1. Books

Festival of Reading: Cheryl Hollon's 'Cracked to Death' takes readers on St. Petersburg tour

Cheryl Hollon
Published Nov. 2, 2016

The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading presents more than 50 authors, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 12 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Cheryl Hollon will speak at 3:15 p.m. in USFSP Davis 105. Find more information here.

You might think that the worst perils of making glass art are a few cuts and burns if you get careless.

Not if you're hanging around Webb's Glass Shop, the central setting in Cheryl Hollon's mystery series. Art just might kill you.

Hollon based Webb's (with its local history-inspired moniker) on one of St. Petersburg's real businesses, Grand Central Stained Glass & Graphics, where, as far as I know, no murders have occurred.

But Hollon, who lives in St. Petersburg and makes glass art herself, makes deft use of it as a setting for her mysteries, written in the popular cozy style that's low on violence and often features amateur sleuths rather than professional detectives as main characters.

In Hollon's books that amateur is Savannah Webb, the young woman who owns the shop. In the first book in the series, Pane and Suffering, she investigated her father's death; in the second, Shards of Murder, she looked into the case of a victim whose body was found at a waterfront art show.

Hollon's latest, Cracked to Death, finds her turning over instructor duties at the glass shop to her somewhat ditzy assistant, Amanda, so Savannah can get a new studio in the Warehouse District up and running.

Amanda has some stage fright over her first day in front of a class, even though she knows most of the cast of lovable eccentrics that are enrolled in it already.

The most interesting part of the class turns out to be the reveal of a couple of salvaged bottles one student brings in for the day's upcycling project. Martin Lane, an enigmatic young man, says he found the bottles while diving. Their shape, glass type and stunning cobalt blue color tell Savannah that they might be valuable antiques, so Martin sets them aside for her to appraise rather than turning them into cheese trays.

The next morning, a young couple walking their dog along Boca Ciega Bay find the body of a diver in scuba gear. In his dive bag are fragments of blue glass. On his corpse are the marks of trauma.

Savannah's knowledge of glass makes her a part of the murder investigation. That lets Hollon take the reader on a tour of St. Petersburg landmarks, from Haslam's Book Store to the St. Petersburg History Museum, and architecturally interesting neighborhoods, with stops at the Queen's Head, Cappy's Pizza and Mazzaro's Market, among other dining spots. (Savannah has healthy appetites.)

The case also leads into questions about the perhaps fictional, perhaps not Gaspar the Pirate, whose storied hidden treasure trove might be the source of those blue bottles — and the reason someone is willing to kill over them.

The novel's pace is leisurely, built around character interactions, travelogue and lots of information about glass art and its history.

But it's not all pirate tales, glass flowers and cranberry scones. Sometimes there's a shootout in Jungle Prada before the murder gets solved.

As one student says to Savannah, "I must say, there always seems to be a crime connected with each of your classes. … I'm beginning to have grave concerns about your associations, young lady."


  1. Clips of an article Jack Kerouac wrote for the Evening Independent/St. Petersburg Times in 1965. Times Files.
    While living in St. Petersburg, Jack Kerouac stopped by a local newspaper office and wrote three stories in one night.
  2. Jack Kerouac was nearly unrecognizable in the late '60s (right) from the man he was in his youth (left). Times Files
    The King of the Beats is still celebrated throughout the city, including at his old drinking haunt, the Flamingo Bar.
  3. Michael Connelly, creator and co-writer of "Bosch," poses at the season two premiere of the Amazon original series at the Pacific Design Center on March 3, 2016, in West Hollywood, Calif. CHRIS PIZZELLO  |  Invision | AP
    The bestselling author will publish two more novels and see the debut of a second TV series based on his work next year.
  4. Michael Connelly in 2015. Courtesy of Mark DeLong
    The iconic Los Angeles detective and his talented protegee pursue killers in the mean streets and the corner offices. | Review
  5. Authors James Baldwin (maroon), Kristen Arnett (pink), Rita Mae Brown (yellow), Tanya Boteju (green), Thomas Page McBee (turquoise), Alison Bechel (blue), Mariko Tamaki (lime green), Alexander Chee (red), Kate Bornstein (purple) and Eileen Myles (orange). Illustration by Lisa Merklin  |  tbt*
    Books help to chronicle the long, storied, beautiful and diverse LGBTQ community. | Ashley Dye
  6. University of South Florida professor Jay Hopler. Courtesy of Jay Hopler
    Plus, Diane Dewey will sign her memoir at St. Petersburg bookstore Haslam’s.
  7. Jill Ciment. Courtesy of Arnold Mesches
    The story of jurors on a Florida murder trial takes some wicked twists.
  8. Author Susan Isaacs' new novel is "Takes One to Know One." Linda Nutter
    ‘Takes One to Know One’ follows an ex-FBI agent uncovering hidden identity and crime in an upscale suburb.
  9. Florida Literary Legend Craig Pittman at work on the Ichetucknee River in 1999. Times (1999)
    His five books about the state and award-winning environmental reporting for the Times earned him the title.
  10. The 27th annual Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading is coming up on Nov. 9 at the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus. Times (2017)
    Roy Peter Clark is also set to offer a workshop at Oxford Exchange in Tampa.