Sunday, August 10, 2014

Guest Blogger: Kathleen Heady--Make Mine "Rice and Beans."

Every other Sunday is our day for Guest Author Postings by mystery writers who base their stories in non-US settings.  We think it a great way of introducing our readership to new experiences and places.  We’re pleased to have with us today Kathleen Heady, a native of rural Illinois, who’s lived and traveled many places, including numerous trips to Great Britain and seven years living in Costa Rica. Her third novel, Hotel Saint Clare, was released in June, 2014. She is also the author of Lydia's Story and The Gate House, which was a finalist for an EPIC award in 2011. To learn more and Kathleen and her writing, check out her website at

Welcome, Kathleen.

My most recent novel, Hotel Saint Clare, is set on a fictional island in the Caribbean, but is partially based on my experiences living in Costa Rica, particularly the Caribbean coast of that country.

In a country the size of West Virginia, it is difficult to imagine the diversity of culture, climate and lifestyle that can be found in Costa Rica. I moved to Costa Rica in the early 1990s where I taught in international school for seven years. Although I now live back in "Gringolandia," I return for a visit every couple of years to visit my many friends.

I have a particular fondness for the Caribbean coast, where the culture is more influenced by its proximity to the islands where many of the early inhabitants came from originally to work on banana plantations. You hear English spoken as much as Spanish, although with the lilt of the Jamaican. Life is just a little bit simpler and more laid back than the rest of the country. 

Small "cabinas" are tucked away in the rain forest, but still often only a few steps from the beach. Bats may cling to the outside of the screened windows during the day, only to disappear in a cloud of black as the sun goes down.

Surfers from all over the world hole up in the cheapest cabinas and spend their days working the Salsa Brava, some of the best surfing in the world. I met an unforgettable character named "Alaska," who spent the summers up north earning money to spend his winters surfing. He must have had another name, but I have no idea what it was.

When I first visited Puerto Viejo in 1992, there was only one telephone in the village. Now that has changed. Everyone has the latest technology, and Internet cafés are common. But the overall feeling of the place is the same. You walk more slowly there, you listen to the reggae music that flows out of every restaurant and store. You laugh when it rains.

As you drive along the road from Limon, watching the palm trees on the beach that seems to go on forever, you may stop for an "agua de pipa," the most refreshing drink in the world, and a simple business for a enterprising soul. Gather some green coconuts. Keep them relatively cool. And when a customer stops, slice off one end of the coconut with a machete, insert a straw in the hole and serve.

Rice and beans appear in almost every meal in Costa Rica, but they are served with a Caribbean twist on that coast. Just cook in some coconut milk to replace the liquid and they are called by the English name, "rice and beans," rather than the Spanish "arroz y frijoles."

The dense tropical rain forest creates the perfect setting for a murder mystery, and my imagination goes into overdrive as I sit with my morning coffee and listen to the parrots squawking in the trees, slap off a few insects, and give myself over to the humidity. In the evening, howler monkeys can be heard as they travel through the treetops to their resting place, and bats swirl, out for an evening hunting.

Many "gringos" (an affectionate, tolerant term as it is used in Costa Rica) believe that they would miss the change of seasons while living in the tropics. I never found this to be so. There is a change of season, but it does not involve the temperature. Roughly, the rainy season lasts from May to the end of November, and the dry season from December to the beginning of May. I prefer the rainy season. It doesn't rain constantly. In fact, the mornings are usually dry. People who work outdoors start very early, at least by six a.m., to take advantage of the clear morning. The rains come in the afternoon, and can be anything from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour.

There is truly nothing like the sound of the rain hitting the metal roofs that are so common in the tropics.

Climb into the hammock. Open a book. Close your eyes. Sleep.

Guest Blogger Kathleen Heady—Sunday


  1. My eyes are getting heavy... my head is starting to droop... the roar of down-pore on the tin overhead... wait a minute! Where do I catch the boat???

    Thanks, Kathleen! QUITE enchanting.

  2. Kathleen, thanks for taking us to a new place. I will go there in your story. What a place to visit when the snow starts to blow. Which will be all too soon.

  3. Thanks, Kathleen, for visiting with us. But you've made your setting so inviting you'd best be prepared for us to show up on your doorstep!

  4. I have had it with Pennsylvania winters, and will be on my way to Costa Rica in January for a few weeks. I will think of all my friends up here in the snow, and hope to come up with some new writing ideas.