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A recipe for murder

Lake Placid model for town in new ‘Bartender’s Guide to Murder’ series

From left, mixologist Jamielynn Brydalski and author Sharon Linnea hold the newly released novel “Death in Tranquility,” the first book in “The Bartender’s Guide to Murder” series, on Thursday, Oct. 1 at the Crowne Plaza. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Readers may not recognize any people or places when reading “The Bartender’s Guide to Murder” books, but they will find the familiar spirit of this village on every page of Sharon Linnea’s first of three novels in the series, “Death in Tranquility.”

The village of Tranquility was based on Lake Placid.

“I loved working on this book, and I love these characters,” Linnea said Thursday, Oct. 1 from her Crowne Plaza room when she was in town to sign copies for The Bookstore Plus. “It made me fall in love with Lake Placid all over again, even though the characters aren’t really here. And I also found that now when I come back, I can’t wait to go to certain restaurants, which then I sadly realize I made up.”

“Death in Tranquility” introduces the protagonist Avalon Nash. She’s making a cross-country journey from the West Coast to the East Coast, stopping in the fictional community of Tranquility. She has lunch at a Scottish pub while changing trains. A murdered bartender is found. Nash gets the bartender’s job. A mystery is solved, but not until a lot of cocktails are made.

There’s a cocktail recipe at the end of each chapter. A murder mystery and drinks? Sounds like the timing was just right for Linnea’s book, which was released last week, even though it was written before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Lake Placid bartender Jamielynn Brydalski mixes a cocktail. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

“People are afraid to come out of their houses right now. People are afraid to go out to the bars,” said Jamielynn Brydalski, a former bartender at the High Peaks Resort who helped Linnea with many of the cocktail recipes for the book. She lost her job during the pandemic and spent much of the spring making cocktails with her friends over Zoom. “What they are doing, they’re still reading a lot. They’re still buying books. … And they’re going to the liquor store.”

Published by Arundel Publishing of Warwick, New York, the series focuses on different aspects of Tranquility’s past. The first one, old Hollywood. The second, due out later this year, the Winter Olympics. In the end, it’s not about the history or the drinks; it’s about the story.

“When you write a murder mystery, I feel like the author makes a contract with the reader at the beginning of the book that I’m going to give you the information you need to figure this out,” Linnea said. “But I’m going to do it in a way that entertains you all the way until the end. And then when we get there, hopefully we’ll shake hands and say, ‘OK, good job. That was fun!’ So that is what I hope people get from the book.”

Linnea lives outside New York City with her family, but she visits Lake Placid as often as she can.

The Lake Placid News sat down with the author, Linnea, and mixologist, Brydalski, at the Crowne Plaza on Oct. 1. Below is a portion of the interview.

Lake Placid bartender Jamielynn Brydalski shakes a cocktail. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LPN: This is the 21st century. Why are you traveling by train?

Linnea: I love traveling by train. I wish the trains here in the U.S. were as luxurious as the ones in Europe. But our protagonist, Avalon Nash, is on the run from her life in Los Angeles, and she’s coming back to her life in Brooklyn. And she doesn’t want to — even pre-COVID — it needs to be a journey for her. It’s sort of the hero’s journey. And starting from Los Angeles and making it all the way across the country. … One of the first things she thinks is in life, you think it’s about where you’re going, but a lot of times it turns out being about where you change trains. And so she ends up in Tranquility, not expecting to, and finds a freshly murdered bartender and it changes her life.

LPN: Why base the town of Tranquility on Lake Placid?

Lake Placid bartender Jamielynn Brydalski pours a cocktail. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Linnea: I fell in love with Lake Placid. My son went to college near here, and I never stayed where he went to college. We always stayed here because, first of all, the topography. Oh my goodness, the mountains and the lakes. And then the people who live here and work here are real salt-of-the-earth people. They’re real interesting folks. A lot of them are from here. A lot of them have come here from other places. But then you also have this constant cycle of tourists and visitors that you can choose from. …

Avalon is looking for the perfect place to call home, what all of us are looking for. … So this seems like on the surface the perfect place to try to find home. …

And actually, Lake Placid has so much history. It not only has Olympic history but the history of the famous people who have lived here, in the big houses and the camps, but also a lot of old Hollywood came here. And the first book is really working with the old Hollywood history of the town. The second book, which is called “Death in Gravity” and has K120 on the cover, is dealing with the Olympic side of the town. … It’s hard to not want to write about Lake Placid.

