How We Write a Peggy Lee Garden Mystery
By Joyce and Jim Lavene
Like all mysteries, the heart of the story is in its characters.
Peggy Lee is our main character in Killing Weeds. She’s a woman in her fifties who runs a garden shop, The Potting Shed, and also helps out on occasional police investigations where her specialty is needed. She has always enjoyed forensic botany, even though she doesn’t like the gore at a crime scene. She enjoys helping people find out what happened to their loved ones.
She has a small but devoted family and plenty of friends. She was a widow but is now re-married. Peggy has a mostly normal life.
Writing a mystery always starts this way. But with Peggy Lee, we have to do research to find out what the best botanical poison is to kill someone. We have to think beyond the usual poisons – arsenic, hemlock, or digitalis - those are too simple for the police. The poison has to be difficult to trace. It has to be something subtle and dangerous.
We work with a botanist to help us come up with a poison that matches our scenario. Our botanist has also worked as a contract forensic botanist, as Peggy does in our stories. He’s a big help setting the scenes for us.
But we have to understand how the poison works, too, so we know how to use it. We do more in-depth research once we have a meeting with our real-life botanist. Peggy’s head is stuffed full of information by the time we’re done – and so is ours!
The research is interesting, and sometimes terrifying. There is almost no poison we’ve used that hasn’t been used before. People think of terrible things to do to each other. Like Peggy Lee, we are always worried that someone
might read a book we write and try out our poison.
Even with the coziest mystery, there is research that goes into creating a character, police work done around the death, and the ways and means of it. Writers want to make things interesting and intriguing for their readers – without giving the plot away!