In the process of molding a protagonist for a new series, Socorro author Kris Bock thought about cozy mysteries with older women as heroines.
Agatha Christie’s famous amateur detective Miss Jane Marple and Jessica Fletcher in the television crime series “Murder, She Wrote” came to mind. These characters have the advantage of years of experience in spotting behavioral patterns to help them solve mysteries, Bock said.
And Bock is familiar with cozy mysteries featuring women in their 20s and 30s who look into small-town crimes while keeping busy running craft stores. When they stumble over dead bodies in those novels, it seemed unrealistic to Bock.
So she created the character of Kate Tessler, an amateur detective who’s a member of a generation in-between.
Bock said in a phone interview she wanted “a woman who was my age – nearing 50 – and had some life experience. Making her turn 50 means I can address some of the things that women deal with in midlife, for example, menopause and a body that doesn’t recover from injuries as quickly as it used to. … You don’t see a lot of women about this age in many books, including mystery novels, as main characters,” she said.
Kate debuts in “Something Shady at Sunshine Haven,” Bock’s just-published first installment in “The Accidental Detective Series.” The author describes it as a cozy-traditional mystery blend.
Sunshine Haven is a nursing home. The home’s director, Heather Garcia, remembers Kate from high school days and knows she’s a veteran journalist.
Heather invites Kate to look into the deaths of two female residents at the nursing home and the sickness of a third, all having occurred within a few weeks of each other.
Heather hasn’t approached the police. She fears if she did, word would get out and that could be financially harmful for the nursing home’s business.
“Even if these deaths were perfectly natural, the rumors would destroy us. I can’t do nothing, but I also can’t put the entire operation at risk over a vague possibility,” she tells Kate.
At the end of the first chapter, Heather rhetorically asks Kate, “Am I being paranoid, or is someone killing my patients?”
Kate agrees to help. She organizes a “team” of family and friends. They eavesdrop, follow people, pursue leads and report back to Kate on what they’ve found out. Kate compiles a list of potential suspects, including some nursing home staff, families of residents and others. She’s looking for motives and evidence.
The investigation puts Kate in precarious situations. But she’s really worried for the safety of her mom, a patient on the nursing home’s Alzheimer’s unit.
The novel opens with Kate coming to her parents’ home to recover from a serious leg injury suffered in a bombing in the Middle East. She now walks with a cane, though it hardly slows her drive. Kate is dogged, resilient and a risk-taker.
“I made her a war correspondent so that she would have fearlessness,” Bock said. “She’s faced a lot of danger in her life, so she’s not afraid to get involved (in investigating crimes.) And because she’s a journalist, people ask her for help if they have problems they don’t want to take to the police or they think the police won’t take the problem seriously,” Bock said the character of Kate is inspired by two real-life female journalists. One is Kim Barker, lead character in the 2016 biographical film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” The other is Marie Colvin, who died while covering the siege of Homs, Syria in 2012.
Bock wanted the series set in a large city so there would be many opportunities for mysteries to happen.
“I considered Albuquerque. I decided on Phoenix because it is bigger and I could create a fictional town within greater Phoenix,” she said.
“Something Shady at Sunshine Haven,” like most cozy mysteries, doesn’t have sex, violence or foul language. Bock has also written sweet romance, romantic mysteries and suspense novels for adults.
Under her real name, Chris Eboch, she has written more than 100 books for kids, most for educational publishers.
“I’m still doing that. It’s a fun job and I get to learn all kinds of different things,” she said.
Her websites are krisbock.com and chriseboch.com.