Leslie Budewitz' first Spice Shop mystery, Assault and Pepper, is a treat for the senses. But, the book is so much more than the spice shop itself. Budewitz wraps the reader in the atmosphere of Seattle in her mystery, particularly the Pike Place Market. Welcome to Pepper Reece's corner of the world with all of the scents and fogs and feelings of Seattle. It's just too bad Pepper's world is disrupted by murder.
After dumping a cheating husband and losing her job, Pepper Reece truly enjoys her independent life and new career as owner of the Seattle Spice Shop. She has a small group of friends, employees she trusts, and her job puts her in touch with a number of other shop owners in the Market. She fits into her community, protecting the homeless men, and keeping them out of trouble when she can. She brokers a deal between one of the street corner regulars, and a new panhandler, Doc. Or, at least she thinks she did before Doc is found dead outside her shop, and one of her employees is arrested for his murder. Now, she isn't sure how much she really knows about anyone; her staff, the men on the street, or even the man she is dating. She does know she believes her employee is innocent. And, she'll take a few investigative hints from a man who knew his way around spices and herbs, Ellis Peters' fictional detective Brother Cadfael. What would Brother Cadfael do?
Leslie Budewitz' mystery is successful for a couple reasons. Pepper Reece is a mature woman, level-headed, with a terrific group of supportive friends. She isn't easily scared off by trouble. And, even while she investigates, she knows she has a business to run, a trait I admire in an amateur sleuth. She wryly observes that "Business hours and weekends were cramping my investigation." .And, Pepper takes the investigation and her employee's arrest seriously. This mystery, perhaps because of Pepper's maturity, isn't as light as other cozy mysteries. This is a sleuth that readers will be eager to catch up with again. In future stories, Budewitz should have the opportunity to develop other characters. In this one, she brought Pepper to life.
But, along with Pepper, the Pike Place Market comes to life in Assault and Pepper. After reading this mystery, it's as if the reader could walk through the Market, finding the shops. The Market is described in beautiful detail. And, so is the Seattle Spice Shop, a little treasure. Budewitz fills the book with descriptions of the shop and the spices, details as to how to use spices in cooking, along with chapter headings that highlight spices and random details, definitions and history of the spice trade.
Assault and Pepper is a worthy series debut by an award-winning author. It's going to take too long to return to Pepper Reece and the Seattle Spice Shop.
Leslie Budewitz' website is www.lesliebudewitz.com
Assault and Pepper by Leslie Budewitz. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 9780425271780 (paperback), 289p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.