Perfect for fans of Ellery Adams and Kate Carlisle, the members of the Jane Doe Book Club are on the case as Kate Young's peachy-keen Georgia-set mystery series comes back for seconds.
What better time than Halloween to dig into a bracing discussion of a diabolical murder mystery? And what better choice for the Jane Doe Book Club than Agatha Christie's Crooked House? Lyla Moody and her friends are soon embroiled in debate over whether the heroine's actions are particularly believable. But not long after the meeting, sleepy Sweet Mountain, Georgia, is rocked by a murder that uncannily echoes the novel in question.
When Lyla and her grandmother arrive at the charity event that Lyla's mother is hosting, they barely have time to hang up their fall jackets before they stumble upon a body in the library. Leonard Richardson, it seems, was robbed and then hit over the head with a brass candlestick--which throws suspicion on Harper Richardson, his young widow and a friend of the Jane Does.
Lyla and the rest of the Jane Does pool their prodigious intellects to clear Harper's name. Peculiarly, all of the clues seem to have been lifted directly from the plot of Crooked House. But as Lyla probes the pages of Christie's classic whodunnit for hints on catching the killer, she uncovers secrets from her mother's past--secrets that suggest that Lyla's own house may be crooked as well.
Release date: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Print pages: 336
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Reading Between the Crimes
The sun was low in the clear blue sky as I locked up the office. I could tell when it set behind the mountain tops, it would be a sight to behold. The beautiful pink and blues blended together behind the shadowed hills made me want to take up photography. If I had the time. Wrapping my scarf around my neck, I stepped back to admire the newly installed sign above the door. The colors were perfect. “Cousins Investigative Services Inc.” was displayed in a glossy bold gray-blue outlined in white. The design was tasteful and looked nice against the mixture of concrete and brick. I’d been working for my uncle as a receptionist/PI in training for almost two years now. My uncle had needed a receptionist/secretary after Harriet Wiseman took maternity leave to have baby number three. I’d leaped at the opportunity. Much to the chagrin of my mother. She thought working around her brother, who’d been a detective for sixteen years before retiring to open his own private investigation firm, would only further enhance my fascination with murder and true crime. Something she’d once blamed on the Jane Does, my mystery book club. She’d found the club to be abhorrent and a complete waste of my time. My mother had a difficult time understanding that true crime and unsolved cases got my blood pumping and fueled my desire to work in the investigative field.
And this past year I’d grown into my role. At least I believed I’d learned enough to be useful. Which was a significant win in my book. Mother tended to be more on the old-fashioned side, but recently, she had started to come around to a more modern way of thinking.
With an intake of crisp fall air, I glanced around, admiring the gorgeous hues, reds, golds, and burnt orange leaves as the trees swayed in the breeze in Sweet Mountain’s square. Workers were busy stringing lights around the trees’ bases and on the awnings of storefronts of our sleepy little town. In a few days, the town would be hosting our annual Octoberfest Pub Crawl, an event my friends and I looked forward to every year.
Strolling down the sidewalk, I took in the place I called home. I’d never wanted to live anywhere else. And a lot of those who did leave seemed to boomerang right back when it came time to settle down and start a family. Sweet Mountain, located forty-five minutes north of Atlanta, was the essence of small-town living, with a vibrant cultural arts community. Creativity flowed from our residents and was embraced by our well-known art museum. Today, local artists set up in the grassy area in the center of the square in our weekly oil painting workshop. They were positions around the covered, lighted, and recently electrified open amphitheater that could accommodate up to four hundred people. I wondered who the city had booked to play this year for the pub crawl.
“Hey, Lyla. How’s your mom and them?”
I turned to spy a man I recognized as one of Calvin’s friends, who had been instructing the crew stringing lights.
I lifted a hand as I groped for his name, which eluded me, and I came up empty. “Doing well. Thank you for asking. You’re doing a great job! Everything looks great.”
“Thank ya.” The small, round man smiled. “Should be lots of fun this year. You’re comin’, aren’t ya?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” We exchanged a smile, and as I rounded the corner, a low-sounding woof caused me to stop—a stalky bulldog who came strutting out of the pet store.
“Quiet, Bandit.” His owner, sporting a UGA sweatshirt, said. “He isn’t dangerous—just likes attention.”
I let out a little chuckle as I bent and pet the little guy on the head. He rewarded me with a sloppy lick to the hand. I hadn’t realized these dogs were so slobbery. Cute but slobbery. I held my hand away from my body as I rose. The gentleman laughed, and the two carried on toward his car. “Go, Dawgs!”
“Yeah, go Dawgs.” I dug through my bag with my clean hand, extracted a couple of tissues and my hand sanitizer, and began cleaning up.
