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Judith Gonda Celebrates the Holidays with a Cozy Mystery

Judith Gonda celebrates the holidays with her cozy mystery, Murder in the Christmas Tree Lot

Author Interview + Book & Author Info + Rafflecopter Giveaway + Author Pet Corner!

Murder in the Christmas Tree Lot by Judith Gonda

Judith GondaLandscape architect Tory Benning returns in a holiday mystery tied up with a bow!

Still struggling with the death of her husband, Tory Benning is doing her best to get into the festive spirit of the holiday season, but when her landscaping company’s email is hacked and there’s a break-in at the office, it’s enough to make her see red.

And then the unthinkable happens, when the owner of a specialty food truck is brutally slain at the company’s Christmas tree lot, and Tory finds herself mired in murder once again.

With a long list of suspects—including an untold number of revelers disguised in Santa suits, seasonal employees handling tree sales, and even a vengeful jilted suitor—the police investigation grinds along slowly and methodically. But as Tory begins piecing together clues on her own, she finds she’s the target of a menacing stalker who may be out to do more than just scare her.

Refusing to be intimidated, Tory vows to nab the culprit, even if it means that catching a Christmas killer has become her lot in life . . .

To purchase Murder in the Christmas Tree Lot, click any of the following links: Amazon   B&N   Kobo    Google   Bookshop 

Murder in the Christmas Tree Lot (A Tory Benning Mystery)
Cozy Mystery
2nd in Series
Publisher ‏ : ‎ Beyond the Page Publishing (November 17, 2020)
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 230 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1950461858
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1950461851
Digital ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08LQY49YM


Read my review of Murder in the Christmas Tree Lot, click on the link here.

Judith Gonda — Author Interview

Tell us about Tory Benning:

Tory Benning is a thirty-three-year-old landscape architect based in beautiful Santa Sofia, California.

She lives in a Spanish-styled bungalow near the ocean with her Pomeranian, Iris, and black cat, Otis, not far from her best friend, Ashley Payne, a lawyer. Tory plans and designs outdoor spaces for both residential and commercial clients, like the twenty-five-acre Hotel Santa Sofia property, a luxurious resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where her wedding and her husband’s disappearance both occurred on the same day in MURDER IN THE SECRET MAZE.

Her family-owned landscape design company, Benning Brothers, also has a nursery division. Its tree lot is the scene of the crime in MURDER IN THE CHRISTMAS TREE LOT.

What would you like readers to know about Santa Sofia?

Santa Sofia is a small coastal town in Santa Barbara County where Tory has lived most of her life, except when she went to college and grad school at USC in Los Angeles.

Because she grew up there, she’s known a lot of the other characters all her life, and she’s close to many of them, particularly her BFF, Ashley Payne, and her two aunts and an uncle. Some characters are Santa Sofia residents with whom she’s recently become reacquainted, like her middle school buddy, Adrian Ramirez, and her oft times antagonist, Ernie Gomez, both now with the SSPD.

Fictional Santa Sofia is twelve miles north of the City of Santa Barbara, home to an artsy community whose art galleries lend a sophisticated charm to the small-town atmosphere. It has two main drags. The Avenue is where most of the commercial enterprises can be found. Originating in the surrounding foothills, the Avenue cuts through the center of the upscale boutique-lined downtown, past the gourmet eateries and fancy galleries, and dead-ends at the beach. There, it intersects with the Promenade, the coast road where the Hotel Santa Sofia and its adjacent Beach Resort are located along the stretch that houses a few smaller boutique hotels.

Tucked in the neighboring foothills are smaller rural towns, vineyards, and wineries. Also nearby are farms, olive groves, and ranches. It’s common to see horses, miniature ponies, and ostriches as you drive on the narrow, two-lane roads that weave through the area.

The horse ranches lend a bit of a Wild West feel to the area. It’s one of my favorite areas in the world, and fans of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone series might like revisiting the area. Also the TV series Psych, and the movie Sideways, are both set in the same general region.

Tory has some great sidekicks, who can we expect to find helping her solve the crime?

Her true partner in crimefighting is Ashley Payne, Tory’s best friend since childhood. Also, Jake Logan, a hot PI from Santa Barbara, is a strong runner up, but because Tory meets him under shocking circumstances, their relationship is complicated. Also in the mix is her old schoolmate, Adrian Ramirez, a SSPD detective who has an on-again off-again relationship with Ashley.

