A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Nancy Pickard at a bookstore event. I had gone to see her specifically to meet her and to buy a copy of The Virgin of Small Plains, which has one of the most interesting openings of any book I have ever read. Probably why the book won the Agatha for best novel in 2006, and was a finalist for the Anthony and the Edgar, and a won a bunch of other awards, as well. Nancy is one of those prolific writers who labored for many years as a critically acclaimed midlister before she hit it really big with Virgin. In the past year, I've gone way back in her resume and begun reading some of her early works.
One of my favorite discoveries is the Eugenia Potter series. How Nancy came to write three installments in a series that was started by an author by the name of Virginia Rich is a fascinating story. In 1983, Nancy read and loved Virginia's first mystery novel, The Cooking School Murders, featuring the warm and wonderful Eugenia Potter, gourmet cook and crime solver. Virginia followed up with two more Eugenia books, The Baked Bean Supper Murders, and The Nantucket Diet Murders. Nancy's wrote a fan letter to Mrs. Rich--because she loved the books, and not least because they were both mystery writers married to cattle ranchers!
When Virginia replied, she mentioned that she was already working on the fourth book in her series, a mystery to be called The 27-Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders. But when Nancy wrote back, she was told that Mrs. Rich was too ill to correspond. Soon after that, Virginia Rich died.
After Virginia's death, her husband came across boxes full of her notes for future novels. There were even a few drafts of chapters. He approached his late wife’s editor at Delacorte Press, asking if the series might be continued by other writers. That editor approached Nancy's agent, who asked her if she would like to complete The 27-Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders.
And she did.
In the end, Nancy wrote three Eugenia Potter books, The 27-Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders, The Blue Corn Murders, and The Secret Ingredient Murders.
The books are full of food and cooking, as well as atmosphere and great characters. If you like a good murder and good eats, this is the series for you. I haven't read them all, yet. But I will.
On her web site, Nancy writes that Virginia Rich created the culinary mystery genre. And for anyone who thinks it's too late for them to be an author, Nancy points out that Virginia started writing her mysteries when she was in her early sixties and was first published when she was almost seventy.