Culinary cozies with a touch of the islands.
Catherine Bruns writes in several different series of her own and has also contributed to a multi-author series set in Hawai’i. As with so many authors, including yours truly, Catherine works full-time and squeezes her writing around the edges of that full day.
For the second time in two weeks I’m introduced to a food dish I’d never heard of: Loco Moco. The dish originated in Hilo and consists of rice, a hamburger patty, a fried egg and gravy. Have you ever had it?
Today’s show is supported by my patrons at Patreon. Thank you! When you become a patron for as little as $1 a month you receive a short mystery story each and every month. And the rewards for those who love mystery stories go up from there! Learn more and become a part of my community of readers at www.Patreon.com/alexandraamor
This week’s mystery author
Catherine Bruns is the USA Today bestselling author of the Cookies & Chance mysteries. She lives in New York with her very patient husband, three sons, and several spoiled pets.
She also writes the Italian Chef mysteries, Cindy York real estate and Carrie Jorgenson (Aloha Lagoon) culinary series. Her book, For Sale by Killer, won the 2019 Daphne du Maurier award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense.
To learn more about Catherine and all her books visit CatherineBruns.net
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 It Cannoli Be Murder
Willow’s sapphire eyes went wide with shock. “You. You’re Gabby’s cousin from the book signing. Tessa something. The one who made the cannoli. What are you doing in our pantry? Where’s Marta?”
I spoke slowly and methodically, hoping that panic wasn’t evident in my voice. “Oh, hi, Willow. I was hoping to see your mother. Marta’s upstairs vacuuming.” I didn’t mention Gabby and prayed Marta wouldn’t reappear and mention her either. “How’d your father’s signing go today?”
“It was canceled. Daddy had to go to New York City to meet with his agent and a film producer. They’re turning his new book into a movie.” Her jaw tightened. “But I still don’t know why you’re in our kitchen.”
“I couldn’t help checking out your mother’s impressive ingredients. I’m in awe of her talent.” My lies were going to catch up with me soon.
“Are you here alone?”
“Of course.” If Gabby was found, things would get worse. I hoped she’d overhear our exchange and head for the car. “Your mother keeps a well-stocked pantry.”
“That’s right. Mother said you were a chef.” Willow gave a smug smile. “She must have been jealous of you. She can barely manage to turn on an oven without help.”
I was surprised to hear her admit it. “You’re not a fan of her show?”
Willow shrugged. “It’s all right. Mother gets paid a ridiculous amount of money for doing nothing. She hates to cook. You know how some mothers bake cookies with their kids?”
“Yes.” How I yearned to do that someday.
“Not my mother,” she said in annoyance. “I made cookies with Marta instead. She’s the one who has taken care of me since I was a baby. Mother was always too busy trying to be in the limelight. The high society princess. Wife of a famous author. No time to be a parent. Honestly, I’m not quite sure why she even bothered to have me.”
“Why are you telling me this?” It seemed weird that she’d share all of this intimate information with a stranger. It also sounded like she resented Sylvia.
“Why not? It makes no difference if you or the entire world knows. I’m sick and tired of being their puppet. As soon as I turn twenty-one and get my trust fund, I’m out of here. They’re both so self-centered they couldn’t care less what happens to me.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.” I wondered if she knew about Daphne’s baby and decided to fan the flame a bit. “It’s too bad that your parents never had more children. I’m an only child too and would have loved a brother or sister.”
“That was never an option,” Willow said. “My mother had a hysterectomy right after I was born. She said there were complications with the delivery.” To my surprise, she gave a low chuckle. “Maybe deep down she’s always resented me for it. Perhaps I should have studied psychology. I’d have a field day between the two of them.”
Wow. Bitter much? Boy, had I been wrong. I’d thought Willow wanted to keep her parents together, when in fact all she wanted to do was get away from them. I couldn’t resist delving a little further, and knew I was stepping into dangerous territory. “Daphne was only a few years older than you. Did you ever confide in her?”
A look of disgust came over her face. “Are you kidding? I wanted nothing to do with that tramp. All she cared about was getting her filthy hands on my father’s money. Money that will one day belong to me.”
“Were you jealous of her?” Daphne had been pretty enough to be a model, while Willow was unfortunately lacking in the looks department. Her blue eyes, while striking like her father’s, were small and too close together in her well-rounded face. Her nose was flat, and her cheeks bore several acne scars.
