Death Al DenteWelcome to the Merc—Glacier Mercantile. Old-timers still call it Murphy’s Mercantile. My great-grandfather Murphy built this place, the original village grocery, in 1910. See the date carved in the cornerstone? Practically pioneer days in this part of Montana, in the northwest corner, on Eagle Lake. That was the same year Glacier National Park was established, barely thirty miles from here.

Time moved slowly then, and the village of Jewel Bay didn’t change much. In the early 1970s, about the time my parents met—in Italy, where my father was an American college student and my mother an American following her heritage—progress came to town. Shops that had thrived for decades moved out, leaving the old stone and brick buildings surrounding the bay sadly vacant. My grandmother told me there were days when it was just her, staring at the Saltines and cans of tomato soup, while folks discovered the wonders of the new supermarket out on the highway. She and my grandfather did not know what would become of them.

Gradually, though, Jewel Bay forged a new identity. Young couples moved in, including my parents. My dad taught history and coached at the high school; my mother raised the three of us and cooked up a storm. Artists took over, rechristening the original settlement “the village” and making it a haven for art, music, and theater—and food.

And somehow, Murphy’s Mercantile thrived along with it. My childhood was happy. Our home in an orchard south of town brimmed with the loves and feuds of an Irish-Italian—and All-American—family.

Then, my senior year, my father was killed in a hit-and-run. Ike Hoover, the lead sheriff’s detective, worked his backside off but never solved the case. It haunts him still.

I went off to college that fall, then left Montana for ten years. Took my business degree to Seattle. Worked my way up at SavClub, the international warehouse chain, and became an assistant grocery buyer. Apples, cheese, chicken, wine, filet mignon—you eat it, we sold it. (We also sold cat food, batteries, and snow tires, but what I know about those items wouldn’t fill one of those tiny paper sample cups.)

Meanwhile, my mother took over the Merc, doing her best to save the family legacy. She turned it into a gift shop with a few local food items. But her heart wasn’t in it. What my mother, Fresca—Francesca Conti Murphy—loves best is not selling, or even eating, but cooking. Making fresh pasta. Tomato sauces. Pestos: basil, roasted pepper, artichoke. She hired her friend Claudette to manage the place so she could cook, and things started to turn around. Everyone, whether they’re Irish, Norwegian, or good old American mutt, loves Italian food.

And Fresca’s is really, really good.

Fast forward to this spring. Fresca knew I was at a turning point. I never said, but she knew. And she was at one, too. Time to let go—or go for broke. She started hinting that it was time for me to come home. And you know what a mother’s hints are like. I wasn’t sure—I liked city life. My brother’s a wolf biologist, out howling at the moon. My sister’s an artist, with a great husband and a five-year-old—my amazing nephew, Landon. But what does an assistant grocery buyer do in a town of 2,500 year-round—even one that more than doubles in summer?

Then Claudette’s boyfriend, the chiropractor, moved to Vegas to study Elvisology. (Don’t call him an impersonator—he prefers “tribute artist.”) She left my mother a note, and followed him.

So here I am. Manager of all I survey and master of none of it. My mother still controls the building and the business, and she’s great, but I didn’t come home to be in charge of nothing.

But if there’s one thing everyone in Jewel Bay loves, it’s a festival. You name the holiday, we’ve got a festival. Jewel Bay calls itself the Food Lover’s Village, in a nod to our terrific restaurants and the shops catering to foodies. So why not, I thought, combine them in a festival to celebrate summer? After all, we’ve got about ninety days of tourist season to make most of our income, so let’s kick it off in style. A Festa di Pasta di Jewel Bay.

Friday night we’re serving dinner in the courtyard the Merc shares with Red’s Bar. All proceeds go to the Food Bank. The rest of the weekend, we’ve got Italian specials in every restaurant, music in the streets, a gala concert at the Playhouse, a carnival for the kids, and more.

It’s going to be the best party this little village has ever seen, in more than a century. Come join us for Prosecco and pinot grigio, fettucine and lasagna, gelato and biscotti.

Nothing can go wrong. I’ve got it all planned.

Thanks to Penguin, I have one (1) copy of DEATH AL DENTE to give away. Leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. The book will be shipped directly from the publisher. Contest ends August 9; US entries only per publisher’s request.

Meet the author
Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, debuts from Berkley Prime Crime on August 6. The series is set in a small, lakeside resort community in Northwest Montana, on the road to Glacier Park, near where author Leslie Budewitz lives. Leslie is also a lawyer. Her first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books) won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. Visit her at and on Facebook.

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

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