July 21, 2024

First Ashland Mystery Fest a hit

Library panel with, from left, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O'Meara, Gigi Pandian, Kyra Davis and Ellie Alexander. Travel Ashland photo by Katherine Cato
October 26, 2023

Whodunnit? A lot did — and loved every clue-seeking moment of it

By Peter Finkle for Ashland.News

The Ashland Mystery Fest last weekend, Oct. 20-22, was a smashing success. If you were downtown Saturday, you would have met people trying to solve an original whodunnit mystery written by Ellie Alexander especially for the occasion. Author of the Bakeshop mystery series set in Ashland, Alexander’s vision was an immersive experience for book lovers, “where you get to be your own sleuth for the weekend.”

Mystery fans were here from Florida, Indiana, Texas, Washington, California and many other states — even from as far away as the United Kingdom.

‘Solve the Mystery’
Answers to the “Solve the Mystery” clues were shown at Paddington Station. Travel Ashland photo by Katherine Cato

By all accounts, the collaboration between Alexander, Ashland Chamber of Commerce, Paddington Station and many other local businesses fulfilled her vision. Dena DeRose, who helped the chamber market the event, “saw groups of people walking with the ‘Solve the Mystery’ clue sheet and talking with each other, asking even people they didn’t know: ‘What clue are you on?’ and ‘Where do we go next?’ and “We’re not from here. Do you know what this means?'”

After sleuthing, people trying to solve the mystery went to Paddington Station for the answer. Stefanie Nagata of Paddington reported at least 120 people came by to find out whodunnit, to take a photo at the Mystery Fest selfie spot and to sample food made from recipes printed in Alexander’s Bakeshop books.

Ten “cozy mystery” authors were featured during the weekend. What is a “cozy mystery?” you might ask. Cozy mysteries are crime fiction, usually with very little violence, sex or swearing. They generally have sympathetic lead characters who face and overcome obstacles, while also living more “normal” daily lives than we see in many detective-focused crime novels.

The 10 mystery authors together at Friday’s Kick-off Reception. Peter Finkle photo

Alexander asked a diverse group of authors to join her in Ashland for this inaugural Mystery Fest: Angela M. Sanders, CJ Connor, Gigi Pandian, Jennifer Chow, Kate Lansing, Emmeline Duncan, Kyra Davis, Tamara Berry and Tara Lush. Katharine Cato of the chamber saw readers interacting with the 10 authors, not only at the opening reception and library, but also in shops and on the sidewalks all over downtown.

‘The inaugural Ashland Mystery Fest far exceeded my expectations. It was such a delight to see readers from all over the country and the world, traipsing through the plaza on haunted tours, trying to solve the interactive mystery, tailing ’suspects’, laughing at the panels and pop-ups, and fully immersing themselves in Ashland’s charm. I can’t wait for 2024!’
—     Author Ellie Alexander

Author panel discussions were held in the Gresham Room at the Ashland Public Library. It isn’t surprising that the most popular of Saturday’s library author panels featured Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara, joined by authors Ellie Alexander, Gigi Pandian and Kyra Davis. Their topic was: “What Never Happens at a Crime Scene.” I was told that you could hear audience laughter even upstairs in the library, as the 90 in attendance were having so much fun.

O’Meara described his experience: “I had a great time meeting with the mystery writers and the aspiring mystery writers. This was a fantastic event and I look forward to being a part of future events.”

“Mystery Dinners” were a hit. Mystery Dinners, served at Ashland Springs Hotel as well as Alchemy Restaurant at The Winchester Inn, were all sold out. Karolina Lavagnino of the Ashland Springs Hotel said they “welcomed close to 60 guests who came from near and far, including five mystery writers each night. Our sommelier offered mystery wine pairing with the mystery menu created by our executive chef, Franco Console.”

Laurie Gibbs of The Winchester Inn enthused, “We had a fun-filled night.” She went on to say that longtime guests attending their mystery dinner were shocked and saddened when an actor portraying the restaurant’s chef in the mystery play announced that tonight would be the last dinner at Alchemy. Not until later in the evening did they realize his announcement was just part of the play. 

Scene from the Mystery Dinner show at Alchemy Restaurant. Pictured are the Victim, the Chef and the Detective. Travel Ashland photo by Katherine Cato
New people were introduced to Ashland

Having this Mystery Fest weekend attracted many people to visit Ashland who had never come before. Ashland responded with autumn colors, sunshine (for most of the weekend), charming wildlife and friendly people. It is encouraging that many visitors described the local people and town among their highlights of the weekend, equal to the mystery book activities. Here are what three visitors said:

— “I was in Lithia Park at the magic hour and saw a gathering of deer in a quiet moment and thought, ‘this is magical. Ashland is magical.’” (Kyra Davis, one of the cozy mystery authors, speaking of a favorite Ashland moment during the weekend.)

— “The thing I’ve found most amazing about this town besides the overall beauty of the area was the people. Some of that is because book people are wonderful. The local people are incredibly sweet and kind. And you could tell by every experience in every store and restaurant. Even the cop that stopped me because I didn’t realize my rental car lights were not on was kind and helpful.😊” (Laura (no last name given), describing her experience of the Mystery Fest weekend.)

— “Ashland is like the TARDIS (from Dr. Who). It’s small on the outside and big on the inside. It was an amazing event!” (Carrie Lynn, who came with her daughter from Vancouver, Washington. Both are writers.)

What a lively weekend!

If one of your neighbors ever tells you, “There’s nothing to do around here,” remind them about this lively weekend in Ashland! If you could split yourself into several persons, you could have attended the: Ashland Mystery Fest, Ashland Gallery Association Open Studio tour, Ashland New Plays Festival, Rogue Valley Symphony concert, Cabaret Theater performance of “Poirot: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” UFO Festival at the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library — and more….

Peter Finkle writes about Ashland history, neighborhoods, public art and more. See for his Ashland stories.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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