Willow’s eyes grew in size and practically bugged out of her head at my comment. “Jealous? Of her? Please. She tried to tell me what to do and was always offering stupid suggestions for the website. That was my creation, my baby. Not hers.”
She suddenly quieted, as if realizing she’d said too much, and then shot me a look of clear contempt. “Look. We all know that it was your cousin who killed Daphne. She was bullied by her in high school and obviously held a grudge all these years. At least that’s what my mother and father said. Now I think you ought to—”
A door slammed and Sylvia’s voice rang out. “Willow? Where are you, dear?”
Willow’s face paled, and mine must have as well. I should have gotten out of here sooner. Before I even had a chance to react, Sylvia appeared in the doorway behind her daughter.
“What’s this?” Sylvia surveyed me with a haughty expression, like I was a speck of dirt on a spotless floor. “What in the world are you doing here?”
She shot me a look so intense it could have melted the skin off my face. Heat burned my cheeks, and for a moment I worried that she’d succeeded.
“Tessa said she wanted to see your kitchen.” Willow glanced from me to her mother, her mouth quivering at the corners. She must have been hoping a war would break out.
Sylvia kept her eyes glued to my face as she waved a hand dismissively at her daughter. “Leave us, Willow.”
“With pleasure,” Willow growled, then turned on her heel and left the room without another word. A moment later her boots could be heard clunking loudly against the wooden stairs.
Sylvia folded her arms across her chest. “Again, I ask, what are you doing here?”
Time to put my acting skills to work. “I came to ask you a favor.”
Sylvia stared at me in disbelief. “You’ve come to ask me for a favor? Where do you get the gall?”
“I know what a wonderful cook and baker you are,” It made me physically ill to say the words. “I was hoping you’d reconsider my request for a guest spot on your show. It would do wonders for my restaurant because of your popularity.”
She eyed me suspiciously. “I already told you no. This is turning into harassment. I’ll call the police to have it stopped.”
All I needed was for her to get the former jolly New York City detective on the phone. “Please. I’m such a big fan of yours and my restaurant needs all the help it can get.” No lie there.
Sylvia laughed in my face. “Silly girl. That little hole-in-the-wall hasn’t got a chance in your bumpkin town. Owning a restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart. Why don’t you start on a smaller scale, say, with a lemonade stand?”
Anger flickered in my chest. It was doubtful that Sylvia knew anything about working in a restaurant. For one thing, it was hard, exhausting work. You were run off your feet, the kitchen was an inferno, especially during summer months, and even though most customers were pleasant, there was always a disagreeable one who made trouble no matter how hard you tried to please them. Phony Sylvia only knew about the glory.
“Sorry that I wasted your time.” I turned to leave the room.
An egotistical smirk spread across her face. “Perhaps you should start worrying more about your time instead of mine, darling. You may not have much left. I wouldn’t be surprised if an arrest is made soon.”
“Oh, really?” I managed a smile, which wasn’t easy, even though years of working in restaurants had taught me patience. “Are you a detective now, too?”
“Don’t be a smart mouth with me,” she hissed. “Why don’t you just admit why you’re really here?”
I glared back at her. “And maybe you could explain why you were following me around last night.”
Sylvia wrinkled her nose. “What are you talking about?”
“I was visiting a friend about eight-thirty, when I looked out the window and saw your car parked across the street. You must have seen me open the door because you took off right afterward. What were you doing there?”
Footsteps sounded in the hall. A door closed, and we both stopped talking to listen.
“Marta?” Sylvia called loudly. The vacuuming had stopped, but there was no answer. She turned back to me, her cold blue eyes resembling steel. “I don’t appreciate your accusation. If you must know, I was at home all night.”
I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. “Perhaps Willow took your car and—”
She gnashed her teeth together and thrust her hand toward the doorway. “How dare you. You’re making this all up. Get out of my house and do not come back. It’s obvious you’re here on a fishing expedition and trying to pin the murder on someone else other than your cousin. Rest assured that I will tell Preston all about your uninvited visit when he returns tonight.”
I was tempted to tell her to go right ahead but stopped myself in time. Perhaps Preston would become so enraged that juicy tidbits would slip out of his mouth.
