Culture shock, cliches and a (possible) wedding: up close with mystery maven Leslie Meier

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Autumn is upon us and there’s a chill in the air—what better time to cozy up in your favorite easy chair with a warm drink and a cozy mystery?

For those unfamiliar with the genre, cozy mysteries (sometimes known simply as “cozies”) are murder mysteries in which sex and violence are downplayed in favor of a lighter, more humorous tone. Think more Miss Marple than Sam Spade.

A great new cozy mystery is French Pastry Murder, the latest in the Lucy Stone series from author Leslie Meier. In the book, Meier’s heroine visits the City of Lights to be recognized for her charitable works. But Lucy has to rely upon her sleuthing skills when her vacation turns deadly. 

Recently, BookTrib had the chance to speak with Meier about her latest whodunit.

BookTrib: There’s such a lively wit throughout French Pastry Murder. You don’t naturally expect murder and humor to go together, so how do you balance the two?

Leslie Meier: I always try to make the books funny. I just try not to be inappropriate; we don’t have people chuckling over the sad parts, the tricky parts, the tense parts. But sometimes you need a little bit of comic relief.

And I think this situation was ripe for humor, because Lucy goes to France with three friends and all their husbands, and France is not the United States. It’s different.

leslie-meierBT: I wonder if you could talk a bit about that sense of place and of culture shock—we really see how very different the US and France are for your characters.

LM: I’ve always been interested in French culture—I’m not an expert, but I’ve read a lot of books about modern France and also have been there several times. And I think there are so many clichés about France that override what it’s really like.

BT: Were there any in particular you set out to undermine?

LM: I guess everyone thinks French people are rude, that’s the common one. And I’ve never really found that. And we have this thing that French women don’t get fat, French women don’t get old, and that French women lead perfect lives, and of course none of that is true.

The biggest difference that Lucy struggles with—of course—is the legal system, which is very different from ours. There’s no innocent until proven guilty. With Americans, I think there’s an attitude that we’re kings of the world, and it’s quite a shock to people when they come across foreign laws. And the first thing that happens to Lucy and her friends after the murder is that they lose their passports. I think it’s very scary to find yourself in a foreign country and know you can’t leave.

BT: Can you talk a little bit about Lucy Stone’s group of friends? So much of what makes the book tick was how they support each other while also getting on each other’s nerves.

LM: Lucy has had the same group of friends for many books, but I’ve never had them together in such an intense situation. The four women have been friends since their kids were little. There’s Rachel, who’s kind of “crunchy granola” and serious. There’s Pam, who’s like the high school cheerleader who never quite grew up. And Sue, who is very sophisticated and perfect. And Lucy. They’re the core of the group, but then their husbands come along in this, which is a first. The husbands have sort of popped up in the past, but we never really got to see them quite so close. I thought it was interesting because, in my life anyway, it’s oftentimes the women who have the really tight group of friends and the husbands who sort of tag along.

BT: Was there a particular relationship that you enjoyed exploring the most?

LM: I really like writing about Lucy’s relationship with her daughter.  Elizabeth works for a fancy hotel chain and she’s been sent to France for work and hates it. Lucy is terribly disappointed in her daughter, thinking this would be a girl’s dream come true, and Elizabeth is really having a lot of trouble struggling with culture shock and the language and the expectations of the job. So Lucy’s being supportive, but at the same time she’s growing a little impatient with her daughter. So that was fun.

BT: And Elizabeth’s disappointment dovetails so beautifully with the overall sense in the book of looking beyond what you would expect, culturally.

LM: Yes, I think so. Elizabeth’s a favorite character of mine. My editor seems to think a wedding should be in the offing, so we’ll see what happens.

BT: Am I allowed to ask if there is a wedding in the offing?

LM: I honestly don’t know. We’ll have to see if things work out. I left that hook in the end because I thought it was kind of a fun thing to do.

BT: Well should a wedding be in the offing, I hope we’ll get a chance to talk about it.

LM: Oh, I hope so, too.

Tracy Manaster is the debut author of the new novel, YOU COULD BE HOME BY NOW, which will be published this winter by Tyrus Books. A graduate of Wesleyan University and The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has lived in twelve of the fifty states and intends to stick with Oregon, where she lives with her husband and twin daughters, for the foreseeable future.

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