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The book that started it all for Edgar Award winner Sharyn McCrumb's widely acclaimed series featuring amateur sleuth Elizabeth MacPherson.
When delicate Eileen Chandler is set to marry, her family fears the man is a fortune hunter. Thank goodness, Eileen's cousin Elizabeth MacPherson comes early for support. Unfortunately, Elizabeth also has some detecting to do, as a dead body is found, and none of the wedding party is above suspicion....
"A good deal of suspense...McCrumb writes with a sharp-pointed pen."
LOS ANGELES TIMES
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Sharyn McCrumb is an internationally acclaimed New York Times bestselling author whose work has been honored with all five of the major awards in crime fiction (Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and Nero)—with two Best Appalachian Novel awards. She is the creator of the Ballad series, which began with If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O; and her satirical mystery series featuring forensic anthropologist Elizabeth MacPherson. McCrumb lives in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, less than a hundred miles from the Smoky Mountain valley where her ancestors settled in 1790.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Dr. & Mrs. Robert Gray Chandler request the honour of your presence at the marriage of their daughter Eileen Amanda to Mr. Michael Satisky on Saturday, the nineteenth of June at one o’clock in the afternoon at the home of the bride Long Meadow Farm Route One Chandler Grove, Georgia
Thank you very much for the graduation present. It was the only I.O.U. I received and I shall treasure it always.
No, I haven’t decided what I want to do yet. There isn’t much you can do with a liberal arts major these days. Mother’s bridge club keeps asking me when I’m going to get married, so they have a pretty firm grasp of the situation at least. It seems careless of me to have broken up with Austin in my senior year. Now I have to think up something to do! I have given myself until the end of the summer to decide.
How are things with you? Is Tax Law 307 still putting you to sleep? Your new roommate Milo sounds interesting. Do archeologists make much money? What does he look like?
You may have noticed the enclosed invitation to Cousin Eileen’s wedding. I enclosed it partly at Mother’s insistence and partly as proof of martyrdom.
They want me to be a bridesmaid. Well, I don’t suppose “want” is exactly the right way to put it. I expect I’m a necessary evil: the poor cousin drafted in lieu of friends, because of course Eileen hasn’t got friends—unless she made some at Cherry Hill; and Aunt Amanda would never let this affair degenerate into a reunion of mental patients. Though of course it will be anyway, with all those Chandlers present. I myself will probably have to be taken away after a week of their collective presence. I never saw why they had to send her away, did you? All Chandlers considered, they could have just cordoned off the place and sent in ten nurses. Did you know that Aunt Amanda still refers to Cherry Hill as a “finishing school”?
The real purpose of this letter is to appeal to your better nature (assuming you have one) to persuade you to accompany me to this blessed event. I do not want to suffer alone. In fact, I feel that since you are older than I, you should be the one sacrificed (firstborn son, and all that), but then I can see that you’d make a terrible bridesmaid.
I know already that you are either going to ignore this letter or write back some tripe about your law courses keeping you too busy to go. Well, I will give you forty-eight hours to answer, and then I’m writing Aunt Amanda that we will be delighted to come to dear Eileen’s wedding.
Your atavistic sister,
I was kidding about the forty-eight hours. You did not have to send a Mailgram. Anyway, since I am your sister, I am not likely to believe that you have to go to your grandmother’s funeral.
Please thank Milo for the description of himself, but tell him I didn’t find it very enlightening. I am not thrilled by the fact that he has a “cranial capacity of 1,350 cc, a foramen magnum facing directly down, and a pyramidal-shaped mastoid process.” Does he still leave bones scattered on the kitchen table? You two deserve each other.
Mother is worried about your dietary habits. She wanted me to ask if you are eating anything green and leafy. (Dad looked up from the newspaper and said: “Money.”)
By the way, I most certainly will not give your message to Eileen. I looked up Hamlet, Act III—Scene I, lines 63-64: “ ’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.” Most unfunny. Aunt Amanda still hasn’t forgiven you for referring to Eileen’s release from Cherry Hill as her “coming-out party.”
I am going alone to the wedding—hereafter to be referred to as The Ordeal. Mother was willing to go, but Dad said he’d rather be staked out on an anthill. So I’m going by bus. If you had gone, we could have driven down.
I hope your law books fall on you.
