By George Ebey
Death and drinks are on the house in Allison K. Abbot’s new mystery thriller, MURDER ON THE ROCKS.
Mack’s Bar is one of those nice, friendly places where everybody knows your name. That’s great when someone’s buying you a round, but not so hot when you find yourself at the top of a list of murder suspects – with your fingerprints on the bloody knife! Mackenzie ‘Mack’ Dalton is a Milwaukee bar owner with a nose for trouble – literally. A neurological glitch called synesthesia has left her with extra perceptive senses. So when she stumbles upon a dead body in the alley behind the bar – the same spot where her own father was shot eight months earlier – she can tell right away there’s something fishy in the air. The lead detective thinks there’s a link between the two deaths, and he’ll need Mack’s help to sniff out the murderer amid the crowd of eccentric regulars. But when all the evidence points to her as the most likely culprit, it could be an early last call for Mack-and celebratory cocktails for a killer.
I recently caught up with the author to find out more about Mack’s Bar and see what’s on tap for Mack, her customers, and all of us.
Tell us a little about Mack’s Bar and why this is a good setting for murder.
Mack’s Bar isn’t a good setting for murder; it’s a good setting for solving them. Unfortunately, murder does come knocking on the door of Mack’s bar a time or two, but the outcome of that is a group of people who have an interest in solving crimes. Mack’s Bar is one of those cozy taverns that Wisconsin is so well known for, a big city bar with a small neighborhood feel. Many of the customers are regulars who live or work nearby, and they come in as much for the food and camaraderie as they do for the drinks. And as things evolve in the series, a lot of the customers at Mack’s will come because they want to help solve crimes, some of which are imaginary and offered up for fun as the series evolves, while others are all too real. Heading up this crime-solving group of barstool detectives is the bar owner, Mack Dalton, a feisty redhead who has a unique way of experiencing things, and Duncan Albright, the detective who thinks Mack’s quirky talent might come in handy for his line of work.
Your main character, Mack Dalton, uses her neurological disorder, synesthesia, to help her solve crimes. Can you explain what this disorder is and how Mack is able to use it to her advantage?
Synesthesia is a fascinating neurological condition that causes the senses to become cross-wired or merged in some way. The neural pathways for any one sense — say sound — intersect with the pathways of another sense — say sight — and end up triggering both. It can be a congenital condition, or one brought on by a brain injury of some sort. There are many different types and manifestations of synesthesia and it’s not well understood or known for sure how many people actually have it. Someone with synesthesia might visualize sounds, or see each letter and number as always being one color, or assign personalities to numbers or days of the week. Many successful musicians who have the condition say that part of their ability to create and perform music is their ability to see it as they hear it, often as colors, lines, shapes, or some combination of these. Those who have the condition often find it helps them with memorizing things, or doing mental math problems, or in creating some form of art.
Mack’s version of the condition is a hot mess of mixed-up sensory data, but there is also a level of predictability to it. Each of her senses is cross-wired with two other senses and her synesthetic experiences are repeatable. So if the smell of strawberries makes her hear a humming sound, she will hear that same sound anytime she smells strawberries. This doubling up of her senses has made her more … well … sensitive to the world around her. She is more aware of, and can detect sights, sounds, smells and such that most others can’t. In a way she’s like a human bloodhound, but she makes use of more than just her keen sense of smell.
How has your training as an ER nurse helped you prepare for this story?
I’ve been intrigued by the condition for years, ever since I met a patient who said he had the condition and when he tried to explain it to others, they labeled him as crazy, possessed, or just plain weird. If you think about it, everyone’s sensual experiences are a mystery to others. How do I know that what a strawberry tastes like to me is what it tastes like to someone else? Why do some people like the taste or smell of something that others find disgusting? It’s something I try to keep in mind when treating people who are in pain. Just because I’ve had a headache, it doesn’t mean that someone else’s headache hurts in the same way, or with the same level of intensity.
If Mack’s Bar had its very own specialty drink, what would it be called and why?
Mack’s Bar has a signature drink called the Macktini. Mack is a bit of a coffee snob and it’s a coffee based martini. The recipe is included in MURDER ON THE ROCKS and I can personally vouch for how good it is. The drink recipes are some of the most fun research I’ve done for a book. And I’ve got an endless line of folks who are volunteering to be research assistants!
Allyson K. Abbott is a pseudonym for author Beth Amos, who also writes the popular Mattie Winston series under the pseudonym Annelise Ryan. In addition to her writing career, Beth is a working ER nurse who lives in Wisconsin.
To learn more, please visit her website.