Birmingham author finds second career, success with cozy mysteries

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Debra H. Goldstein doesn't fit the mold of a typical cozy mystery protagonist.

"Most of the time, they (cozy mysteries) have a character that either cooks, bakes or does crafts. I don't do any of that. I hate all that," said Goldstein, a resident of Birmingham and author of the Sarah Blair mystery series.

The namesake of the series, who finds being in the kitchen more terrifying than murder, is relatable for readers who are not the domestic type but who enjoy following the antics of amateur sleuths who solve crimes while showing off their domestic skills.

Blair's twin sister, Emily, compensates for her deficiencies by being a competent, ambitious chef.

In the recently-release third installment, "Three Treats Too Many," the two sisters are co-owners of a restaurant who find themselves competing with a new restaurant in town until the sous chef is found dead.

Readers who have had to start over after their lives took unexpected turns can also relate to Blair, who was married at 18 and divorced at 28. Her Siamese cat, RahRah, has also proven popular with readers.

Additional installments will be released by Kensington Publishing Corp. in 2021 and 2022.

The second book in the series, "Two Bites Too Many," was a finalist for the 2020 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award in the cozy mystery category.

The series is set in Wheaton, a small town in Alabama. 

Goldstein, a native of New Jersey and Michigan, became acquainted with the charms and quirks of small Southern towns during the 12 years that she spent working on labor litigation before receiving an appointment as a federal administrative law judge.

Goldstein was still on the bench when her first book, "Maze in Blue," was released in 2011. Her debut novel, which received a 2012 Independent Book Publisher, was set on the campus of her alma mater, the University of Michigan.

After its publication, she attended Murder on the Menu, a conference for mystery authors that serves as a fundraiser for Wetumpka Public Library.

Her second novel, 2016's "Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery," was set in a small town inspired by Wetumpka.

Goldstein decided to try her hand at cozy mysteries, a genre she had enjoyed while traveling around the country for her work.

"They were so relaxing. I could read a couple of them between Birmingham and California. If they were well-written, it's a darn good whodunit and it will have social issues, which is something I try to do with mine. You just don't beat the reader over the head like you do in some books," Goldstein said.

Goldstein avoided other categories such as thrillers not only because it was not to her personal reading taste but also because she did not want to write anything that would conflict with the work she was doing in her law career.

Goldstein kept her writing career separate from her day job until the day that a defendant interrupted to say that he would buy her book even if she did not rule in his favor.

After being on the bench for more than 20 years, Goldstein decided to put all of her focus on her writing.

"This was a childhood dream. For me, this writing career has been a second childhood. It's a new world," she said.