Book Clubbed (A Booktown Mystery)

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9780425262122: Book Clubbed (A Booktown Mystery)
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The New York Times bestselling author of Not the Killing Type is back in Booktown with another page-turning mystery. Bookstore owner Tricia Miles and her sister, Angelica, must put their problems on the shelf to catch a killer who turns a bookcase into a murder weapon...

After cranky Chamber of Commerce receptionist Betsy Dittmeyer is crushed by a fallen bookcase, the next item to be read is her will, which is packed with surprises. It seems Betsy was hiding volumes of secrets behind her perpetual frown—one of which might have been a motive for murder.

While Tricia tries to help Angelica—the newly elected Chamber of Commerce president—solve the mystery, she discovers a hidden chapter in her own family history. And with her ex-husband and the chief of police vying for her affections, it’s doubly hard to focus on who buried Betsy in a tomb of tomes.

But Tricia and Angelica will need to watch their step carefully to make sure the killer doesn’t catch them between the stacks.

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About the Author:

Lorna Barrett is the New York Times bestselling author of the Booktown mysteries, including Not the Killing TypeMurder on the Half Shelf, and Sentenced to Death. She lives and writes in Rochester, NY.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE

For once the winter weather seemed to be cooperating, meaning that unless any unforeseen complications arose, Tricia Miles, owner of the mystery bookstore Haven’t Got a Clue, would get a lot accomplished on that particular Saturday in February. No ice, no snow, and though the sun had not yet made an appearance in Booktown, otherwise known as Stoneham, New Hampshire, the skies were due to clear before lunchtime—hopefully bringing plenty of book-buying customers with it.

Meanwhile, Tricia and her sister, Angelica, who owned not only the Cookery bookstore, but a charming retro café, Booked for Lunch, and had a half share in a local bed-and-breakfast called the Sheer Comfort Inn, had a date to look over a private book collection. These kinds of sales were few and far between, and their window to make a bid on the collection was narrow—between ten and eleven o’clock.

Tricia glanced at her watch. It was 9:55 and Angelica wasn’t yet ready to leave.

“Ange, will you hurry,” she called, but Angelica was deep in conversation with her new receptionist. In actuality, Betsy Dittmeyerwasn’t Angelica’s personal secretary, but she was employed by the local Chamber of Commerce. Angelica had won the election for the presidency back in November and had officially taken office some five weeks before. Things hadn’t gone so well during that time. The former Chamber president, and Angelica’s former lover, had made the transition as difficult as possible. So had the Chamber’s receptionist.

“I don’t know how much longer I can tolerate this impossible situation,” Betsy cried, and sighed dramatically.

“I’m sorry,” Angelica apologized as she struggled into the sleeves of her leather jacket, “but you, more than anyone else, should understand the Chamber’s predicament. When Bob Kelly terminated our lease on the former Chamber building, we had to scramble. I’m giving up a large portion of my storeroom until other arrangements can be made.”

“It’s embarrassing and inconvenient to have to share restroom facilities with the general public,” Betsy huffed, setting her wastebasket filled with candy and other junk-food wrappers, as well as a load of dirty tissues, on the floor, and her key ring on the counter. She must have been on her way to tote the trash out back when she stopped to berate Angelica. Prim and proper, Betsy lived her life by Robert’s Rules of Order. At fifty-something, she was barrel shaped with brown hair streaked with gray. She took no guff from anyone, and she didn’t encourage frivolity of any sort. Tricia doubted the woman had ever smiled, let alone laughed. She watched as, with exaggerated care, Betsy yanked the sleeves of her maroon sweater over her wrists, then pulled it down over her rather large derriere.

Tricia glanced at her watch once more. Thanks to Betsy, they’d hardly have time to look at the books before they would have to make a decision on whether or not to buy them. Betsy had a penchant for being annoying. And according to Angelica, the woman spent an inordinate amount of time tying up the Cookery’s facilities, usually timing her bathroom breaks for when the store was full of paying customers in need of a restroom visit.

