“We hid the body. The money belonged to everyone, but we stole it for ourselves. You have to help me give it back before it’s too late. If I don’t stop this, that money’s gonna drag us all straight down to hell.”
With these words, whispered to hospital chaplain Lindsay Harding as part of a cryptic confession, the stage is set for another intricately-plotted Mount Moriah mystery. All signs point to murder, but no one can find any trace of a body. Lindsay’s sure not all is as it seems, but she’ll need true grit and quick wit to follow a trail back through history to Burnt Island, a remote patch of North Carolina swampland.
Lindsay’s task is complicated by the shifting landscape of her personal life. After pre-wedding jitters jeopardize a relationship that seemed destined to be her best shot at happily-ever-after, Lindsay falls under the spell of a charming stranger. Whether she gets another chance at love will depend on following her heart…and on whether she can keep that heart beating long enough to unlock the mystery of Burnt Island.
A former boss once called me “charmingly passive aggressive.” Since he said this in front of dozens of people at a party in my honor, I think he meant it as a compliment. The story he used to illustrate his point involved me trying desperately to encourage him to sign off on some page proofs that needed to be sent to the printer. We, his underlings, had made changes and needed him to give the final okay. It was a quick but tedious task, and he kept avoiding it. But darn it all, these booklets were going out to thousands of people, and this needed to be done! I emailed the proofs to him multiple times. I asked his secretary to put reminders in his calendar. Finally, when I knew he was going to have a free half hour, I bought an enormous cookie and stationed myself outside his office. When he arrived, I told him that I was going to sit there and review the proofs with him. It would take about 20 minutes, and then when he was finished, he could have the cookie.
The threat of a tiny, tenacious American woman staging a sit-in in his office was too much for this upper-crust Brit, and he finally completed the task. Career advancement advice: if you’re going to try this, make sure your boss has a good sense of humor and that you buy a really top-notch cookie. This cookie was macadamia white chocolate chip. I rest my case.
So what does force-feeding your boss a cookie have to do with cozy mysteries? Well, the lesson of the cookie, I think, is that a dose of humor, delivered at the right time, can soften unpleasant things. I write about murder, which, at its core, is just about the most unpleasant thing you can imagine. And if I’m going to write about something as dark and sinister as murder, I need to do it with a spoon full of sugar (or a gigantic cookie) firmly in my grasp.
If you know anything about my books, you’ll know that not only do the plots revolve around killing, but they also have a hospital chaplain as their protagonist. Working with the sick and dying in that setting is surely one of the most serious, emotionally-taxing jobs out there. And murder is about the least funny topic you can imagine. So why am I making these books funny?
Here’s the thing. I think the topics chaplains deal with—life, death, betrayal, truth, fear, and meaning—are incredibly important to explore. They are literally the most important things we’ll ever try to understand in our own dumb little human way. I simply couldn’t write books where the “big” questions revolved around which pair of Louboutins to wear on a hot date. Writing with humor allows me to confront big, thorny issues without getting preachy or schmaltzy or depressing. And, honestly, even though great drama comes along with murder and mayhem, what I’m really interested in are the relationships between people. The murders in my stories are catalysts that drive the plot and change the ways the characters relate to each other. For me, there is always room for humor in our interactions with each other, and the grimmer the task or the topic, the more the humor is needed.
This isn’t to say that my books are flippant, or that they gloss over negative experiences or emotions. (Okay, maybe having a scene with a rampaging squirrel in a bathroom right next to a scene where somebody gets shot is a wee bit irreverent). What I hope is that my books will reflect my belief that negative experiences and emotions are inevitable parts of life, and that cookies can provide a moment of sweetness even in sour times.
About the Author
She has won a number of awards for her short stories, including the 2013 Bloody Scotland prize. Her non-fiction writing includes an academic article co-authored with the researcher who created Dolly the Sheep. More recently, she was project manager of the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, a research clinic founded in Scotland by the author J.K. Rowling. Her work as the coordinator of a pastoral services program at the Duke University Medical Center provided the inspiration for her bestselling Reverend Lindsay Harding mystery series.
She lives in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA, with her Civil War history professor husband, their daughter, and their miniature Schnauzer.