Attention dog lovers who also love mysteries. (Or mystery lovers who also love dogs.)
A few years ago, a dear friend read my romantic mystery and said she liked it, although she got tired of hearing about the dog in the story, which made me laugh. I LOVE DOGS! In fact, I’ve even got a series of children’s middle grade novels where the main character is a dog. So it should be fairly obvious that I’m crazy for dogs and they’re going to crop up in my writing. ;-)
ACF Bookens and I are cut from the same cloth that way. She loves dogs too, has one of her own, and in the excerpt from Publishable by Death, the first book in the St. Marin’s cozy series that she reads to us, there are no less than four dogs mentioned. A writer after my own heart.
In the intro I also mention another podcast you might like called Mysteryrat’s Maze. Episodes consist of mystery short stories, and first chapters of mystery novels, read by local actors. To listen to the episodes, and subscribe to the podcast, you can go to mysteryratsmaze.podbean.com, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and more.
This week’s mystery author
ACF Bookens lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with her dog Meander (the fictional Mayhem’s inspiration) and her young son. She loves books almost more than people, and when she’s not chasing a toddler or writing, she appreciates a good cross-stitch pattern and a British murder mystery on TV.
To learn more about ACF Bookens and all her books, visit her website.
Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher, Android, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, and Spotify.
Excerpt from Publishable by Death
It was a brisk March morning as I walked away from the cove toward Main Street in St. Marin’s, Maryland. In the shadow of the buildings, I was just beginning to see the tops of daffodils poking up their heads, but today, I tugged the hood of my long sweater up higher on my head and pulled the collar of my peacoat closed. Short hair was perfect for the warmer days – and for owning my ever-graying locks – but in these cold months, I sometimes missed my long ponytail. Spring was coming, but it didn’t feel much like it today. We’d had ice overnight, and while the temperature had gone above freezing already, the roads were still wet and ice clung to the edge of puddles.
Still, I practically skipped down the sidewalk, even though skipping isn’t always that flattering on a slightly plump forty-four-year-old. I didn’t care. This was going to be the first weekend my new bookstore was open.
I slid my key into the lock on the front door of the old gas station and put a little muscle into turning it in the glass-fronted door. As I swung it open, I took a minute to enjoy the little bell above my head as it chimed. That bell had been hanging over that door as long as anyone in town could remember, so every long-time resident of St. Marin’s told me when they stopped by to say hi and take a gander at the newest shop in their – I mean, our quaint town. I loved that bell, not just because it was part of the charm of this building, but because I looked forward to hearing it when it meant people were visiting my bookshop.
I had just come back to St. Marin’s the previous October. I visited when I was a kid on a summer trip from our family home over near Baltimore, and I’d never forgotten the charm and friendliness of this waterside community.
I hadn’t had much time to socialize since coming back though. I’d hit the ground running because I wanted the shop open as soon as possible. I needed the income to help build my book inventory, but also to be able to help pay the mortgage. My best friend Mart – an expert on wineries – was helping cover the bills for our house since she had a good paying job at a local up-and-coming winery nearby and was consulting all over the East Coast. I felt kind of bad living off of Mart’s generosity, especially since she had basically followed me here from the West Coast when I’d decided to live my dreams and open a bookstore back here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but I knew that Mart didn’t mind and that I’d pay my friend back in time.
Today, though, I needed to finish painting the brick walls at the front of the store. I loved the charm of the old red bricks that I figured had probably been made nearby, but years of smokers and exhaust had made them dingy and smelly . . . so a good whitewashing helped spiff them up and made the shop look cozy instead of dirty. I wanted the place to recall the old gas station that it originally was, just not too much.
I had to get the window displays ready, too. In the north window that had once been the station office, I was putting up a collection of books about Harriet Tubman, the woman St. Marin’s was honoring this weekend in their annual Harriet Tubman Festival. Tubman had been enslaved just down the road a piece, and this annual festival honored her memory and her work on the Underground Railroad while also trying to educate people about the history and continuing legacy of slavery. Local historians and genealogists were going to be giving talks all over town, and I was hoping that Catherine Clinton, the woman who wrote my favorite book on Tubman, might come by and sign the copies of her book for the shop since she was in town for a presentation at the local library.
In the other window, which had opened onto the actual garage section of the gas station, I wanted to put out some of my favorite gardening books, including titles that ranged from how to build and maintain a raised-bed vegetable garden to how to start a cut flower business. I’d asked around about what kind of gardeners were in the community and quickly found out that St. Mariners were passionate about their plants. I took that intel to heart and stocked books in a sizable garden section near the rear of the store, where I had also placed a wingback chair upholstered in floral fabric, one of my favorite antique store finds.
The rest of the store was equally cozy with big armchairs, lots of tables where readers could set a mug of something warm, and dog beds positioned strategically to accommodate any pup, but especially Mayhem my new rescue puppy. Mayhem had been named Maxine at the shelter, and I had picked her because she was – it seemed – the calmest in the litter. As soon as I got her home, though, the little gal had started chewing anything wooden that she could find – a beautiful piece of driftwood I had picked up on Bodega Beach, one of the wine barrel staves that Mart had brought home to use for a sign by our house, even the table leg of the farm table we had purchased at a yard sale back in November. Plus, Aslan, my cat, took immediately to hiding under my bed anytime the puppy was nearby because the dog desperately wanted to be her friend. I had started calling her Mayhem as a joke, and the name stuck.