Together with Tory’s undaunting persistence and acute observation, they each bring their own special set of skills to make a fearsome crime-fighting foursome.

What can we find on your Christmas Tree?

A million ornaments, haha. I started seriously collecting once my two daughters were born, getting two of each.

Several from our trips up to Santa Barbara, sea urchins, shells, and starfish sprinkled with glitter. I also have many from Carmel-by-the-Sea, the northern version of Santa Barbara IMO, that I picked up from a year-round Christmas store.

My favorite ornaments include Santa and reindeer, hearts, stars, snowflakes, and animals. Mice dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus, ballerinas, and angels. I also have several Nutcracker ballet-related ornaments, like sugarplum fairies and mice.

I like natural materials like cork and wood, but with some glitter thrown in. What can I say? I’m attracted to shiny like a magnet.

I also have glass balls to add more sparkle. Multi-colored mini lights. Some of my ornaments are from my daughters’ childhood, with their ages and photos. Some honor pets, past and present. The most precious of all are the handmade ornaments my kids made when in elementary school. In other words, magic.

What do you love best about the holidays?

Getting together with my family and hanging out all day. Good food that I order from a local café. My husband and son-in-law make a trifle (by the way, the recipe appears in the recently released THE MYSTERY WRITERS’ COOKBOOK: THE SECRET INGREDIENT from Level Best Books).

This year will be very special because our first grandchild was born in May and we’re all looking forward to seeing the magic of the holiday through his eyes.

What are you working on now?

Edits for the third book in the series, MURDER IN THE COMMUNITY GARDEN. Also plotting possible future books in this series and a new series.

Words of Wisdom for Writers:

Persist. Don’t give up. Go at your own pace. Don’t compare yourself to others. Cheer on other writers.

Try to stay positive and develop a thick skin because you’ll need it given all the rejections writers receive at every turn. Be brave. It’s hard putting yourself out there, but if you don’t, you can’t move forward. And fellow writers are some of the nicest people because they understand how hard it is to keep going at every stage.

Thank you so much, Elena, for inviting me to visit your blog! I loved your questions!

Such a pleasure to have you visit Judith! Looking forward to seeing you again soon with your next release.

Judith Gonda Author Pet Corner!

Judith Gonda
Ollie and Izzy!

I have two of the most wonderful Pomeranians in the world. Both rescues and both are the inspiration for animal characters in my mysteries.

Isabella (Izzy) is the cream sable one, the alpha, the guard dog, the loyal one who follows me everywhere, weighing in at nine pounds. Tory Benning’s Pom, Iris, is modeled after Izzy mostly. Olivia (Ollie) is the little red fox. She’s super sharp, the charmer, manipulator, and beggar of the two. She weighs around five pounds. The third mystery, MURDER IN THE COMMUNITY GARDEN, will introduce a similar little red Pom in the plot.

Izzy will turn nine in January and Ollie is ten. But who really knows with rescues? Both have luxating patellas, with Ollie’s a lot worse than Izzy’s.

Izzy still loves to run outside and she does zoomies in our backyard from one side of the house to the other when the mail carrier dares to set foot on our property. Both Poms have trachea issues, unfortunately.

Again, Ollie is in worse shape and started to need meds for her cough this summer. So upsetting, to say the least, but she’s more or less stable right now. Both have launched careers as models since I started my social media book promotions.

Ollie is a natural and loves to pose, preferably not in costume. Izzy submits to being photographed for a few minutes but then is compelled to go back and guard the fort.

This may be the best Author Pet Corner Photo ever!


Judith Gonda

Judith Gonda is a mystery writer and Ph.D. psychologist with a penchant for Pomeranians and puns, so it’s not surprising that psychology, Poms, and puns pop up in her amateur sleuth mysteries featuring landscape architect Tory Benning.

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Elena Taylor is the author of All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio book format at all your favorite bookstores and on-line retailers.

For more information on All We Buriedclick on the link here to visit the home page.

Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Investigator 2020

Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery 2020

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Judith Gonda

    Thanks, again, Elena! I join Izzy and Ollie in wishing you and your readers Happy Holidays!

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