Please just call me Penn. I live in the small town of Camellia Beach, located a few miles south of Charleston, South Carolina. I own the Chocolate Box and I’m an active member of the small town’s business community. All summer I’ve been working hard with Camellia Beach’s president of the business associate, Bubba Crowley, on putting together the town’s first beach music festival. Things start to fall apart when someone threatens the headliner of the festival, the deliriously popular Bixby Lewis. Not long after that another singer, who is dressed in Bixby’s signature outfit, is found dead.
With help from my meddling half-sister (I truly do love her!) and a new flavor of chocolate sweets to ignite the senses, I follow the shifting tide of evidence to keep all of the band members at the festival and everyone else in my quirky seaside town safe.
What made you decide to take on such a risky endeavor?
My half-sister had arranged for Bixby Lewis to perform at Camellia Beach’s tiny beach music festival as a favor to me. (I later found out that she was trying to hook the two of us up. She can be such a meddler.) When the threats against his life started, I naturally felt responsible for his safety. And the police seemed to be asking all the wrong questions, so I decided to ask a few questions of my own.
Did you ever imagine yourself being involved in fighting crime?
Gracious, no. I have a background in advertising. I led a sheltered life growing up. Plus, I’ve been super busy with learning how to run the Chocolate Box, the chocolate shop I’d recently inherited. I don’t have time to be doing the job the local police should be doing. But sometimes even the most skilled detectives misread the clues. I can’t stand by and let someone get away with murder.
Who would you say is the least pleased about your additional career choice of amateur sleuthing? Or is detective work your only career?
Detective Frank Gibbons with the Charleston County Police Department, an older man I love and respect, wishes I would leave the sleuthing to the professionals. He’s pretty darn vocal about it too. He has even threatened me with jail time—in a kindly, fatherly way. Like I’ve said, I do love him. I love him more than I love my own father. And I understand his concerns. But the detective doesn’t live in Camellia Beach. He doesn’t understand its unique quirks like I do. Although he doesn’t realize it, he truly needs me.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Although I never imagined I’d ever be an amateur sleuth, I see now in hindsight that it was inevitable. I’ve been lied to and tricked my entire life. Because my family is rich and politically powerful back in Chicago, there have always been people in my life who have tried to get close to me with one goal in mind: to get access to my family and/or their money. Joke is on them, though. I’m the black sheep of my family. My grandmother has never included me in family photographs or invited me to Christmas parties.
My past experiences have caused me to develop deep sense of distrust of…pretty much everyone. My trust issues and tendency to constantly be on the lookout for hidden agendas has turned into some of my best strengths when it comes to ferreting out criminals. I know to look beyond that friendly smile. I know to suspect even the seemingly kindest of souls.
On the flipside, my distrustfulness is also my biggest weakness. I keep everyone at arm’s reach. But I’m working on it. It’s difficult, but I’m working on letting a few people get close. I need to. I can’t run the Chocolate Box alone. I desperately need all the help I can get.
Describe what being a self-rescue princess (a strong, confident woman) means to you.
Strong women don’t ever give up. Don’t know how to do something? Learn how. Failed at a task? Try again. Try something different. Feeling left out? Create an event of your own. It’s your life and only you can decide what to do with it. I’m a big fan of Dr. Seuss’s book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go and the lessons it contains.
What one advice/wisdom would you like to pass onto young women?
Be strong enough to ask for help when you need it. Life doesn’t have to be a lonely experience.
What was one lesson you learned during this challenging time in your life?
I learned that there are nice people in the world, people who genuinely want to help others. That was a shocker.
If your story or life had a theme song, what would it be?
It’d be the theme song to the show, the Greatest American Hero. Do you remember that song? “Believe or Not.” The song talks about how just accepting who you are, you can find freedom and happiness. That’s what I’ve found here in Camellia Beach. I’m in paradise because I’ve finally learned to love myself, foibles and all.
Do you plan on dabbling in amateur sleuthing in the future, or have you hung up your detective hat?
I never plan on dabbling in the sleuthing business. It’s something that seems to come to me. I see a wrong that no one sees fit to right. What am I going to do? Sit on my hands and let the wrong person go to jail? No. I’ve suffered enough injustice in my life to want to save others from experiencing the same trouble, whether they deserve my help or not.
And that’s exactly what I did recently. I join my best pal, Althea Bays and the rest of the turtle watch team to witness a new generation of baby sea turtles hatch and make their way into the wide ocean.
Before the babies arrive, gunshots ring out in the night. Cassidy Jones, the local Casanova, is found dead in the sand with his lover Jody Dalton—the same woman who has vowed to destroy the Chocolate Box—holding the murder weapon in her hand. It’s an obvious crime of passion, or so everyone believes. But when Jody’s young son pleads with me to bring his mother back to him, I can’t say no. Instead, I dive headfirst into a chocolate swirl of truth and lies, and must pick through an assortment of likely (and sometimes unsavory) suspects before it’s too late for me and for those I love in the third rich installment of the Southern Chocolate Shop mysteries, In Cold Chocolate (Sept 11, 2018.)