Guest Post: Judy Alter

Welcome to Peacock Mansion

Several years ago a friend told me about a recluse who lived in a mansion near us and had once been accused of murdering her husband. She was acquitted (circumstantial evidence), and the terms of her husband’s will provided that she could stay in the mansion as long as she lived. After that, it would revert to the rightful heirs. Naturally the story was fascinating, but I was hesitant to put it in my local Kelly O’Connell series for fear people would connect the dots.

But peacocks in East Texas? First my imagination moved the mansion to East Texas, site of the books in my Blue Plate Café Mysteries. The idea of a mansion in that rural country is not so far-fetched as you might think. Dallas millionaires have begun to build mansions on ranchettes within an hour or two of the city—my mansion just predates the trend of the last twenty years.

So there I was with a story that was moving along nicely and a title, “Murder at the Mansion.” The title seemed a little bland to me, and a search on Amazon revealed other books with that title. I know you can’t copyright a title, but why confuse people? I put the dilemma aside while I continued to aim for my thousand words a day.

But one day Kate Chambers, my protagonist in the Blue Plate Mystery Series, drove onto the mansion grounds and lo and behold! There was a peacock, his tail spread in all its magnificent peacock imageglory. I have no idea where he came from—he was just there. I quickly changed the nameplate on the gate to “Peacock Mansion.” Suddenly everything had more pizzazz to it, and gradually the peacocks worked their way into the story until they became an essential element.

A little research taught me that peacocks (technically only the male—the female is a peahen) are raucously loud, fearless and sometimes mean (like those beautiful swans), and they use their feathers in a mating ritual—should you be interested in the scientific controversy about peacocks and mating, there are reams of information on the Internet. I also learned that though these birds originated in India and Africa and places like Sri Lanka, Indochina, Java, they are common in the United States, with many breeding programs in this country. So peacocks in East Texas aren’t such a stretch of the imagination. Neither, I guess, is murder at a mansion.

If there’s a bit of writing advice in this tale, it’s that the exotic, unexpected often adds that needed pick-me-up for a plot.

3Peacock Mansion -darker topMurder at Peacock Mansion
Arson, a bad beating, and a recluse who claims someone is trying to kill her all collide in this third Blue Plate Café Mystery with Kate Chambers. Torn between trying to save David Clinkscales, her old boss and new lover, and curiosity about Edith Aldridge’s story of an attempt on her life, Kate has to remind herself she has a café to run. She nurses a morose David, whose spirit has been hurt as badly as his body, and tries to placate Mrs. Aldridge, who was once accused of murdering her husband but acquitted. One by one, Mrs. Aldridge’s stepchildren enter the picture. Is it coincidence that David is Edith Aldridge’s lawyer? Or that she seems to rely heavily on the private investigator David hires? First the peacocks die…and then the people. Everyone is in danger, and no one knows who to suspect.


An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House and the current Murder at Peacock Mansion. Finally, with the 2014 The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries.

Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame.

Judy is retired as director of TCU Press, the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.

Find Judy at:



Web page:



Twitter: @judyalter



12 thoughts on “Guest Post: Judy Alter”

  1. Now I’m intrigued – scientific controversy around peacocks and mating? I love the birds; they always look so regal but yes, I’ve heard they are loud! isn’t it fun when an element pops into a story from nowhere like that?


  2. I’m with Mary, I have to look that up. We have a pride, herd, gaggle, whatever, of peacocks that live down the road from us. i don’t know who they actually belong to, but they are gorgeous, and rumor has it descended from a flock (that word feels right) established in the 1920s on the old Ford summer home estate (yep, that Ford).


  3. I grew up in Vacaville California outside of which was The Nut Tree. The Nut Tree had started as a road-side walnut stand and blossomed into a restaurant, gift shop and airport (the airport I gather is still there). It developed on the property of the owners where there was a big old farmhouse and they kept peacocks. I used to love driving to Nut Tree through the walnut orchards and try to catch a glimpse of the peacocks. Something fantastical about them despite the ugly sound.


  4. When I was growing up (back on the farm in Ohio) the neighbors had peacocks, and YES THEY ARE LOUD. Morning, noon, and night loud. It sounded like children screaming. They reamed around all over the front lawn-barnyard dragging their tails behind them. They almost never opened up. They were beautiful, however, and we always tried to find feathers.


  5. interesting how many of you have memories of peacocks–I didn’t realize until I got into this how common they are. Sue, I have no idea what my muse was thinking! Mary and Kate, there is controversy over what role the tail play in the courtship ritual–but I would think it obvious that the bigger thee tail, the more prominent the male in peacock “circles.” Together peacocks and peahens are called peafowl. A group of peafowl is called an ostentation (so fitting) or a muster. Several other names are suggested such as cluster and bevy.


    1. Thanks for having me, Cynthia. I’ve become fascinated by peacocks since that one appeared in my novel unexpectedly. I guess the unexpected is the best.


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