“I’ve got feelers out on several properties that might be available for rent, but Mr. Kelly hasn’t been helpful about setting up the appointments,” Angelica explained. And it was irritating that the property owners insisted that Angelica go through Bob. How long could they afford not to rent to the Chamber, and was Bob subsidizing them in the interim out of spite? He couldn’t do it forever, but meanwhile Angelica’s patience was near the snapping point, which was evident by the tightness in her voice.

And it wasn’t surprising that Angelica had a hard time holding on to her temper. Betsy constantly complained, despite the fact they’d been over the same ground at least a hundred times since Angelica had won the election, beating Bob by a handful of votes to become Chamber president on the first of the year. Meanwhile, the Chamber’s former digs up the street had remained empty and unrented. Spoilsport Bob had declined to even contemplate negotiating a new lease.

Luckily the door opened, interrupting what was sure to be another tense conversation. Unfortunately it was Frannie Mae Armstrong who entered the Cookery. Frannie had been the Chamber’s previous receptionist. Bob had fired her, but not only had Angelica hired her to manage the Cookery, she’d given her a fat raise and health-care benefits, too. Betsy resented that fact and made no bones about it.

“Good morning, all,” Frannie called cheerfully. “Isn’t it a lovely day?”

It was not. The sky was steel gray, but she knew the sound of her Texas twang set Betsy’s teeth on edge. She zeroed in on the Chamber’s only employee. “And how are you today, Betsy, dear?”

“Just fine,” Betsy grated. “I have work to do. I’d best get to it,” she said, pivoted, and flounced toward the back of the store to empty her wastebasket.

Angelica waited until Betsy was out of earshot before she spoke. “Really, Frannie, must you tease her so?”

Frannie feigned innocence as she shrugged out of her leather bomber jacket and set it on the sales counter. “Why I’m always as sweet to her as my mama’s homemade peach pie. I can’t help it if Betsy is such a disagreeable person.”

Angelica frowned. “No, I suppose you can’t.”

The door opened again and two women dressed for the arctic entered the store. Customers were so rare these days that both Angelica and Frannie practically leapt to attention. “Welcome to the Cookery,” Angelica said rather enthusiastically.

“Please don’t hesitate to ask if you need assistance,” Frannie called out.

The women nodded and stepped farther into the store to browse.

Angelica picked up the conversation where she’d left off. “I’ve got a hard decision in front of me. The Chamber can have a full-time receptionist who does little else but take potty breaks and complains, or we can have a part-time employee and rent office space. At this moment I’m leaning heavily toward that second alternative. All we need is a tiny storefront and there isn’t one available right now.”

“What about renting a bungalow at the Brookview Inn?” Tricia suggested.

Angelica shook her head. “The cost would be prohibitive.”

The bell over the door jingled again and Tricia looked up to see Charlie, the sixty-something mailman, come through the door. He was bundled in his regulation coat and hat, with a big leather pouch slung over his shoulder. “Mail call!” he said cheerfully. He handed the bills and junk mail to Angelica.

“Thanks.” She set them on the counter and turned her attention back to Tricia and Frannie.

“If Bob is keeping you from his clients, maybe you should just forget about him. Why not place an ad in the Stoneham Weekly News?”

Angelica sighed. “Yes, I suppose I could. I’ll call Russ today. Better yet, maybe I should just go over there.”

They heard a bang from the floor above and instinctively looked up. Had Betsy just slammed a file drawer shut?

Tricia looked at Frannie—the eyes and ears of Stoneham. “I’m surprised you don’t know of any places to rent in the area.”

Frannie crossed her arms over her bright green aloha shirt decorated with parrots, and frowned. “Believe me, I’d like to get rid of Betsy just as much as anyone else around here, but most of the available rentals I know about are in Milford—and I know you want the Chamber to stay here in the village,” she said, focusing on Angelica. “It’s just too bad Bob Kelly owns just about all the rental property in town.”