As I strolled toward the coffee shop to pick up an order I’d placed, I spied my friend, Rosa Landry, her arms laden with large boxes from Nobles Coffee Co., stacked atop each other. She spotted me at the exact same time. “Evening, Lyla.”
“Hey. I’m surprised to see you. Are those—”
“Yes, they’re yours. I was in the coffee shop, and the barista mentioned they had an order for the Jane Does Book Club, since I’m the one who usually picks them up.”
“Ah.” Tonight, my book club, would be having our monthly meeting. Our club had grown to a dozen consistent members since last year. Our core group of three hosted and scheduled the meetings. Some months, if we had a special speaker like a mystery writer or a Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigator, or we were watching a popular docuseries, we had close to twenty or more in attendance. Utilizing one of the libraries’ conference rooms had become a necessity. After we hosted a retired special investigator from Atlanta, who discussed the ins and outs of investigations in reference to John and Jane Does, a special interest to our group, we’d been nameless, oscillating between a couple of ideas. True crime stories always intrigued the club. Because of our deep interest in such cases, it only seemed natural to our founding members that we should be dubbed The Jane Does.
And hosting special guests became infinitely easier when I started dating Special Agent Brad Jones. We met last year while working together on a Jane Doe case—my first case as a PI in training, and it had ignited something in me that solidified my desire to work in the field professionally.
Brad and I had been seeing each other casually for several months now. He was in his late thirties, with thick black hair cut close to his scalp, a sharp nose, and eyes a little closer together than average. He wasn’t what you’d call traditionally handsome, but I found him immensely appealing.
“I was just on my way to pick it up.” I adjusted my purse and briefcase strap to my other shoulder and took the top box from her.
“I figured.” She smiled gratefully. The scent of pumpkin muffins wafted up from the box. My favorites. “But I knew you wouldn’t be getting off work till about now, and I thought I’d save you the block walk.”
“That was thoughtful, but”—I furrowed my brow, bothered I’d missed the schedule change—“I was under the impression you had to work tonight.”
Rosa nodded. “I do. I’ve got my uniform in the car.” Rosa was a Jane Doe club member who felt like she’d always been part of the group. Originally from Baton Rouge, she moved here after her Afghanistan tour and worked as the Sweet Mountain Police Department’s desk sergeant. Unlike some of our other new recruits who were sporadic in attendance, she’d gone all-in on day one. Which we’d learned was her personality. She was an all-or-nothing type of gal.
“That was so kind of you. Thank you. I’m parked around the corner.” We started for my car.
“No big. It was on my way. I had already put the freshly ground coffee beans and a mixture of tea bags in my car. I’m just across the street.”
“Wow. You are on it.”
Rosa grinned. “I try. Did you see the new brewery is having their grand opening during the pub crawl?” Rosa motioned over her shoulder with a head bob.
“No! That’s excellent.” A flurry of activity buzzed around the new microbrewery at the corner of East Cherokee and Bower. They were opening in the newly renovated historical building. Their craft beers are what was missing in our downtown district. We had a thriving retail and restaurant scene, but this would be Sweet Mountains’ first brewery.
I put the box on top of the trunk and hit the key fob to unlock the car.
Rosa placed her box in the trunk next to mine. Her rolled-up sleeve exposed a new puffy tattoo on her forearm.
I winced. “That looks painful.”
Rosa ran a hand through the shoulder-length dark hair that had fallen down over her left eye. Her thick brows rose as she inspected her new tat. “Nah, it’s fine. I just wanted to finish the shading before I met up with friends from my old unit next month. Be right back.”
I turned. “Wait a sec. I’ll come help.” I started to close the trunk.
“No worries. I’ll be sitting most of the night; I need the exercise.” Rosa trotted to the edge of the street and waited to cross. She called loudly over the street noise. “It’s in a manageable crate. I got it.”
“Okay.” I laughed and watched Rosa trot down the sidewalk. When I turned back, I noticed a man standing in front of Smart Cookie, the shop located next to Cousins Investigative Services. He put his hand above his eyes and seemed to be staring right at me. I glanced behind me and around, thinking perhaps he was just waiting for a friend or partner. But as he pushed his square frames up on higher on his nose, he kept staring. He lifted a hand.
Out of habit and common politeness, I waved back. A grin broke out over the man’s face. He kept waving. Weirdo. I decided to ignore him.
Rosa crossed the street with perfect timing, blocking his view of me.
“Something wrong?” She placed the crate of tea and coffee into my trunk.
“No. Some weird guy is over there wav—” The word died in my throat when I glanced back, and he’d gone. “Huh, guess I was wrong, and perhaps he thought I was someone else.” I laughed at myself. Sometimes my overactive imagination got away from me.
“Maybe it was one of those dating app things, and he confused you for someone else. I tried once, and the picture of the person they matched me with was not a real likeness. I ran for the hills.”
We both had a good laugh about that.
