By Dan Levy
As an admitted adrenaline junkie, one would think a day job as an ER nurse would give Beth Amos (writing under the name Allyson K. Abbot for the Mack’s Bar series) got her daily dose of excitement at work. Not so, even after more tha forty years in the business, “I have seen, smelled, touched, been doused in, and exposed to some very gross looking and smelling things. Only one thing has ever made me gag. Ear wax is my kryptonite.”
Since that isn’t enough action, Beth fills her free time creating interesting characters and then putting them through some adrenaline-inducing situations. Such is the case with Mackenzie “Mack” Dalton, owner and chief mixologist at Mack’s Bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Like every good protagonist, Amos gave Mack her own set of real and relatable flaws. But for that one trait that makes Mack special, Amos turned to her experience in the medical field.
“I first heard of synesthesia from a neurologist years ago,” said Amos. “A simplistic definition of synesthesia is that it’s a cross-wiring, or in some ways an overlap, between the senses. As a result, people may see things they hear as shapes, colors, or patterns. Or something they see might trigger a taste sensation. There are different types and degrees of synesthesia, and I think it’s much more common than many people realize.”
With her synesthesia, fans could count Mack Dalton among the likes of Sherlock Holmes or Monk. In daily life, these characters are limited by the very conditions that also rank them among fiction’s crime-solving elite. But unlike many of these characters, who we meet well after their conditions have been realized and accepted, we get to see Mack trying to embrace her condition as a gift.
One thing that drives Mack, said Amos, is “the realization that her synesthesia, which she has tried to hide and ignore most of her life because it has caused her pain and embarrassment, can be used for something good. For the first time she sees her synesthesia as a benefit rather than a defect or a flaw.”
In MURDER WITH A TWIST, the second of the Mack’s Bar series, readers again find the regulars at Mack’s Bar putting their heads together to solve a good mystery. But Mack is learning there’s a big difference between barroom brainteasers and real-life murder. Especially because police detective Duncan Albright is convinced Mack’s abilities can be used to help catch crooks. What’s more, she’s not sure she should mix business with pleasure by working with a man who stirs up such strong feelings in her. At her first crime scene—a suspicious suicide—she experiences a heady cocktail of mixed sensations and emotions that make her question whether police work is right for her. But when Albright asks her to help find a kidnapped child, she knows she has to give it a shot.
One of the signs of a strong character is how he/she seems to take on a life of his/her own as the story develops. According to Amos, Mack Dalton was no exception: “The thing that surprised me about her as she came to life on the page was that she’s an introvert who hides behind her business persona as a barkeep. I originally pictured her as more gregarious and outgoing.”
This character trait might be part of what made Amos’s favorite scene in MURDER WITH A TWIST so compelling. “The scene where Duncan walks Mack through the home of a murdered woman who was a single mother with a little boy was a very emotional scene for me to write,” said Amos. “I, too, was a single mother with a little boy, and I can still recall my fears about what would happen to him if something happened to me.”
Amos is currently finishing up the third book in the series, IN THE DRINK. And while she didn’t provide any teasers for Mack’s next adventure, Amos wanted to pass along two important notes to her readers: “Yes, there are cocktail recipes in the back of the books, and no, I don’t need any more research assistants.” Amos was also quick to add, “And to all the readers out there who have given my books a try under any of my authorial personae, a very hearty thank you!”
Learn more about the Mack’s Bar series, as well as the other series that Beth Amos has created under her different noms de plume on her website.
Allyson K. Abbott is the bestselling author of the Mack Bar Mysteries series (MURDER ON THE ROCKS, MURDER WITH A TWIST) and the pseudonym of mystery and thriller writer, Beth Amos, who also writes the Mattie Winston Mysteries series (WORKING STIFF, SCARED STIFF, FROZEN STIFF, LUCKY STIFF, BOARD STIFF, STIFF PENALTY) as Annelise Ryan. Amos, who lives in a small town in Wisconsin, works as an emergency room nurse. She uses pseudonyms because she worries her patients might not like knowing she spends her spare time thinking up clever ways to kill people.