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Award-winning author Penny Warner talks about role of disabled characters

Penny Warner and the cover of her latest mystery, Death of a Crabby Cook
Penny Warner and the cover of her latest mystery, Death of a Crabby CookDeath of a Crabby Cook (NAL: August 5, 2014); author photo by Dan Honda

Penny Warner has published more than sixty books for both adults and children. The latest release in her current mystery series, dubbed the Food Festival Mystery Series, features food trucks and is set at the San Francisco Seafood Festival, where someone is steamed enough to commit murder. “Death of a Crabby Cook” was inspired by the popularity of food trucks and the controversy they engender.

“Their popularity intrigued me,” said Warner. “I thought it would make a great venue for a murder mystery. There's a lot of controversy about the food trucks vs. brick-and-mortar restaurants, so it's ripe for trouble.”

Warner, who creates fund-raising murder mystery events for libraries across the country and teaches child development at Diablo Valley College, likes to include a character with a disability in her mysteries. She said, “My first series featured a deaf woman, the second ‘How To Host A Killer Party’ series offered a party planner with ADHD and a mother with Alzheimers, and in my current series, ‘Death of a Crabby Cook’ serves up a computer hacker who has Asperger's Syndrome. My disabled characters are very empowered and coping well with their disabilities.”

So, how did Warner become so dedicated to helping those with disabilities? She said, “During high school I did volunteer work in a multi-handicapped class. One student in particular had an impact on me. He was diagnosed as being developmentally delayed until they later learned he was only deaf. Once they realized this and put him in a school for the deaf, he made remarkable progress. I became so interested in deafness that I learned sign language and went on to become a sign teacher.”

Warner received her MA in Deaf Education. “I taught infant and preschool deaf children sign language. I stopped teaching briefly when I had my children, and that's when I began writing. I thought a deaf protagonist would make a fascinating sleuth, since she'd have to use other senses to solve a crime, rather than hearing.”

When she wrote that first mystery featuring a deaf protagonist, Warner was very concerned about acceptance in the deaf community. “It was challenging, since I wasn't deaf myself, but I got a nice review in a deaf periodical saying, ‘I can't tell if the author is deaf or hearing, but she's captured the deaf experience.’ I breathed a sigh of relief and kept writing about the deaf community.”

In addition to being accepted in the deaf community, “Dead Body Language” won a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery, and was nominated for an Agatha and an Anthony Award. Warner’s children’s mystery series, The Code Busters Club, won an Agatha Best Children’s Mystery Award and is nominated for an Anthony.

As for the Food Festival Mysteries, Warner said, “This is a cozy series featuring Darcy Burnett, recently down-sized from her job as a restaurant critic, who goes to work in her Aunt Abby's food truck. It offers a fun story, a little romance, inside information on the food truck world, and lots of recipes.”

In “Death of a Crabby Cook,” Darcy discovers that someone’s been trafficking in character assassination—literally—when a local chef turns up dead and her aunt is framed for the murder. The victim was an outspoken enemy of the food trucks—and now Darcy wonders if one of the other vendors cooked his goose. With her aunt’s business—and freedom—on the line, it’s up to Darcy and Dream Puff Jake Miller, to put the brakes on a crabby—and out-of-control killer . . . before time is up.

With the San Francisco Seafood Festival behind her, Warner has set her sights on dessert. She said, “I'm working on the next book in the series set at the San Francisco Chocolate Festival, ‘Death Of A Chocolate Cheater,’ and making myself drool over all the chocolate recipes.”

More information

She writes a column for the local newspaper on family life in the Valley. Learn more about her on her website at www.pennywarner.com.