PERSONAL: Married; husband a college professor.
CAREER: Novelist. Copywriter and producer at national advertising agencies; Mission Critical Marketing (marketing and advertising firm), Minneapolis, MN, former owner, chief executive officer, and creative director.
"TEA SHOP MYSTERIES" SERIES
Death by Darjeeling, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2001.
Gunpowder Green, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2002.
The English Breakfast Murder, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.
Shades of Earl Grey, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.
The Jasmine Moon Murder, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2004.
Chamomile Mourning, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2005.
Blood Orange Brewing, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2006.
"SCRAPBOOKING MYSTERIES" SERIES
Keepsake Crimes, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.
Photo Finished, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2004.
Bound for Murder, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Laura Childs is the pseudonym of Gerry Schmitt, a mystery novelist and former marketing director whose 'Tea Shop Mysteries" and "Scrapbooking Mysteries" books have as their protagonists women entrepreneurs who also solve crimes. The "Tea Shop Mysteries" series centers on Theodosia Browning, who, like their author, once worked in advertising, and who is now proprietor of the Indigo Tea Shop in a historic section of Charleston, South Carolina. The "Scrapbooking Mysteries" are set in another richly historic, atmospheric area, the French Quarter of New Orleans, and focus on Carmela Bertrand, who sells scrapbooks and related craft supplies at a store called Memory Mine. The former series includes recipes, the latter tips on making scrapbooks, and several reviewers have described both as falling into the "cozy" category of mysteries, without extensive descriptions of violence. Child once told an interviewer for In the Library Reviews online that the idea for her first series came from her editor, who "wanted 'a mystery featuring a snoopy woman who owns a tea shop!'" According to the pseudonymous novelist, "The rest of the concept sprang from my imagination." The author explained that, that while working in advertising, she met many women who wanted to do what Theodosia has done—leave the corporate world and operate a small business. The scrapbook series, the author continued, "was completely my idea…. I figured that old photos and new clippings—the stuff that goes into scrapbooks—would yield a bounty of clues!" The popularity of her mystery novels enabled the author to sell her advertising firm and write full-time.
Death by Darjeeling introduces Theodosia; her valued employees, Drayton and Haley, who help her prepare teas and bakery goods; and her dog, Earl Grey, a dalmatian-labrador mix. The story finds Theo providing refreshments during a tour of landmark Charleston homes; one of the participants, a local real estate developer, dies after drinking poisoned tea. Theo, wishing to keep her business above suspicion, decides to seek out the poisoner, and in the process learns of the conflicts between developers and historic preservationists.
This debut and others in the series have won praise for their portrayals of engaging people and places. Death by Darjeeling "offers readers a good setting and a promising cast of characters," commented Jennifer Monahan Winberry in a review for Mystery Reader online, the critic adding that it is "a good beginning" to the series. The follow-up, Gunpowder Green, takes its title from a special tea Theo and Drayton have created for a party connected with a yacht race; the party turns deadly, however, when the finishing-line gun explodes and kills the man firing it. Theo alone thinks this was no accident, so she begins to investigate. "The story line engages the audience from the start," remarked Harriet Klausner, writing for AllReaders.com. Winberry, again contributing to Mystery Reader, called the novel "a delightful cozy that will warm readers the way a good cup of tea does," while Romantic Times reviewer Toby Bromberg deemed it "a charming mystery of manners."
The sixth book in the series, Chamomile Mourning, revolves around murder at another gala event; the victim, an auction-house owner, is shot and falls from a balcony into a cake Theo's shop has catered for the party. His widow believes his girlfriend is the murderer, as do the police, but Theo has other ideas. A Publishers Weekly commentator thought this novel the best so far in the series and termed its author "a master of Southern local color." In a similar vein, a Kirkus Reviews critic described the book as an "homage to the Low Country and all things tea-related," while Klausner, reviewing for MBR Bookwatch, noted that Charleston itself is one of the story's primary characters, providing "the ambience that makes this series so special." As for human protagonist Theo, she "is one of the most realistic and likeable characters" in mystery fiction, Klausner observed.
Keepsake Crimes inaugurates the scrapbook series as its heroine, Carmela, sets up in business after her husband leaves her. After a man dies during the Mardi Gras parade, her estranged husband, Shamus, is suspected of murder; he was seen fighting with the deceased. Shamus seeks Carmela's aid, and she finds a customer's scrapbook helpful in her search for the true perpetrator. As with the other series, some reviewers found Child's protagonist and locale particularly appealing. In AllReaders.com, Klausner dubbed Carmela "plucky and likable" and noted that the novel powerfully evokes the atmosphere of New Orleans and Mardi Gras. It is also "well-written" and truly mysterious, with a wide selection of suspects, Klausner related.
The next in the series, Photo Finished, concerns the murder of the disreputable owner of the antiques shop located next door to Carmela's shop, Memory Mine, while the third, Bound for Murder, finds Carmela investigating the killing of a friend's fiancée, Reviewing the former book, Klausner wrote on AllReaders.com that it is fast-paced and full of action, while also offering "a heroine that is impossible to not like" and a "realistic" view of New Orleans. Romantic Times commentator Shari Melnick added that the novel "exudes Southern charm and humor," and is "sure to please fans of light-hearted mysteries." Discussing the latter, Romantic Times contributor Cindy Harrison called it "truly suspenseful" and described its characters and setting as "beguiling."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2005, review of Chamomile Mourning, p. 386.
Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of The Jasmine Moon Murder, p. 121; May 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of Chamomile Mourning, p. 66.
Publishers Weekly, April 18, 2005, review of Chamomile Mourning, p. 47.
Romantic Times, March, 2002, Toby Bromberg, review of Gunpowder Green; January, 2004, Shari Melnick, review of Photo Finished; November, 2004, Cindy Harrison, review of Bound for Murder.
AllReaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com/ (September 28, 2005), David Loftus, review of Death by Darjeeling; Abby White, review of The English Breakfast Murder; Harriet Klausner, reviews of Gunpowder Green, Shades of Earl Grey, The English Breakfast Murder, The Jasmine Moon Murder, Chamomile Mourning, Keepsake Crimes, Photo Finished, and Bound for Murder.
In the Library Reviews, http://www.inthelibraryreview.com/ (October 13, 2005), interview with "Laura Childs."
Laura Childs Home Page, http://www.laurachilds.com (September 28, 2005).
MBR Bookwatch Online, http://www.midwestbookreview.com/ (October 13, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Chamomile Mourning.
Mystery Reader, http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (June 3, 2001), Jennifer Monahan Winberry, review of Death by Darjeeling; (May 23, 2002) Jennifer Monahan Winberry, review of Gunpowder Green.