May 21, 2018
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Author makes Maine reporter, pug the heroes of murder mystery novels

Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
New Hampshire author Amy Ray was inspired by her friend's dog, Peter, to make a pug a key character in her series of murder mystery novels. In the novels, Kittery, Maine, reporter Kay Leavitt and sidekick pug Poe solve crimes.
By Max Sullivan, Portsmouth Herald

Her aged Hampton Beach motel property coveted by condo developers, 97-year-old Evelyn Lea is mysteriously murdered. It’s up to Kittery reporter Kay Leavitt and her sidekick pug to sniff out which hopeful heir did the deed to cash in on the real estate.

“Last Resort” is the third installment in Rye, New Hampshire, author Amy Ray’s series that centers on Kay and her small canine friend, Poe, featured in the newly-released short story collection “Murder Ink 3.” It’s the first Kay Leavitt story to take place at Hampton Beach, a vacation spot beloved by Ray since she was a young girl.

The Seashell Stage, Marine Memorial and other landmarks color the background of a story driven by greed, the culprit hopeful of inheriting the fictitious Lea-by-the-Sea motel through Evelyn’s will.

“It felt natural to use my favorite childhood vacation spot as a setting in one of my stories,” said Ray. “I have vivid memories of the time I spent there, and I wanted to convey my character’s love of her hometown, so Hampton Beach seemed to be the perfect choice.”

“Murder Ink 3” is a collection of pulp fiction murder mysteries by New England authors, released through Plaidswede Publishing Co. Reporters and newsrooms are central to the stories in the collection, and many of the tales are written by current and former reporters. Ray previously reported on North Hampton for the Atlantic News. The first two Kay Leavitt stories appeared in the previous “Murder Ink” volumes.

Ray said “Last Resort” and the other Kay Leavitt stories fall into the cozy mystery genre, contrasting with darker, gorier murder stories in the “Murder Ink” series. The collection’s editor, Dan Szczesny, said he was skeptical a story about a crime-solving dog would fit alongside grizzlier tales but was surprised to find Poe worked quite well. In the first Kay Leavitt story, “A Nose for News,” Poe discovers a scent that leads to the rescue of a key character.

Poe, who belongs to Kay’s boss and friend Wayne Turgeon, is based on Peter, a 5-year-old pug belonging to Ray’s close friend. Ray said Peter’s apparent precocity always caught her attention, a quick learner during training sessions earlier in life.

“I noticed how intelligent Peter is, and that’s just where I got the idea that a pug could be perfect as a sidekick for my main character,” said Ray.

Ray never solved a murder mystery herself while at the newspaper, but said her work at the Atlantic News was not unlike that of her protagonist Kay, who covers a small-town beat for the Kittery Crier newspaper.

As a girl living in Merrimack Ray spent summers with her family at Hampton Beach in a Dover Avenue cottage named the Rose G, which she said is still there. She said she has always been a passionate Skee-Ball player and enjoys fried dough on the boardwalk and live music on the beach’s popular bandstand. At age 15, she started working at a store at Seabrook Beach in the current state liquor store plaza and eventually owned it up until the 1990s, at one point renaming it Marybeth’s Gifts.

Hampton Beach also serves as a backdrop for Ray’s 2014 mystery thriller novel “Dangerous Denial,” the main character’s childhood home being based on the Dover Avenue cottage where Ray spent her summers.

Ray said she developed her love for shocking plot twists after she read “Great Expectations” in high school, saying she was blown away by the surprise in the Charles Dickens classic.

“I hope when people read my books they get the same kind of thrill, that they didn’t see it coming,” said Ray. “That’s what I want to strive for.”

“Murder Ink 3” can be purchased through www.nhbooksellers.com, and “Dangerous Denial,” released by Barking Rain Press, can be bought through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as at the Book Outlet in North Hampton. Ray anticipates releasing her next novel, “Color of Betrayal,” later this year. For more information, visit www.writeramyray.com.

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