In the meantime, thanks again, Brooke, for having me on your blog and Happy Holidays to all! Best wishes for a healthy and Happy New Year!
About the Author
Judith Gonda is a mystery writer and Ph.D. psychologist with a penchant for Pomeranians and puns, so it’s not surprising that psychology, Poms, and puns pop up in her amateur sleuth mysteries featuring landscape architect Tory Benning.