“It wasn’t my intention to offend you,” I said calmly. “Don’t worry, I’ll see myself out. Thanks for your time.”
She stared down her nose at me in disgust, as if I’d just suggested that she shop at a discount store. As I walked down the cold, stark white hallway toward the front door, her heels clicked on the expensive flooring behind me, no doubt watching my every move.
When I reached for the knob, Sylvia beat me to it. She jerked the door back and almost struck me in the face with it. “Don’t come back,” she hissed, “if you value your life.”
For a few seconds, I stood on the front porch, frozen into immobility. Sylvia had threatened me, but why? What was she afraid of?
I crossed the road and hurried to my car. As I opened the door, I glanced into the back seat and saw Gabby crouched down on the floor, finger to her lips and a broad smile on her face. I got inside and started the engine. “Thank God. I was afraid Marta caught you snooping.”
Once I was far enough away from the Rigotta home, Gabby swung herself into the front seat with minimal effort. “Sounds like you got in enough trouble for the both of us. I overheard your exchange with Willow, and figured I ought to head for the car,” she said. “I just missed Sylvia coming in the driveway. Have a nice chat with them?”
“Oh, you’re hilarious. Good thing she didn’t see you because it would have made things worse. I’m sure Marta will fill her in, though.”
“No doubt.” She hooked her seat belt and stared expectantly at me. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense. What happened?”
I relayed how Willow had caught me coming out of the pantry, and Sylvia had joined her shortly afterward and told me to get out. “You said she was with her father. Preston’s signing was cancelled.”
“I didn’t know it was cancelled. Am I psychic now?”
“Whatever,” I grumbled. “But Sylvia didn’t buy my devoted fan act. In fact, she’s more ticked off than ever. We could get charged with harassment. At least I found the chocolate, though.”
Gabby did a fist pump. “I knew you would. Where is it?”
“I left it behind. I wasn’t taking a chance that she’d discover it was missing.”
She frowned as we drove onto the Northway. “She can’t cook, remember. She’d never know it was missing.”
“Marta might. Willow pretty much told me that Marta has done everything in that house, from diaper duty to dinner.”
“It doesn’t surprise me they’d get two jobs out of Marta for the same amount of pay,” Gabby mused. “People with the most money are often the cheapest.”
I put my blinker on to switch lanes. “And Willow—well, she surprised me. I thought she was the devoted daughter, but it turns out that she can’t wait to get away from Sylvia and Preston.”
“You’d do the same thing if you had them for parents. That entire family is messed up.”
“So it was Marta who prepared the cannoli I found next to Daphne. We need to question her.”
“But how? Sylvia threatened you. You can’t go in their house again.”
“You could go and talk to Preston,” I suggested. “Tell him how sorry you are about what happened at the signing.”
She looked at me like I had corn growing out of my ears. “You mean grovel at his feet?”
“Do you want to save your bookstore or not?”
She sighed. “All right, I’ll do it. For the record, Tess, I never meant to get you involved in all of this. I don’t want it to affect Anything’s Pastable’s opening.”
“Everything’s going to be fine,” I assured her, with more confidence than I felt. “And I think we should speak to Daphne’s father. Maybe he can tell us if anyone else had an axe to grind with his daughter.”
“That’s pretty much a given,” she insisted. “But what makes you think he’ll talk to us?”
I pulled up in front of the bookstore. “We’ll tell him that we’re friends of Daphne’s.”
“He won’t believe that. Daphne didn’t have any friends.” Gabby glanced hopefully inside of her store and sighed. “Looks like Liza’s alone.”
“Keep your chin up,” I told her. “Call me if you need anything.”
She waved and went inside. I hated to see her so disconsolate and hoped that customers would start showing up soon. I headed back to the restaurant, my mind turning to thoughts of tomato sauce.
The staff meeting lasted for about a half hour and went well. Everyone was pleasant to each other and seemed to share my excitement for the restaurant. After my new employees had left I busied myself for the next few hours setting up a payroll service for the employees, preparing and baking meatballs to freeze, and updating my new website. I also spoke with Barney, Gabby’s accountant, over the phone. It had started to grow dark when I realized my stomach was rumbling and decided to go home. Some leftover pasta would hit the spot, then a relaxing bath, and I planned to snuggle up with Luigi to watch some television.