Fortunately, the Black Mouth Cur – a friend on Facebook had told me that was Mayhem’s breed after seeing a picture – had no affinity for chewing books. She was already a fixture at the shop, often taking up residence in a sunbeam coming through the north window while I worked. If nothing else, her presence was sure to bring business if the number of people who stopped to talk to her through the glass was an indication.
Today, I had left her home to rest up. I hoped tomorrow’s shop traffic would be heavy, and Mayhem insisted on greeting everyone who came in. The puppy needed to conserve her energy.
Once, on a trip to visit a friend in Denver, I had visited a bookstore in Frisco, Colorado, and had loved that the owner’s Bernese Mountain Dog had free reign of the shop. I had vowed then and there that I’d have an open door policy for pooches if I ever was able to fulfill my dream of owning my own bookstore.
My own bookstore. I stopped mid-paint stroke and let out a long heavy breath. I’d done it. I’d finally done it. Tomorrow, I was opening my own bookstore. I shivered a little with excitement.
The bell rang over the door, and in came Woody Isherwood, the town woodworker. Woody was a white man about seventy, short and stout like a teapot, and I imagined he had been able to lift most anything back in the day.
I had come to know him when Mayhem had gotten her teeth into an antique table at one of the local store’s sidewalk sales and I had needed to buy the table and then have it repaired. Woody had done a splendid job of turning the small console table into a cute little stool that was perfect for that garden section wing chair. So, when I decided I wanted a wood-burned sign for the shop, I’d contacted Woody first thing.
Now, here he was, ready to hang his creation. The sign was made from several planks of reclaimed wood that Woody got from an old tobacco barn down the road, and the shop name – All Booked Up – was burned deep into the gray wood. It was the perfect blend of rustic and nautical, and I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.
“Woody, thank you so much. I can’t wait to see it up there.”
“You’re most welcome, Harvey. But before I hang it, I have a question for you.”
“Sure.” I sat down on the edge of the platform I’d built by the south window for future readings by local and visiting authors. “What’s your question?”
“Woody looked a little sheepish behind his silver beard, but he looked me in the eye and said, “Your given name Harvey?”
I smiled. I got this question a lot, especially from the old-timers over here in the rural Eastern Shore. One old fellow had even gone so far as to say, “That’s a man’s name. Your folks must’ve wanted a boy.”
“My name is Anastasia Lovejoy Beckett. At least that’s what my birth certificate says, but I never felt much like an Anastasia, and Lovejoy is what everyone called my granny. So somewhere along the way, my dad just started calling me Harvey, and it stuck.”
Woody grinned. “I could call you Stacy if you’d like to go back to your roots.”
“No thank you,” I nearly shouted. “Harvey is just fine.”
“Woody laughed and then glanced out the window. “Ah, there’s my assistant for the day.”
I stood up and saw a thin, dark-haired, white man in coveralls coming to the door. I ran a hand through my short, graying hair and was embarrassed to find it coated in a thin layer of paint splatter. You can’t take me anywhere.
The door chimed, and the man walked in. Woody nodded at the man.
“Harvey Beckett, I expect you know Daniel Galena from the garage up the street.”
“Nice to meet you, Harvey.”
I took a step forward and used the second to catch my breath. This man was super handsome in down-home kind of way, and he had a dimple in his right cheek. I never had been able to resist a dimple. “Ah, you’re the infamous St. Marin’s mechanic.” I put out my hand. “Nice to meet you.”
His smile grew. “And you’re the brave woman who has decided our decrepit gas station needs new life.”
I felt the color rise to my cheeks. “It’s a beautiful building. I’m honored to fill it again. Do you read?”
This time, Daniel blushed. “Oh no, ma’am. I mean I love books, but I’m not much of a reader myself. More hands-on.” He held his hands out in front of him, and I noticed that they were calloused and a bit dirty. It was endearing.
“Ah, well, we’re not all book people in this world. For my part, I have trouble finding the thingy that releases my hood, and the best description of a car I can give is its color. I drive a blue car, for the record.”
“A midnight blue 2012 Subaru Outback,” he said without hesitation.
“You’ve seen my car.”
He grinned. “It’s a small town, and I know cars.”
Woody cleared his throat, and Harvey realized that she’d kind of been flirting. The woodsmith gave her a wink and said, “You ready to help the lady with this sign?”
“Yes sir. Let’s get this up so that it’s ready for grand opening. Tomorrow, right?”
“Yep. I hope you’ll both come. We’ll have food and The Watermen – the band not the actual fishermen – are going to play. It’ll be a fun night.”
“The Mrs. and I will be here. I hear it’s alright if we bring along Missy.”
“Of course. Children are always welcome.”
Woody let out a roar of a laugh. “Oh Missy’s our Chesapeake Bay Retriever.”
I blushed and smiled. “Well, still true. Definitely bring Missy. Mayhem will be here. We’re a dog-friendly shop.”
“In that case,” Daniel said, “Maybe I’ll bring Taco.”
I felt my smile grow wider. “Not your son, I take it.”
It was Daniel’s turn to laugh. “I don’t have any kids, and I certainly hope I wouldn’t name one of them Taco. No, he’s my Basset Hound.”
“I love Basset Hounds.” As if this guy wasn’t already catching my eye, he was the owner of one of my favorite breeds. I was probably doomed.
Woody opened the door, and the bell rang again. “We’ll get this up in a jiffy, Harvey. See you tomorrow.”
I had been excited before, but now, people were really coming. Dogs, too. And Daniel, well, that might just be a little bonus.