Engaging Houston author's new Heights-based whodunit stirs up cocktails — and murder
Houston author Michelle Hillen Klump loves cozy mysteries. Typically set in a quiet English village inhabited by a whole series of eccentric characters — think Miss Marple or Murder She Wrote territory — they don't got in for guts and gore, but offer plenty of clues to keep readers guessing.
"You know what to expect from a cozy," Klump tells CultureMap. "There's a fun puzzle to solve and everything works out ok in the end."
So, when Klump — a trained journalist — decided to take a hand at writing a mystery of her own, she knew it would be a cozy. And she knew she wanted to set it in Houston. Thus was born her Cocktails and Catering series.
Klump will read from the series' latest title, Murder Served Neat, at 3 pm Saturday, February 25 at beloved Rice Village purveyor Murder by the Book (2342 Bissonnet St.).
Her new book, her second in the series, is set in a fictional version of The Heights called The Highlands. It finds her main character, Samantha, introduced as a caterer in the series' first book A Dash of Death (2022), working at a Fourth of July celebrated hosted by a Texas German-heritage group.
The organization, however, is divided on what path it should take going forward and when a society maven turns up dead, Samantha finds herself in the middle of a mystery.
Not surprisingly, the author-journalist, who moved to Houston in 2008 and has family in Katy, loves giving nods to Houston's neighborhoods in her books, and readers, she thinks, will like that they can see the spots they know well — Montrose, the East End — in the pages.
More than that, however, she likes the idea of introducing readers from other cities and states to the magic that is the Bayou City.
"A lot of people overlook Houston," she says. "Or, they think of it as an oil and energy city. It's really this great melting pot with lots of hidden corners to explore. I think I am doing my part to shine a light on the city."
With a series title like Cocktails and Catering, readers should expect to find healthy doses of food and drink, something any Houstonian knows is part of the fabric of our city. Klump herself is a cocktail connoisseur; she and her husband love checking out the Bayou City's cocktail bars, as well as experimenting at home. For Murder Served Neat, she learned to make shrub, a vinegar-based mixture that's used as a mixer.
"My main character is more aspirational than I am [with cocktails]," she laughs. "I'd rather research and write about it."
In addition to offering up some H-Town love, Klump is enjoying how she's grown as a writer in creating the series. As a journalist, she had to be focused on facts and interviews and sources. With a blank page in front of her in her fiction, though, she had to tap into a different creative side.
"You have to throw in red herrings and alternate suspects," she notes. "I learned to go with the flow. I really had to let myself go with the process."
She'll chat about that with readers in her Murder By the Book appearance, as well as sign copies of her novels. And, naturally, share her love of Houston.
Michelle Hillen Klump reads from Murder Served Neat at 3 pm Saturday, February 25 at Murder by the Book (2342 Bissonnet St.). For more information, visit Murder by the Book online.