CORRECTION: In the print version and first digital version of this story, there was a third reading at The Landings' Plantation Club scheduled for Aug. 29. That reading has been canceled.
Wendy Winchester desires to learn bridge and aspires to become an investigative reporter.
These two yearnings are not mutually exclusive, at least not in the fictional town of Rosalie from the “Grand Slam Murders” by author R. J. Lee.
“Grand Slam Murders” is the 2019 debut novel in the Bridge To Death Mystery Series, which features Wendy; her father and Rosalie Chief of Police Bax Winchester; and her detective boyfriend, Ross Rierson. Lee will be introducing Savannah literary audiences to this cast of characters throughout a trio of readings in the local area thanks to E. Shaver Booksellers.
“Grand Slam Murders” follows Wendy’s adventures as she tries to solve the murders of four wealthy widows who make up the Rosalie Bridge Club. “Readers do not have to understand much about bridge to follow the plots,” said Lee. “But if they are players, they will get a little bigger kick out of the novels.” Readers should also note that “Grand Slam Murders” is a cozy mystery. For those not familiar with “cozies,” Lee explained that they “more or less follow the format of the great Agatha Christie, who is often credited with inventing the genre.” According to Lee, cozies’ plots should have these characteristics: no profanity (“damn” is OK), no graphic sexuality, and little to no blood and gore. “The objective,” Lee said, “is to make the mystery more cerebral and less C.S.I.”
Lee set his tales in the fictional Mississippi town of Rosalie, loosely based on his hometown of Natchez, which was founded in 1716. The locale distinguishes the book as a “Southern cozy” and Lee asserted that “the South lends itself to a certain civility of which Christie would approve. Manners and social customs count for a lot, particularly in old Southern cities.” Lee describes his actual hometown as “a writer’s laboratory.”
“Southern cities like Savannah, Charleston, Natchez and New Orleans that have been around for hundreds of years become highly-layered and structured, and there is much drama and humor that spills out of that,” Lee said. “All a writer has to do is listen, observe and make notes.”
Lee’s upcoming Savannah readings are part of a six-plus month tour, which he has described as a “hectic but successful” mix of traditional book store and library talks and signings, book festivals, one library fundraiser and even a few card tables! “Not many writers sell their books by playing a game of bridge, but that’s exactly what’s been happening since the novel was released,” said Lee.
“‘Grand Slam Murders” marks his 13th published novel but is actually his first mystery. Previous books dealt with “Southern, small-town life but in more of a ‘Mitford’ context without murder taking place.” Roughly two years ago, Lee switched genres to cozies following in the literary footsteps of his father, R. Keene Lee, who wrote fighter pilot and detective stories for various pulp fiction periodicals of the ’40s and ’50s. With a premium placed on twists and turns, the switch has seemed to pay off for Lee as an author for his audiences. “Grand Slam Murders” has been described as having a “jaw-dropping” or “shocking” ending. Lee said, “A mystery writer’s work is done when he fools his readers.”
Shuffle by one of Lee’s reading events coming up next week and see if you’ll be fooled, or at least entertained.