LPN: What came first? Was it your character? Was it your setting? Was it, let’s do something with a bartender?

Lake Placid bartender Jamielynn Brydalski garnishes a cocktail. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Linnea: Five years ago, our house burned down one Sunday morning, and we lost almost everything and we had to live somewhere else for a year. And my husband said, “You should write fun books.” Because a lot of the books I write are heavier biographies. …

My son, when he was a senior in high school, said, “Mom, I’ve always wanted to be a bartender.” And I said, “Well, how about that? I wanted to be a bartender, too.” So in between his junior and senior year, we trained together to be a bartender. You could do it over a series of weeks, and since it was so far away, we did it all in one week. …

For me, the interesting thing about being a bartender, in the times I have actually done it, is listening to people. Because people come in, it’s the end of the day, especially if they’re sitting at the bar, they just want to talk. And as a novelist, I have to admit that I’m kind of a voyeur. I love to hear people’s stories. And it seemed to me that’s how you solve mysteries is you get to know people, and you get to understand what their motivations might be that aren’t obvious on the surface of things. So, who better to solve mysteries in a small town than the bartender?

LPN: Describe when you two first met Jamielynn.

Lake Placid bartender Jamielynn Brydalski tastes a cocktail. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Linnea: Well, Jamielynn, I wouldn’t even call her a bartender. I would call her a master mixologist. She can figure out how to put tastes and flavors together in a way that is a real gift. I think she can tell you the drink that I ordered the first time I met her.

LPN: What was that drink?

Brydalski: It was a strawberry rhubarb cocktail when Sharon was visiting, end of May, beginning of June five years ago. She ordered the cocktail, went to her table. A few months later, she came back and she said, “I don’t know if you remember me, but you made me this concoction.” I said, “Yeah, I remember you.” … She’s like, this is who I am. This is what I’m doing. “Is there any chance I can have an interview with you?” … And I was like, “Well, I don’t know if I want to tell you all my stories because I don’t want to divulge all the secrets of Lake Placid.” But after that, we kept in touch. … And we’ve been working together for five years.

It’s been so much fun. I get to use my creativity with everything that I’ve learned from how I make cocktails on my own. I come up with all these crazy concoctions and ideas.

LPN: What is your favorite cocktail in the book?

Linnea: There’s so many in there that we like.

Brydalski: My favorite right now, it’s in chapter five. It’s called Jekyll and Hyde, and it’s a spicy and sweet cocktail. So it’s like a pineapple and habanero old fashioned. And it literally is Jekyll and Hyde. You’ve got a little sweet, you’ve got a little spicy, a little crazy mixture.

Linnea: They’re all given the name of the chapter. … I’m going to go with the closed casket, which is a blueberry margarita.

Brydalski: And the bloody handprint.

Linnea: Oh, the bloody handprint. That is really good.

LPN: Tell us about page 186, “Missing.” Whisky.

“Take a whisky glass. Fill it. Drink. Repeat.”

Linnea: It’s absolutely true. Something happens in the book that is so disturbing to Avalon that all she can do is pour whisky and drink it. And then pour some more.

Brydalski: It happens. I mean, seriously that happens in the real bar life. Something happens. Somebody comes into the bar and they’re like, “Just give me the Jameson.” “How would you like that?” “Just a shot.” And then a few minutes later, “Are you all set?” “Oh no, I’ll take another Jameson.”

LPN: Why was it a Scottish pub?

Linnea: There is a hotel in Edinburgh that I stayed in when I was a teenager, and it just really caught my attention. You could tell it was built in different times, and it just crawled all over hills, and you could never find your way from one place to another. And I thought, that’s a really interesting place, a kind of place to set something like this. When you build hotels these days, the halls are straight and you can find the elevator. But it’s much more interesting if whacky or spooky or scary things are going on if you’re in a hotel that’s more creative than that. It’s also clearly not based on a hotel currently in Lake Placid, although if they built it, I would come and stay immediately.