In the past decade, we’ve seen a proliferation of baking shows, like the Great British Baking Show and Cake Wars, as well as shows where people don’t quite succeed with their bakes, like Nailed It!
Fans of either type of baking show will come to love author Valerie Burns’ newest series The Baker Street Mysteries which is led by Maddy Montgomery. In Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder, Maddy gets an unexpected inheritance, she goes from California to New Bison, Michigan. Her great-aunt, who Maddy never met, left her everything, from the house to her bakery but with one condition: Maddy has to live in the house and run the bakery for a year. And take care of her English mastiff. Maddy’s hesitant about it all; she’s never run a business before and hasn’t baked herself. But while she’s learning on the go, Maddy’s gets figuratively burned when the town’s mayor is stabbed with one of the bakery’ knives and her fingerprints all over it. Can Maddy figure out who wanted the mayor dead and not run her aunt’s business into the ground?
We talked with Valerie Burns (also known as V.M. Burns) about her new series. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How did the Baker Street Mystery series come about?
I spent a lot of time during the pandemic watching baking shows. It was very different, because prior to the pandemic, the chefs had professional photographers, or even if they weren't professionals, they were dedicated photographers who knew what they were doing. [During the pandemic,] you had a lot of family who were taking the pictures, so you have a lot of outtakes.
Watching a lot of those outtakes, I realized these are kind of funny. Wouldn't it be funny if you had someone who really didn't know what they were doing while baking? If Ina Garten makes something, it's gonna come out fine but if it's just Maddie Montgomery, who really doesn't know what she's doing, the results could be very unpredictable. So I just watched way too many outtakes of things that went wrong with baking shows.
I spent quite a bit of time in southwest Michigan. So it's really close to where I grew up in Indiana. I wanted to write something that took place in southwest Michigan.
Also I don't have a big dog. I have little dogs. But I would love to have a big dog. I have friends that have English Mastiffs, and I just wanted to feature a big dog. Writing allows me to live vicariously through my characters. So with all of my writing, there's a little bit of me and all of them. So in my Mystery Bookshop series, Samantha Washington owns a mystery bookshop and writes British cozies. Those are my dreams.
If I were just wealthy beyond any kind of norm, I would have all the dogs, right? I can't, so I can write about them. I can research them and I can kind of see what it's like to have a big 250-pound dog without actually having a big 250-pound dog. Writing gives me that opportunity to live out my dreams without actually having to go through I guess the hard work of it.
Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder
One thing I noticed is that Maddy is really a fish out of water. Could you talk about that?
Maddie was a new concept for me, because in all of my other books, I had very strong female characters who are maybe a little older than Maddie is. I think that when you're younger, maybe you are a little more insecure, and you don't feel as confident about life and making decisions. You tend to care what other people think about you. Maddie has a hard time making decisions because she's afraid she's gonna make the wrong one. She has such a strong parental figure in the Admiral, her father, who has to make decisions that impact 1000s of lives every day. He's very forceful, and she's not so much.
Over the course of the book, she kind of comes into her own. So she may seem a little flighty at the beginning and seems just totally clueless. But over the course of the book, she realizes that she is pretty good at certain things. She's a smart person but she has really focused on things that are kind of shallow.
Why is it important to read these kinds of books? Cozies often get short shrift.
I agree that cozies do kind of get the short end of the stick. We're sort of the redheaded stepchild, and people don't take cozy seriously. And honestly, I love cozies because they are basically a puzzle. So you have what hopefully would be just an entertaining story. It's also very good at making you think and keeping your mind sharp because you're looking for those clues.
I get letters from readers who tell me that because cozies are basically clean mysteries, there's not a lot of bad words. They're okay with their children reading. They're also not embarrassed or ashamed to have their grandmother read it.
While it is a cozy, you do touch on some tricky issues like housing challenges in coastal Michigan.
I think that cozy mysteries can still deal with tough topics like the housing crisis. Most authors are trying to incorporate real life to a certain extent, but with lighter hands, so that we aren't preaching or beating people over the head with our views.
A lot of people from outside have bought up the property [on the lake]. There still are a lot of farms in that area, and they bought the farmland, and so you have less land for farming, and more high-rise developments. Having a view of Lake Michigan has really increased in a lot of people just can't afford to live there.
We can also talk about both sides of the topic. There is an economic benefit to the community but then there's also a downside.
Murder is a Piece of Cake
Thanks to Valerie Burns for this new series! Book 2 Murder is a Piece of Cake comes out in 2023. Also check out her other series: Mystery Bookshop series, RJ Franklin series, and Dog Club series.