The sky overhead was an ominous black, with only a sliver of the moon appearing behind my row of cypress trees. With an eerie sense of foreboding, I fumbled with the key. As I inserted the correct one into the door, a shadow passed over me. Fear lodged tightly in my throat. I turned the knob just as someone grabbed my arm. In terror, I tried to scream but a firm hand quickly clamped over my mouth, and I was pushed inside.
Panicked, I struggled against the strong masculine arms that held me in place, and then to my amazement and relief, I was released. Infuriated, I turned to find myself staring into the cold, angry eyes of Preston Rigotta.
“What do you think you’re doing? Get out of my house!” I shrieked and grabbed the nearest item I could find, an umbrella from the stand, which I held protectively in front of me.
He sneered, unimpressed with me and my so-called weapon. “Look, you twit. I don’t know what your problem is but stop harassing my family or I’ll have you thrown in jail.”
I was outraged by his remark. “Who do you think you are? You just assaulted me! My cousin is a detective, and he’ll have you arrested!”
“Get real.” Preston’s eyes had approached below freezing temperatures. “It’s my word against yours, and I can come up with a much better story.” His lips stretched into a malicious grin. “I’m good at making things up, remember.”
Luigi was sitting on the arm of the loveseat. His bright green eyes focused intently on Preston as he emitted a loud hiss. I’d never heard Luigi hiss at anyone before, except my mother’s two dogs, Parm and Reggie.
Preston stared down at Luigi, as if seeing him for the first time, and promptly took a step backward. “You and that ditzy cousin of yours killed my publicist, and now you’re trying to make it look like my family had something to do with it. That simply won’t do, Mrs. Esposito.” He leaned forward, pressing his face so close to mine that I could smell the stale coffee on his breath. “You don’t want to get on my bad side.”
“We had nothing to do with her death. We don’t even know why she was killed. But I’m guessing you do, especially since you were sleeping with her,” I blurted out.
Preston’s face tightened in anger as he took a step toward me. Whoops. Perhaps that wasn’t a smart thing for me to say.
“Why, you nosy little fool,” he muttered. “You’re going to be sorry for ever crossing me.”
Luigi gave a low growl, and then leapt into the air, landing on Preston’s back with his claws extended. Preston let out a scream, but before he could grab Luigi, the cat jumped off him and ran yowling into the next room.
Preston threw open the front door and turned to face me. “Be sure to keep that cat inside.” He gave a low, menacing laugh that sent shivers down my spine. “It would be a shame if anything happened to him.”
Interview with Catherine Bruns
Alexandra: Great job. Thanks, Catherine.
Catherine: Thank you.
Alexandra: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Tessa and her background?
Catherine: This is the second book in the Italian chef series and the first book, Pene Dreadful Tessa’s husband has just died. And what she thinks at first is a terrible automobile accident, but it turns out his car was tampered with and he was actually murdered.
So Tessa takes it upon herself to find out who’s done this and she goes undercover working in a dumpy pizzeria parlor which he frequented a lot. He did the taxes. He hung out there was good friends with the owner. So she decides to start working there and looking for clues but no one seems to really want her around.
But she’s so determined to find out who’s done this and destroyed her life. Sometimes she doesn’t always have the right judgment, but she’s just so obsessed with finding the killer that sometimes she doesn’t take these things into consideration. And her cousin Gabby, along and her cousin Gino, who is a police detective.
They help her along the way. And in the end she does get justice. That’s another story. So right. She, she lives in upstate New York and that’s where the. Series takes place in a small town, like most cozies do called harvest park, which has a beautiful park where they put on a fall festival, a winter festival with light displays and there’s.
Cobbled streets and brownstones, and it’s a very lovely place. And test his dream has always been to open her own restaurant and book too. This is what we see happening.
Alexandra: Do you yourself like to cook? Because I know there are recipes in quite a few of your books.
Catherine: A lot of those recipes come from very talented friends. Some of them are family recipes. If you asked my husband, he would say that cooking is not my forte.
Alexandra: As we mentioned, when I was reading your bio at the beginning, you write in several different series.
How do you keep the characters straight? What writer techniques do you use to keep the characters all straight in your head?
Catherine: I know a lot of writers have their own Bible made up. I’m not that organized. I’m actually only writing two of the series right now. I’m writing the Cookies and Chance series, which book number nine came out in May and the Italian chef series, which we said book two came out July 28th.
