Barbara Burnett Smith did voiceover work in radio and television commercials for two decades and also owned a company that provided communication and leadership classes. But as the daughter-in-law of mystery writer, Thomas B. Dewey, Barbara was bitten by the writing bug herself and joined a writers group that included feedback from authors Susan Rogers Cooper and Jeff Abbott. The result was Writers of the Purple Sage, nominated in 1994 for an Agatha Award for best first mystery novel.
That first novel introduced a series featuring Jolie Wyatt, a radio station reporter and aspiring writer who went on to be the protagonist in four more books, including Mistletoe from Purple Sage in 1997. Mistletoe opens with Jolie celebrating the publication of her first book as she and her husband travel to Austin for the Christmas holidays. She's also promised to attend an anniversary party for her former employer, Rose Sterling Advertising Agency, which she's dreading because her ex-lover also happens to be the owner's son-in-law. But when an employee turns up dead in the women's bathroom during the party, Jolie finds that instead of unwrapping presents, she becomes wrapped up in the case.
Barbara also wrote a standalone with radio disc-jockey Cassie Ferries and began another cozy mystery series in 2005 featuring beader Kitzi Camden. But the second book in that series had to be completed by Barbara's friend Karen MacInerney when tragedy struck Barbara down at the far-too-young age of 57 while on an act of mercy. She and her husband were driving to San Antonio to rescue an Airedale, and on the way home, they stopped at the Remember the Alibi mystery bookstore. When the dog jumped out of the car and ran into traffic on that dark and rainy night, Barbara was fatally injured when struck by a car.
Publishers Weekly said of Barbara's first novel that the characters were well rounded and "Purple Sage promising as a rich setting for future tales from this talented newcomer." The character of Jolie Wyatt has also been described as fiercely independent, highly sympathetic narrator who handles herself with characteristic wit and aplomb, a character assessment that makes an appropriate homage for Burnett Smith, too.