They heard another bang and instinctively looked up at the painted tin ceiling. Betsy really was riled.

“That has got to change,” Angelica said, ignoring the sounds above and frowning. “I wonder if I should go to the town hall and look up all the property in town—see who owns it, and ask if I can rent something, even just a room for a few months, until we can figure out where the Chamber’s new home will be.”

They heard a tremendous crash that seemed to shake the whole building.

“What on earth is Betsy up to?” Tricia asked. “Dumping bookshelves?”

Angelica sighed and shook her head just as the door opened, allowing four or five people to crowd into the store, which suddenly made it feel that much smaller. Where had they come from? And more important, were they going to visit Haven’t Got a Clue before they left the village?

“I should go hang up my coat,” Frannie said, excused herself, and threaded her way through the customers.

“Ange, we really need to leave. We’re already late to look at that book collection,” Tricia said.

“I’m sorry. With everything that’s going on around here, I almost forgot.” She pulled on her gloves and grabbed her purse from the sales counter.

Tricia shivered and crossed her arms over her coat. “Did you forget to turn the heat up this morning?”

“It’s on an automatic timer. It comes on half an hour before the store opens.”

Frannie approached. “That darn Betsy. She left the back door wide open when she took out the trash.”

“That’s not the first time she’s done that,” Angelica groused. “Looks like I’m going to have to have another little talk with her.”

“It’s okay. I shut and locked it, and reset the alarm,” Frannie said, taking her accustomed station behind the cash desk.

They heard more banging, but it didn’t seem to be directly overhead.

Angelica looked up at the ceiling. “What in the world is going on up there?”

“I don’t think it’s coming from the storeroom,” Tricia said.

“You don’t think Betsy was angry enough to go up and trash my apartment, do you?” Angelica asked.

“From what you’ve said, anything is possible when it comes to Betsy.”

“I’d better go up and see,” Angelica said, already heading for the back of the store and the door marked PRIVATE.

“Ange, we’re already late,” Tricia called.

“It’ll only take a minute,” Angelica called over her shoulder.

Tricia knew if she wasn’t around to speed things along that Angelica might get distracted once again, and hurried to follow.

The two of them rushed up the stairs. It had suddenly gotten very quiet. Was Betsy over her snit and goofing off with her feet up on the desk and a romance novel open on her lap? Betsy was the only person Tricia had ever met who could look industrious while doing absolutely nothing.

“Something’s not right,” Angelica said as they rounded the landing and saw that the door to the storeroom was ajar. From the floor above, they heard muffled barking from Angelica’s bichon frise, Sarge. Tricia felt Angelica’s index finger poke her shoulder. “Go on in,” she urged.

Tricia’s stomach knotted, but despite her misgivings she also knew if she wanted to assess those books for sale she’d have to move things along. She charged ahead and entered the storeroom-turned-office and cringed at the sight of the mess. How on earth had Betsy created so much chaos in so little time? Chairs were overturned, files were dumped on the floor, the computer tower had been knocked over, and the monitor screen had been smashed, with cracks radiating in a kind of starburst pattern. In the back of the storeroom was an overturned bookcase that had been filled with Angelica’s excess stock of vintage cookbooks.

And underneath it lay Betsy Dittmeyer . . . squashed flat.

TWO

Without conscious thought, Tricia whipped out her cell phone and punched in an all-too-familiar number—911—to report the accident.

When she ended the call, she looked straight at her sister. “You stay here, and I’ll go down and wait for the police.”

“Me?” Angelica practically squealed. “I don’t want to stay with her—she’s . . . she’s dead. And dead people creep me out. You stay here. You’re used to finding and dealing with dead people.”

“I am not,” Tricia protested, but by the time the words had left her mouth, Angelica had hightailed it out of the storeroom and down the stairs to her shop.

