Bestselling author Leslie Meier of Harwich has just celebrated the publication of her 25th mystery, appropriately called “Silver Anniversary Murder” (Kensington Books, 2018).
“I feel very fortunate to have the success I’ve had with my books,” Meier said during a recent email interview. “I’m immensely grateful to my readers and hope I can keep writing books that people will want to read. Writing is the best job there is because in fiction, unlike the real world, you can make things work out as they should.”
“Silver Anniversary Murder” begins in familiar territory for fans of Meier’s amateur sleuth Lucy Stone. Lucy is gossiping with the clerk behind the deli counter at the IGA in Tinker’s Cove, Maine. By the end of the chapter Lucy has learned that her long-ago best friend has died an apparent suicide in New York. Lucy’s investigation will take her to New York City and then back to Tinker’s Cove.
Since we first met Lucy back in 1991, when she was taking orders on the night shift in an L.L. Bean-like store, Country Cousins, we have been through many murders and much mayhem together, particularly at the holidays. In “Back to School Murder” Lucy found a new job, working part time for a small-town newspaper, the Pennysaver, while raising her family.
“It works well because it gives her a reason to investigate,” Meier says. The life of a small-town reporter is one that Meier knows well, as she worked for several Cape weekly newspapers, writing reviews and covering town meetings. Scenes from this familiar terrain appear in Tinker’s Cove and often provide motives for murder.
When Meier wrote her first book, “Mail Order Murder” (which was later retitled “Mistletoe Murder” to fit in with her seasonal titles), did she ever dream she would be the bestselling author of a long-lasting series?
“The idea of a series never crossed my mind,” Meier says. “I’d had some success selling short stories to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and thought I’d try my hand at a book—it was really just a sort of personal challenge.” Meier’s first manuscript captured the interest of a literary agent right away, and the agent sold her book to Viking in six weeks. Her second Lucy Stone mystery “was lost in the shuffle when the publishing industry underwent major changes in the early ‘90s,” but Meier’s agent eventually brought Meier to Kensington Books, where she was given a plum three-book contract. Meier has been with Kensington ever since.
In the real world we have all aged over 25 years in the time that Meier has been writing this series, but characters in books cannot age in real time. Think of Sue Graton’s alphabet series—private detective Kinsey Millhone appeared in 1982 and never left the 1980s over the course of 35 years. Lucy Stone, however, has aged a bit. Her four children have graduated from elementary school to graduate school. One is a parent.
“When I started writing I imagined Lucy as being about my age, but I’ve had to keep her in a sort of magical realm where she is forever young,” says Meier, 70. One character, an elderly woman named Miss Tilley, appears in both the first and most recent books. Meier says she figured out that Miss Tilley is over 120 years old now, if logic and mathematics prevail.
Many scenes in this series take place in Lucy’s kitchen while Lucy is preparing family meals or baking cupcakes. Lucy’s world revolves around her family and her town, and Meier writes about Lucy’s daily life in such a way that we can all identify. Meier and her husband Greg are themselves the parents of three and grandparents of five. The Meiers live part-time in Braintree and spend their weekends in Harwich.
There’s just one discordant element in Lucy’s cozy world—and that’s the murders, of course, that Lucy takes time to solve between trips to exercise class (she’s forever trying to shed a few pounds) and paying bills.
One of the nice things about Meier’s books is that characters who we met in book one reappear in book 25. “I do love my characters and like to bring them into the books when they will add to the plot,” Meier says. “I think it gives the feeling of a small town, where people are known to each other.” Among the recurring cast are “nosey parker” Franny Small, and “kind-hearted kindergarten teacher” Lydia Volpe. These two characters are showing up in the novella Meier is currently writing, “Haunted House Murder.”
Who does Meier read? Right now she’s reading Kate Atkinson’s mysteries, and she loves J.K. Rowling’s “Cormoran Strike” books. And “I have a soft spot for Cara Black’s Parisian mysteries, too.”
Next year we can look forward to Meier’s 26th work, “Invitation Only Murder,” which is set on Minister’s Island in New Brunswick, “which I think really grounded the story in a wonderful way.”
“Unfortunately, I had to burn down one of the island’s more remarkable structures, which is one of the bad things about being a mystery writer: you have to kill your darlings,” she adds.