She glanced back down at her tattoo of a dog tag with “Landry” written on it and a number I assumed was her unit. The tag was draped over an American flag.
“I guess you’re missing your friends a lot.”
She gave me a sad smile. “Yeah, I do.” Then she sighed and rolled her sleeve back down. “But I’m really happy with my new friends here too. Though I’m really bummed, I can’t go to the meeting tonight. The book rocked. I can’t believe I’ve never read Crooked House before.” Rosa let out an exaggerated sigh.
It pleased me no end that we’d gained a new bibliophile friend—one who truly understood the love of great literature. Our motto in the Jane Does had always been, “It doesn’t matter what you read, just read.” Though I must admit, I’m a firm believer that you’re missing out if you don’t give mysteries a chance.
“It doesn’t get any better than Agatha Christie, for sure. And we could have a mini club meeting just for you.”
Her face lit up. “Could we?”
I nodded. “Definitely! I’m sure Mel, Amelia, and I could arrange something for you. The three of us never get enough of talking books.”
“That’d be great! If everyone agrees, of course.”
“Oh, they’ll agree.” Wine, food, and books on any night was a great time with my core Jane Doe Book Club.
Speaking of which, my best friend, Melanie Smart, owner of Smart Cookie, popped her head out the door. The bell tinkled a faint sound as the wind blew the pink, blue, and white striped awning below the giant, glossy cookie sign. “Hey, y’all!”
I waved and Rosa said, “Hey, Mel. I’ll catch you later, Lyla,” before trotting over to her.
The sky began to grow dark, and I realized the time. It was close to six thirty, and we would be kicking off at seven o’clock sharp. “I’ll see you at the library, Mel. Have a great day at work, Rosa.” They both waved as I slid into the driver’s seat.
I parked my car in front of the Sweet Mountain Library. The library was a gorgeous new, three-story, large brick facility located a few blocks from the town square. When it had gone up several years ago, I was pleased that the funding was available to expand the old, drab building we used for decades—and equally delighted that it kept to the style of our town square. The aesthetically pleasing mixture of stone and brick, and lovely large glass windows made it even more enjoyable to spend time in one of my favorite places.
Harper Richardson, one of our studious librarians, had her back turned to me when I entered. She appeared to be on the phone. I planned to sneak by the counter and not disturb her, when I froze, hearing the distress in her tone.
“No, please.” Her voice came out strained. “You can’t do this to me.”
Now I felt like I was eavesdropping and hurried my steps.
“Don’t you dare!” Her tone dropped into hostile territory. “I swear to God if you do, you’ll be sor—” Harper turned mid-word and spied me just as I passed the counter. She disconnected the call and shoved her phone into the crochet bag she had in her hand.
I waved, my face flushing. “Evening, Harper.”
“Evening.” She looked downtrodden and shaken; her long strawberry-blonde hair, which was usually wound up in a tight chignon while she worked, appeared a bit messy today. She normally held herself in a reserved yet pleasant manner. She dressed simply, in attractive cuts that flattered her lean, slight frame. She had a penchant for earth-toned tunics, usually accented with long, decorative costume necklaces. Tonight, her sweater looked a little wrinkled, and her neck was absent of a chain.
Harper was a newcomer to Sweet Mountain. Arriving in our town a little over a year and a half ago—and shy as we soon discovered—she hadn’t ventured out into the workforce or social clubs until a few months ago. Melanie had invited her to our book club after the two became friends. Harper frequented Smart Cookie weekly. Mel said it took a while to get her to open up, but when she managed to get her to talk, she liked Harper instantly. And after I got to know her, I did too. Harper was caring, helpful, and incredibly sweet-natured. I focused on her little, round face and smiled.
I didn’t want to ask about her call, fearing it would be rude. I had no idea whom she’d gotten into such a horrific argument with, and though I was curious, it was clearly none of my business. But I also didn’t want to rush away and give her the impression I didn’t care to be a listening ear if she needed one. “Busy day?”
Harper’s hands moved nervously over the stack of books on the desk. “Fairly usual for a Friday. I had to read to the children during story hour today, since our scheduled staff member didn’t show. It’s not that I mind, but when you commit to something, not sticking to it affects others, you know?”
She shook her head. “Oh, I did want to mention one thing to you.” Her fingers went over the keyboard in front of the computer. “I hate to complain, and this has nothing to do with your account, but your grandmother has three outstanding library books.”
“Oh. Have you mentioned it to her?”
Harper inclined her head. “I have and I sent her a text message. She’s starting to run up quite a late fee.”
“I’ll take care of it.” Gran had a bad habit of forgetting to turn her books back in. I’d have to go to by my parents’ house and get them and return them myself.
