Please welcome to the blog today author Judy Alter. She’s best known for her fictional biographies of Women of the American West, as well as the Kelly O’Connell mysteries. Today, however, she’s sharing with us how she set up the plot for her third Blue Plate Café mystery series. You can find out more about Ms. Alter on her website judyalter.com.
When I sat down to write Murder at Peacock Mansion, third in the Blue Plate Mystery Series, the framework of the Blue Plate Mystery Series was already set firmly in place by two previous novels, Murder at the Blue Plate Café and Murder at Tremont House. Kate Chambers is settled back in her hometown of Wheeler, Texas, running her grandmother’s Blue Plate Café. Busy with local life—and scandals and murders—she no longer misses the high life in Dallas.
Her love/hate relationship with her sister is ever-present, as is Donna’s husband, Tom, in his role of good guy. The dog Huggles is firmly in place—and would become a player in Peacock. Also established was Kate’s penchant for getting involved in situations she shouldn’t. She solved the murder of her beloved Gram, and she untangled the twisted story behind a woman who came to Wheeler posing as a journalist but really motivated by her own anger and jealousy.
Each time Kate promised to ignore trouble . . . and then found she could not sit idly by when things in her town went awry. Murder at Peacock Mansion is not a romance. It’s a cozy mystery, per most definitions I know, with the requisite single female who is an amateur sleuth. But like many cozies, the series has a fairly strong element of romance. In Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Kate, who expected to be dateless in Wheeler, found herself courted by three men, each in his own way. By book three, Dave Millican, the nursery owner who always had dirt under his fingernails and on his clothes but who had a soft heart for Kate and Huggles both, has left the action. Similarly, Rick Samuels, the uptight ex-Dallas policemen who became Wheeler’s chief of police, has moved on, puzzled that for all their attraction to each he and Kate never quite clicked.
That leaves David Clinkcscales, Dallas lawyer and Kate’s former boss. He has moved to the Wheeler area to get away from the city and his recent divorce, and he and Kate find themselves enjoying each other’s company outside the office. They become a couple, quietly moving into Kate’s house, despite Donna’s frowns of disapproval, and cooperating on Kate’s capers with the law—or the lawless. So how could I make Murder at Peacock Mansion new? Plot and intrigue. The story comes straight out of my own neighborhood, where a huge, dark and shuttered house is known by local kids as “the murder house” because the reclusive woman who lives there was accused years earlier of killing her husband. Acquitted she was allowed to stay in the house as long as she lived; after her death, it would revert to the heirs. I took that kernel of a story and ran with it, moving the house to East Texas and creating a complicated and often greedy set of heirs. Things get more complicated when the recluse’s first husband turns up—dead, and Kate and her friends are confined to her own house for their safety. The peacocks? They just showed up one day.