Tricia glanced back down at Betsy. She hadn’t been attractive in life, and death hadn’t made any improvements. Her eyes bulged, and her mouth was open, her chin bloodied, exactly what Tricia would have expected from someone who’d been crushed. It seemed incredible that Tricia had spoken to the woman only minutes before and now she was so thoroughly dead. She looked away, taking in the storeroom. How on God’s earth did Betsy make all that mess before she toppled the bookcase on herself?

The sound of a siren broke the quiet. Tricia turned away and took several deep breaths to quell her queasy stomach. Soon the sound of footsteps on the stairs caused her to look up, and her ex-lover, Chief Grant Baker of the Stoneham Police Department, appeared before her with Angelica right behind him. “The ambulance is on its way,” he said, nearly breathless.

“You can cancel it. Betsy’s dead,” Tricia said.

“How do you know?” he asked, hustling past her to get to the body.

“Dead people cease to bleed.”

The chief looked down at Betsy’s lifeless form, then up, his gaze darting around the room. “What happened here?”

“Betsy and I had a tiny tiff before she came up here to work,” Angelica sheepishly admitted. “We heard a lot of noise and figured she was throwing a tantrum up here. Then there was a terrible crash, and it got really quiet. Tricia and I ran up the stairs and . . . this is how we found her.”

Baker nodded grimly, and then began to pick his way through the room, presumably looking for clues.

Tricia shivered in a draft. “It sure is nippy up here. Is the heat up here on a timer, too?”

“It was toasty warm the last time I was in here—which was last night,” Angelica said.

“This doesn’t feel normal,” Tricia said, frowning, while Baker continued his circuit around the storeroom.

Angelica darted into the open stairwell and looked up. “Good grief! My apartment door is wide open. I never leave it unlocked. Oh, my! Sarge!” she cried, and bolted up the flight of stairs.

“Wait! Grant!” Tricia hollered, but instead of waiting for him, she ran up the stairs after Angelica.

Bursting through the doorway to the back of the apartment, Tricia saw no trace of Angelica and pounded down the hall toward the kitchen, where she found her sister cradling her tiny bichon frise.

“Mommy’s little boy,” Angelica crooned as she kissed the top of the fluffy dog’s head while he furiously tried to lick her in return.

“I take it he’s okay,” Tricia said with relief. Sarge had once been kicked like a football, causing internal injuries. She didn’t wait for an answer. “Why is it so cold in here?” She looked around the kitchen. None of the windows were open. She wandered from the kitchen to the living room and into the bedroom. Sure enough, the window that overlooked the alley was wide open. She went to shut it and saw that the fire escape ladder had been extended. If she touched the window, she might obliterate fingerprint evidence.

Chief Baker barreled into the room. “Don’t touch that!”

Tricia whirled. “I wasn’t going to.”

Baker practically knocked her over as he shoved her aside. He stuck his head out of the window, looking from right to left. “Damn. No one in sight. But there may ...

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2017. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. The New York Times bestselling author of Not the Killing Type is back in Booktown with another page-turning mystery. Bookstore owner Tricia Miles and her sister, Angelica, must put their problems on the shelf to catch a killer who turns a bookcase into a murder weapon. After cranky Chamber of Commerce receptionist Betsy Dittmeyer is crushed by a fallen bookcase, the next item to be read is her will, which is packed with surprises. It seems Betsy was hiding volumes of secrets behind her perpetual frown--one of which might have been a motive for murder. While Tricia tries to help Angelica--the newly elected Chamber of Commerce president--solve the mystery, she discovers a hidden chapter in her own family history. And with her ex-husband and the chief of police vying for her affections, it's doubly hard to focus on who buried Betsy in a tomb of tomes. But Tricia and Angelica will need to watch their step carefully to make sure the killer doesn't catch them between the stacks. Seller Inventory # AAC9780425262122

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