J. J. Cook, A Tribute - Dark Streets
A tribute to the writing team of Jim and Joyce Lavene (aka J. J. Cook) from Toni Lotempio.
Jim and Joyce Lavene both passed within six months of each other – Joyce last December and Jim on May 5. They were a stellar writing team who churned out many series. ROCCO had interviewed them last year on his blog and they were a delight. This is a definite loss to the writing community, and they will be missed.
The below article was written before they passed. Rather than pull it, I think it’s a fitting tribute to them:
JJ Cook is the pseudonym for Joyce and Jim Lavene, a husband and wife team who pen bestselling mystery fiction! They have written and published more than 60 novels for Harlequin, Berkley and Charter Books, in addition to hundreds of articles for national and regional publications. I first came upon them when I reviewed the third book in their Fire Brigade Mystery Series, IN HOT WATER, for Night Owl!
While some might think a firefighter with a ghost who cooks is an unusual background for a cozy, for Jim and Joyce it works quite well. Jim was a volunteer fireman and Joyce has three generations of firefighters in her family. The ghost came in as a fun bonus, probably as a result of Joyce’s interest in the paranormal (she also runs a paranormal blog). The main character in the series, Stella, is from Chicago and a professional firefighter. She comes to the town of Sweet Pepper to set up their volunteer squad and ends up staying. She and Eric, the ghost of the former fire chief, get into all sort of “hot water”
Cue the latest Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade book: Sweet Pepper Hero! Fire chief Stella Griffin has been put in charge of judging the annual recipe contest, but Eric—her resident ghost and true culinary genius—has vanished. Before she can track down his latest haunt, she’s called in to investigate a local moonshine distillery that was set ablaze, making her realize there’s more than pies and cakes cooking in Sweet Pepper.
As rumors of a revived whiskey war ignite, Stella turns to the town’s elders to help her find answers. The past might have some clues as to what has sparked the present fires. But when following a lead lands her in buried rubble, Stella realizes she must extinguish this case fast or she might be going down in flames.
Jim and Joyce say they were drawn to the cozy mystery genre because they liked the personality of it – giving characters quirky names and jobs , i.e. Stella as a firefighter as opposed to Sally Smith being an ad executive. Plus the cozy genre is great if you’re not much on blood and guts!
Also as J. J. Cook they pen the “Buscuit Bowl Food Truck” mysteries.
The first novel, DEATH ON EAT STREET introduces us to Zoe Chase. Zoe Chase always wanted to own her own restaurant. When she's once again passed over for a promotion at work, Zoe decides to take the big leap and go for her dream. She quits, gives up her fancy digs, and buys a fixer-upper dinner in a shady part of town. To keep above water during the renovation, she buys a used food truck to serve the downtown and waterfront of Mobile, Alabama.
After a promising start, things start to go downhill faster than a food truck without brakes. First, someone tries to rob the cash register. Next, Zoe is threatened by the owner of a competing food truck for taking their spot. And when the owner ends up dead inside Zoe's rolling restaurant, Zoe and her sole employee, Ollie, find themselves hopping out of the frying pan into the fryer. They need to find the real killer, before both of them get burned.
Under their own name, Joyce and Jim Lavene, they pen six other series, including the ‘Retired Witches’ series for Berkley about witches who are retired from witchcraft, of course! The first book in that series, SPELL BOOKED, introduce us to three witches who run a curio shop in North Carolina called Smuggler’s Arcane. They decide they’re ready to retire to Boca Raton, Florida, but before they can retire, they must give up their magic, recruit and train three new witches to take their places, and hand off the spellbook they have added to for years. It doesn’t seem like it would be too hard, but that’s before their spellbook is stolen and they must accomplish it all with limited magic and hilarious results.
The second in the series, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODWITCH, deals with a sea witch who has been leaving bodies up and down the Carolina coast. The witch is killing young male witches in a search for the perfectman – the one who can survive her mating ritual – so that she can live for another hundred years. Retired witches Molly and Elise get involved when it appears she’s about to ensnare young coven hopeful Brian Fuller. With the help of the ghost of Olivia and her daughter Dorothy, along with a selkie and a cream-puff eating mermaid, it’s all they can do to keep Brian out of her clutches! (Kinda reminded me of an episode of CHARMED!)
And let’s not forget the “Taxi for the Dead” paranormal series! Former Nashville police officer Skye Mertz uses her training to solve mysteries for her new boss, a sorcerer named Abraham Lincoln Jones. Abe brought Skye back to life for twenty years after she signed his contract to serve him for that time.
Now Skye picks up Abe’s zombie workers—like herself—when their time is up. She takes care of her daughter, Kate, with the help of her ghostly mother-in-law, Addie, and Lucas, a sorcerer with amnesia.
In between, she searches for what really killed her husband, Jacob. The police say he died in the same wreck that killed her, but Skye knows better. She has twenty years to prove that his death was no accident.
Here’s a complete list of the mystery series Joyce and Jim have written:
As Joyce and Jim Lavene:
Taxi for the Dead Paranormal Mysteries
Retired Witches Mysteries
Missing Pieces Mysteries
Renaissance Faire Mysteries
Peggy Lee Garden Mysteries
Sharyn Howard Mysteries
As JJ Cook:
Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries
Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mysteries
As well as others under the name of Ellie Grant.
Try one today – you won’t be disappointed!
Columnist: Toni LoTempio
Born in New York City, T. C. LoTempio is the national bestselling author of the Nick and Nora Mystery series. She has been a staff reporter at the young adult magazine Susabella Passengers and Friends for more than a decade. When she isn’t reporting or writing novels, she and her cat Rocco fundraise for Nathan Fillion’s charity, Kids Need to Read. Visit her at www.tclotempio.com or at www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com