When you’re putting your cozy mystery together, you have a number of characteristics to consider—a bloodless murder, the small town for a setting, and motives of greed, jealousy, or revenge. You need an amateur sleuth good at snooping and picking up clues to catch the villain in the end. You need other characters, too. I like to start my book by creating the setting and the group of characters to develop the story. When I’m writing, new characters arrive, or old ones change, and sketches of them occupy my time. My two cozy mystery novels are set in Texas ranch land near San Antonio. Cemetery Whites and Chances Choices Changes Death comprise the Caroline Hargrove Hamilton Mystery Series, with Caroline as the amateur sleuth.
In both books, Caroline’s life is changing. She grew up in Houston, but her husband died in a car accident two years ago. Her Houston life disintegrates, and she decides to move to the country where her father’s family lives. She remembers visiting them in childhood when her father was still alive. She hopes to establish a new life with relatives she remembers. Her cousin Janet welcomes her and drives her around the complex country roads. Caroline takes up genealogy, and a trip to the family cemetery opens the first novel. They find a dead man, just shot, and drive to Uncle Cotton’s house to call the local police. Elderly Uncle Cotton and Constable Bob Bennett, introduced early, become important characters to Caroline.
Caroline attends a family meeting at Uncle Cotton’s house. Everyone is upset about Professor Harrison’s death in their cemetery. Why was he there anyway? Caroline volunteers to check it out, and Janet agrees to assist her. That’s the beginning of making trips to San Antonio where an old grave is found, a funeral attended and documents turned up; going to a gamecock fight to see about gambling; and interviewing Professor Harrison’s teaching assistant. She finds out oral history from Great-Aunt Hettie, who knows family secrets. In the sequel, Chances Choices Changes Death, Caroline has already established herself as the person to talk to. She hears a lot from different friends, finds a lost little boy, and sees what is happening with various young couples on the Robinson Ranch. A romance with Bob Bennett is underway, and that’s another source of information.
In addition to the amateur sleuths, there must be good men, bad men, victims and villains. Other interesting characters, too. Donny and Danny Harrell, identical twins with different characters, start in the first book but develop in the second one. They made different choices in high school. Danny fell in love with Myra Cade who caused so much trouble he never fell in love with anyone again. Donny stayed with Grandma Hettie and helped her on her little farm. Later, he found Cathy Robinson to love and a little boy to adopt. Danny regretted the murder of Myra Cade, but he didn’t miss her. His heart had hardened years ago when she left him on his own.
In Chances Choices Changes Death, three bad men occupy different levels. Brian Atkins isn’t a monster. He’s a sleazy dude, portrayed in the book’s prologue. He’d dated Myra a few times years ago when she had dumped Danny. Now, he found out, she was looking for her little boy’s father. It maybe could have been me, he thought. He’d just lost another job and didn’t have much money…He was willing to marry Myra, if she could provide a place for them to live.
He persuades her to go with him to dinner in San Antonio, then stop by his friend Jimmie Garrett’s on the way home. That was a mistake. Brian quivered while Myra screamed. Then her body was put in the trunk of his car and he was instructed to dump her in a ditch on his way home.
So Brian was eventually arrested and helpfully lied to the police. Jimmie left his house and pursued criminal activities, waiting for a code that he hoped would make him rich. Caroline located a very bad man, and Brian saw him in jail. Guess what he told the police?
In my cozy mysteries, neither of the victims are bad. Professor Harrison is arrogant and greedy, and Myra Cade is trying to obtain paternal support at last. They don’t deserve to die. They don’t deserve to be arrested and tried for any crime, either. They get in some bad person’s way, and lose their lives as a consequence.
Both books are turbulent with choices to be made. Who does what and why? Creating the major characters opens the door. What the characters are like, what they do, what they choose—that sets you down with pen and paper to outline the plot, and more.
Myra Cade is a single mother, living with her father, Doug, and raising her son, Scott. She mostly keeps to herself and really has no time for anyone else. But shortly after serving paternity papers to Danny, the suspected father of Scott, she’s found dead at the side of the road in the country. Caroline and her cousin Janet, who are taking Western riding lessons at the nearby Robinson Ranch, find themselves drawn into the murder investigation and looking for the missing boy and the murderer.
Bio: Connie Knight grew up in San Antonio, Texas with many childhood visits to her family in the DeWitt County area nearby. Her debut mystery novel, Cemetery Whites, is based on memories and stories shared, but all characters in the book are fictional and so are the events.
Knight began writing in junior high. College includes a B.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University followed by a year in the master’s program, then a year of journalism classes in San Antonio. Writing history includes work as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor.
Her interest in Texas history is reflected in Cemetery Whites. Murders in 1875 and 2010 are solved, with the detective’s family history unraveling to reveal information. Knight’s hobby of gardening produced the title Cemetery Whites. The victim’s body is found sprawled in a patch of white irises in an old family cemetery. The flowers with that name still exist today, at old homesteads and in current gardens, including Connie Knight’s.
Connie Knight now lives in Houston and has just finished a second mystery, Chances Choices Changes Death, a sequel to Cemetery Whites. She is now working on her third mystery novel in the Caroline Hargrove Hamilton Mystery series.