Names have always fascinated me, probably because my own has been a regular source of trouble. People never know how to pronounce my last name—something in the human brain quells at a Z. And my first name underwent a middle-of-the-last-century transition, moving from mainly male to mostly female, that caused confusion well into my twenties. (My mother tells of introducing baby me, wrapped in pink ruffles, to her 95-year-old grandfather, who barked “Leslie? I thought you said it was a girl.”)
So naming characters is both great fun and a brain-twister. Every name tells a story—and it may not be the story the character wants to tell. In my Spice Shop series, several characters have changed their names over time. Pepper Reece, owner of Seattle Spice in the Pike Place Market, feels destined for her job, even though she never imagined buying the shop until she was forty, newly divorced, and lost her job as an HR manager in a law firm. Her grandfather nicknamed her when she was a toddler with a fiery temperament, borrowing the name of Pepper Martin, the feisty manager of his beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Her assistant manager, Sandra Piniella, took back her family name after divorcing Mr. Wrong; she says she knew her current husband was Mr. Right when he assumed she’d keep her own name. That doesn’t stop Sandra from peppering her boss to reveal her secret self. Pepper refuses, insisting that Pepper is her “real” name, because it’s how she thinks of herself. And there’s a lot of truth to that, isn’t there?
Identity is ann ongoing theme in the Spice Shop series. Pepper is recreating herself as a strong, independent, single woman in her forties, a shop owner, and a vital part of the Market community. Her name serves her well, forging a bond with her new-found passion for spice and retail. And in each book, we meet a woman who is not what she seems, and who has used her name to redefine herself, each for different reasons.
Names are important to men’s identities, too. Would Pepper’s ex-husband, the still-hot bike cop whose beat includes the Market, trigger the same mix of emotions in her if she thought of him as Thomas, rather than Tag, the childhood nickname he got for tagging after his brother? I doubt readers would think of him the same way! In the first book, Assault & Pepper, we meet Sam, one of the street men, whose name tells a story, and his pal Hot Dog, who returns in Killing Thyme (out October 4), with his own story.
Of course, in a cozy mystery, we like to have fun. Pepper isn’t the only character named for her work. You’ll meet Vinny the Wine Merchant, and in book two, Guilty as Cinnamon, Pepper gets involved with ace reporter Ben Bradley. Her fabulous graphic designer pal deserves a wild and crazy name—hence, Fabiola. The homicide detectives, Spencer and Tracy, have heard the jokes, and they’re not amused. (I’m thinking Tracy deserves a vacation, and Detective Spencer should team up with Detective Marx.)
For a local touch, I’ve borrowed names from retired Seattle Mariners—Ken Griffey, Jr., plays a big role in Assault and Pepper. Other characters sport last names well-known to baseball fans, including Piniella, Buhner, Olerud, Davis, and Martinez. The fun isn’t limited to the NW—in Killing Thyme, you’ll meet men named for contemporary major leaguer Matt Kemp and a star pitcher from the Negro Leagues, Josh Gibson.
With retail, you get hiring problems, which Pepper may finally solve in Killing Thyme. I’ll let her newest hire, Cayenne Cooper, tell you the origin of her name, on the page. It’s Cayenne, not Sandra, who finally pries Pepper’s other name out of her. Can she keep her mouth closed? I’m not sure, but I do know she’ll let you in on the secret.
Tell me something fun about your name.
In Seattle’s Pike Place Market, Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece is savoring her business success, but soon finds her plans disrupted by a killer in the latest from the national bestselling author of Guilty as Cinnamon.
Pepper Reece’s to-do list is longer than the shopping list for a five-course dinner, as she conjures up spice blends bursting with seasonal flavor, soothes nervous brides fretting over the gift registry, and crosses her fingers for a rave review from a sharp-tongued food critic. Add to the mix a welcome visit from her mother, Lena, and she’s got the perfect recipe for a busy summer garnished with a dash of fun.
While browsing in the artists’ stalls, Pepper and Lena drool over stunning pottery made by a Market newcomer. But when Lena recognizes the potter, Bonnie Clay, as an old friend who disappeared years ago, the afternoon turns sour. To Pepper’s surprise, Bonnie seems intimately connected to her family’s past. After Bonnie is murdered only days later, Pepper is determined to uncover the truth. But as Pepper roots out long-buried secrets, will she be digging her own grave?
Series: A Spice Shop Mystery (Book 3)
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkley (October 4, 2016)
Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two cozy mystery series. KILLING THYME, her third Spice Shop Mystery, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, came out on October 4. DEATH AL DENTE, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The immediate past president of Sisters in Crime, she lives and cooks in NW Montana.
Find her online at www.LeslieBudewitz.com and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor . More about KILLING THYME, including an excerpt here: http://www.lesliebudewitz.com/spice-shop-mystery-series/