Maggie Pill is the pseudonym of Peg Herring, the author of Sleuthing at Sweet Springs. She writes three different mystery series, including the Sleuth Sisters mysteries. Herring is an avid traveler and likes to keep her books light, but jokes she may have inadvertently ended up on a Homeland Security watch list.
“The Sleuth Sisters Mysteries as a whole are pretty lighthearted, but some serious issues float by as the three middle-aged sisters deal with society on different levels,” said Herring. “Mostly the books are about family relationships, specifically the joys and pains of sisterhood. In my view, the joys outweigh the pains, so Barb, Faye, and Retta never descend into screaming family drama. They might snipe at each other from time to time, though.”
Herring also said grammar becomes an issue in the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries because the eldest sister, Barb, is a stickler for proper usage. “She hates errors so much that she sneaks around at night fixing mistakes on local signs, making sure spelling, punctuation, and grammar are correct. In Sleuthing at Sweet Springs, the Oxford comma becomes an issue. When youngest sister Retta dares to offer her opinion that it’s unnecessary, Barb is aghast, and sets out to prove her wrong. It comes out funny, but the differences between Grammar Nerds like myself and normal people come to light.”
Even though the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries are lighthearted, Herring said she does touch on some sensitive issues such as elder care, spousal abuse, and caring for and about animals.
What if someone wanted an elderly relative out of the way? Could he convince others she needed to be confined in a facility and therefore get control of her financial affairs?”
“Barb is a retired attorney who’s seen a lot of both physically and mentally abused women, so she’s cautious with a case they take on that involves a divorced couple. Their main case centers on the question of competence in old age and how the fate of elderly people is sometimes decided, whether rightly or wrongly, without their consent. And as in every book in the series, pets figure largely in the sisters’ lives, particularly Faye’s, since she has most to do with the old family farm, now in the hands of her two sons.”
Herring hadn’t planned on the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries becoming a series. The idea for Sleuthing at Sweet Springs came when Herring visited a nursing home, which is something she does regularly. While there, she saw a resident with her coat and hat on over her nightgown. “Though she was in a wheelchair, she was telling the aides that she was going home and they couldn’t stop her. It was pretty obvious it was a frequent occurrence. Most nursing home residents want to go home, and few of them will admit they can no longer care for themselves.”
The incident raised a question for Herring. “What if someone wanted an elderly relative out of the way? Could he convince others she needed to be confined in a facility and therefore get control of her financial affairs?”
Although the sisters are “professional” detectives, Herring said the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries contain no gore, no onstage violence, and have a small-town atmosphere with lots of colorful characters. In these respects, they fit into the cozy mystery genre.
Though she grew up on a farm, Herring said she had to do some additional research about animals in the last two books. “It was a long time ago, so I contacted friends with questions like, ‘Are reindeer friendly?’ and ‘Don’t chickens get cold in the wintertime?’ Luckily, pet people love talking about their pets, so I got all the right answers.”
In today’s hypersensitive environment, calling friends about farm animals is one thing, stalking a bridge quite different altogether. Herring said she writes the Dead Detective Mysteries series as Peg Herring. The second book, Dead for the Money, ends with a scary climb up Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge. This is where Herring may have landed herself in some hot water with the government.
“To help me envision the scene, my husband and I visited the bridge several times. We looked at it from the North and the South ends. We drove across it very, very slowly, both ways, trying to see where a person could access the cables. We stood at the Visitors’ Center discussing how a pedestrian could get onto the bridge deck, which is actually part of the I-75 freeway.
“After all that we realized that our intense interest in the structure had probably landed us on some Homeland Security watch list. I imagined guys in a secret bunker somewhere trying to decide what the old couple that kept turning up on the surveillance cameras was up to. I wondered if I should call them up and say, ‘It was just research, honest!'”