You’ve no doubt noticed that we’re all sharing bits of the WIP — the work in progress — this month. Here’s a snippet of the mystery I just finished, Spiced to Death, first in the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries (Berkley Prime Crime, March 2015). Pepper Reece, owner of Seattle Spice in the city’s venerable Pike Place Market, must investigate when a man is found dead at her shop’s front door—clutching a cup of the shop’s famous spice tea.
An herb is a fresh or dried leaf. A spice is a dried plant part—a bud (cloves), bark (cinnamon), root (ginger), berry (peppercorns), seeds (fennel), or even stigma (saffron). The same plant may provide both—fresh or dried cilantro leaves are the herb cilantro, while the dried seeds are the spice coriander.
“What does autumn taste like? How does it smell?”
Even as I asked, the question seemed utterly ridiculous. This was already shaping up to be one of those glorious September days in Seattle that make you think the weather will never change, that the sky will always be a pure cloudless blue, the leaves on the trees a painter’s box of green, the waters of Elliot Bay calm and sparkling.
I’ve lived here all my forty-two years, and I still get fooled.
But as the owner, for the last ten months and seventeen days, of the Seattle Spice Shop, it was my job to think ahead. Fall would be here in days, going by the calendar. And by my nose. I really could sense the difference right about this time of year. The annual run on pickling spices for the last cukes would soon give way to cider mulling mixes. And before long, our customers would be asking for poultry seasoning and scouting for Christmas gifts.
“The taste,” I repeated to my staff, gathered around the butcher block work table in our mixing nook, “and smell of fall.”
Sandra fanned herself with a catalog from the kitchen shop up the hill and peered over the top of her reading glasses—today’s were leopard print. “Fall, shmall. It’s seventy-six degrees out.” Spot-on to most Seattleites, but my assistant manager is one of those native Northwesterners who thrive in a narrow temperature range. Anything above seventy-two and she sweats; below forty-five, she shivers. And complains, cheerfully. A short, well-rounded woman of sixty with smooth olive skin, pixie-cut dark hair, and lively chocolate brown eyes, she came with the place, and I am so glad she stayed.
“Apples,” Zak said. “Applesauce, apple butter, spiced apple cake. Plums in brandy. Plum pudding. Fruit cake.” Zak had been my first hire after I bought the shop. Six-two and almost thirty, with muscular shoulders, Zak had seemed an unlikely candidate for employment in a retail spice shop in Seattle’s venerable Pike Place Market. But I’d been desperate, he’d been earnest, and he pleaded for a weekday job so he could rock the nights and weekends away with his band.
Plus he was my ex-husband Tag’s best friend’s nephew, and I have to admit, Tag Buhner isn’t always wrong about people.