Dear Aunt Amanda,
We are delighted to hear about Eileen’s wedding. Thank you for inviting me to be a bridesmaid. I’ll be happy to accept, but I’m afraid I’m the only MacPherson who can come.
Dad and Mother had already arranged to go to a sales convention in Columbia, and Bill is simply prostrate with grief that he can’t make it, but he has tests that week in law school.
I’ll be arriving on Wednesday afternoon about two-thirty at the bus station in Chandler Grove.
Looking forward to seeing you all again,
P.S. I think you will have to alter that bridesmaid’s dress. I did not, as you predicted, grow up to be a size sixteen.
THE CHANDLER GROVE bus station was a dingy yellow waiting room whose openings and closings were probably dictated by TV Guide. Flies hovered lazily about the torn screen door, some drifting over to the faded drink machine, whose dents testified to its dubious honesty. Near the counter was a rack of travel pamphlets that Elizabeth might well have to read if someone did not turn up soon to claim her. She picked up the least dusty brochure (Florida, of course) and sat down in the plastic chair to wait.
She decided that she would be disappointed if the first circle of hell were not a bus station waiting room where you waited forever for people you didn’t like who weren’t going to come for you anyway.
Her blue suitcase rested within inches of her foot, in case the crazed felon Aunt Amanda always swore inhabited bus stations should dash through the room and snatch it on the run. If he did, she hoped the dress would fit him—and if he would consent to take her place at The Ordeal, he was welcome to it.
She glanced at the suitcase, imagining the permanent wrinkles it was grinding in the yellow bridesmaid’s dress. Yellow. Aunt Amanda had either remembered or surmised that Elizabeth looked ghastly in yellow. No, more likely she hadn’t given it a thought. The Chandlers would scarcely consider the country cousin in their choice of wedding colors for dear Eileen.
So here I am, thought Elizabeth, the sacrificial lamb of the MacPherson Clan, shunted down to Chandler Grove and decked out in malarial yellow to see Eileen married off to What’s-His-Name.
At least it would be a distraction. Anything would be better than the postpartum depression of having received a degree in sociology and no job prospects. Her father wanted her to go to graduate school, but she couldn’t face that decision just yet. It felt too much like postponing life. She stared at the rack of travel brochures—there was always the Peace Corps. Reconciling with Austin out of sheer panic suddenly seemed dangerously easy.
After all, Austin was well on his way to becoming an architect. He would soon be so well established that Elizabeth could postpone life-determining decisions indefinitely. Though, of course, marrying Austin would have been a life-determining decision. It would lock her forever into the world of tailgate picnics and country club dances. “You just know there’s always an alligator somewhere on his person,” Bill had said. But she had been able to overlook his conventionality; much is forgiven of tanned, wiry blonds.
Her disenchantment had been gradual. She began to see the birthday and Christmas gifts of Bermuda bags and add-a-beads as a tacit reproach of her own taste. The feeling culminated on a golden April afternoon as they strolled along the path by the campus duck pond. Austin had gazed tenderly into her eyes and said: “If you lose ten pounds, I’ll marry you.” Elizabeth pushed him into the pond and walked off without a backward glance.
“I come from haunts of coot and hern,” said a solemn voice behind her.
Elizabeth turned around to see what was obviously a Chandler. He was in his early twenties, and he had the look of a faun in country tweeds.
“You must be Geoffrey,” she said, after a moment’s study.
“I know. I must. I once thought of being Caligula, but when Alban came back from Europe as Ludwig of Bavaria I gave it up.”
“Alban? Aunt Louisa’s son? I haven’t heard of him since she sent him off to William and Mary to become a ‘suthen’ gentleman.”
“My dear, you are quite out of it,” Geoffrey assured her. “After he graduated—KA with a B.A.—Aunt Louisa took him on the grand tour. The castles and churches of Ye Olde Worlde. Unfortunately, they visited Bavaria, and Alban became smitten with that fairy-tale thing that looks like the Disneyland castle. Built by King Ludwig, who was crazy.”
“You’ll know soon.” He sighed theatrically. “Far too soon. Is this blue suitcase yours? Shall I carry it for you and further impress you with my good breeding?”
Elizabeth stood up. “I’m so glad to be rescued, I don’t care who carries it.”
Geoffrey raised one expressive eyebrow. “The prospect of going to Long Meadow strikes you as a rescue?”
There didn’t seem to be an answer to this one.
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