For me, the main characters are all very different from each other, which I find helps. Tessa, the lead character, is widowed and in Cookies and Chance, that’s also a culinary serious, she runs a bakery. She had a very bad marriage as we see a lot happen in a lot of cozy mysteries.
My other series, the real estate series, I’m not sure if I’m going to be continuing with that, but she was a married woman in her mid forties, which is kind of rare to find in cozy is of course the main character is usually a lot younger.
Alexandra: So you find then it’s the different main characters that helps you to keep things straight in your head and the differences between them.
Yeah. Cindy York is a real estate agent who hasn’t always had the best luck. She was looking for that one deal to put her on easy street and never seems to find it really.
And she has kids. Another thing you don’t see too often in cozy mysteries, usually it’s a divorced woman or somebody who comes home to run grandma’s business after she’s died or something like that.
I have another series, actually, it’s part of a multi author series with one of my publishers, Gemma Holiday, that takes place in Hawaii. And that was a lot of fun to write. I had two books in that series. I’m not sure if I’ll be writing any more. I do have a full time job in addition. So it’s a little difficult to get all I want done, but the I’ve been to Hawaii twice and really enjoyed setting a series there.
Alexandra: I wanted to ask you about that. I was curious with that Gemma Holiday publishing series. That’s the Aloha Lagoon series and there’s a number of different authors. And as you mentioned, you’ve written two of the books.
Is there someone that takes care of continuity in a situation like that?
Catherine: We do have a Bible and we try to incorporate different authors’ characters in our books, and then they would say, “By the way, would you mind reading this excerpt I’ve used your character? Would you just tell me if this sounds like her, would she do something different?”
And it worked very well. There were about, I think six authors of us who were involved in the series and it was a lot of fun to write. You don’t have to read the books in order either; each author has her own series character. It’s another culinary series. Go figure. The main character came from Vermont after she had a bad family life and she wanted to start over with her boyfriend.
Her name was Carrie and the books are Death of the Big Kahuna and Death of the Kona Man. Dhe starts working in a restaurant at the Aloha lagoon resort. It’s called the Loco Moco and just like the dish. I don’t know if you’ve ever had it, but it’s very good. It’s with eggs and served on a hamburger patty with rice and gravy.
Totally fattening, but delicious. And I made sure the last time I went to Hawaii that I did have it. It was very good. So that was a lot of fun to write.
I’d like to get back there someday, but now that I’m writing for two publishers, I’m on a lot of different deadlines. So it’s been difficult.
Alexandra: I would say so, when you said you have a full time job.
When do you write? Early in the morning? Late in the day?
Catherine: Late at night, actually. That’s usually when I get my words and I try to do about a thousand words a day.
Alexandra: About how many books do you publish a year then at that schedule?
Catherine: I’ve been publishing three a year. It Cannoli Be Murder is my 16th novel to come out.
Alexandra: Wow. Nice. What’s next? What are you working on right now?
Catherine: Right now I’m finishing up third book in this series, actually, which will be a Christmas cozy and out, I believe, in the fall of 2021. Christmas cozies are a lot of fun to write. I have one in the Cookies and Chance series as well that I put out last year.
Then I will most likely be going back to write he next book in the Cookies and Chance series, which will be out next spring. And I actually have co-written a book with one of my publishers, Gemma Halliday. She has a high heels mystery series and I’ve co-written in that one with her, which will be out in October of 2020.
Alexandra: Oh, wow. You’re busy, lots, lots on your plate.
Catherine: It is busy work, but if you really enjoy something, you don’t really think of it as work as you know,
Alexandra: Exactly. Well, this has been awesome. It’s been such a treat to talk to you.
Why don’t you let everyone know where they can find out more about you and your books?
Oh, absolutely. All of my books are on my website. It’s CatherineBruns.net. Everyone says bird. Instead of that.net, I wanted the.com, but that was already taken by another woman named Catherine Bruns in Hawaii, actually. And all the books are available there.
And if you sign up for my niece newsletter, you will get a free ebook.
Alexandra: Nice. I’ll put the links to that in the show notes.
Catherine: Great. Thank you.
Alexandra: This has been awesome. Thanks Catherine.
Catherine: Thank you. I enjoyed being here.