“Thanks. That’ll be one thing off my mind.” She gave me a small smile. I couldn’t help but notice that her words didn’t exactly match her facial expression. The corner of her mouth kept turning down, and on close examination, her red-rimmed eyes betrayed she’d been crying. I highly doubted it had anything to do with my grandmother or that her phone call was with an employee—or at least I hoped not. If it had been, I’d highly misjudged Harper.
I couldn’t help myself. My natural curiosity overrode my senses at times. Besides, politeness was part of my character. You see a friend in need, you act—it’s the Southern way. I leaned closer to the desk and lowered my tone. “Are you sure that’s all that’s bothering you?”
“Yes. You’re referring to my eyes.” She smiled and emitted a little nervous giggle. “I have allergies. Ragweed is in full bloom this time of year. If I’d known Georgia’s allergy season was practically year-round, I might not have moved here.” She sniffed and fussed with her hair, smoothing it back.
Either she didn’t believe I overheard her conversation or had decided to be in denial. Either way, I respected her privacy and decision not to share. “That’s true. Sorry, you have a flare-up.” I frowned in what I hoped read sympathy for her ailment and not that I suspected she hid something. She clearly didn’t want to discuss it. “Are you staying for the club meeting?”
She gave her head a shake. “I wish I could, but I have a conflict.” She placed the books on the cart next to her and paused, glancing up expectantly. “I’m surprised you don’t too. I mean, with your mother’s charity benefit going on tonight.”
“Oh, Mother doesn’t expect me to be there. She hosts so many events it would continually tie up my schedule.” I smiled.
“That makes sense, I guess. Lyla”—she hesitated—“since we’re chatting, could I impose on—” Harper stopped just as the doors opened and in stumbled an elderly woman. “Welcome. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“No, I know where I’m going. Thank you, sweetie.” The white-haired lady moseyed on her way.
“Heavens. Listen to me prattling on while your hands are full. Here, let me take the other box.” Harper made her way around the counter to help me.
As I walked beside Harper to the conference room, I could clearly read she struggled with discussing what had her so upset. Her eyes kept skating back to me. I set the box on the back table next to the one Harper had placed and began opening up the boxes and setting out the refreshments. I noticed she hadn’t yet left the room.
When her fourth glance lingered, I couldn’t help myself. “Harper, hon, I wish you’d talk to me. I hope you know that I’m your friend and you can trust me.”
She bit her bottom lip. “I really don’t want to impose, and the meeting’s about to start.”
“We have time.” I smiled and hoped for late arrivals. “Please. I’m all ears.”
“Um”—she put her fingers to her lips and closed the distance of a few feet between us—“I was wondering if I could ask for a little free advice.”
If by “free advice” she meant from my PI job, I was indeed all ears. I couldn’t commit to any work without my Uncle Calvin’s consent; being the boss and all, he had the final say on every case we took. “Sure. Have a seat and tell me how I can help.” I took one of the vacant seats, and she perched on the edge of the one next to me.
Harper leaned closer, her voice edging on a whisper. “If I wanted to find someone, is there somewhere you’d recommend I look? Websites, forums, or whatnot?”
“Are we talking about someone close to you?”
She nodded her head a little too forcefully, and a few strands of hair escaped her bun. “Yes. My aunt. I really need to find her.”
I studied her for a few moments, and she seemed a little jumpy. She always seemed like the nervous type, but this took it to a whole new level. The old adage Gran used to use, “ants in her pants,” came to mind. “How long have you been out of touch?”
“My God!” Laughter drifted into the room, and Mel breezed in with her arms loaded. “I’m so out of shape.” She paused when she noticed us. “Lyla, you left your trunk open.”
“Oh, I forgot about the coffee and tea.” I rose and glanced apologetically toward Harper, who’d hopped up at the same time I had. I mouthed, “One sec.”
“Don’t worry. Amelia is grabbing it. She got here right after me.” Melanie strode across the room. “I’m here bearing cookie confections and espresso fudge from that new little fudge shop on the square. I just can’t get enough of that stuff.” Melanie, my boisterous, chattering, never-at-a-loss-for-words best friend, brought immense energy to the room. We’d been inseparable since the first day of kindergarten. We’d been through everything together—first loves, first heartbreaks, major family issues, and her divorce. We always had each other’s backs, no matter what. Figuratively and quite literally. Not only was her business right next door to Cousins, but my townhouse also backed right up to hers. She got me like no one else.
“Oh, hi, Melanie,” Harper said, and took a step away from me. Her eyes kept skirting toward the door. “Rosa with you?” I wondered what that was about. Maybe she thought since Rosa worked for the police department, she could help too.
“No. Rosa has to work. How are you doing, Harper? You haven’t been to the shop in a while. I’ve missed seeing you,” Mel said while she began setting out the cookies she’d brought.
“I’ve been busy.” Harper glanced around as if she were looking for an escape. It was so unlike her. Sure, she was usually quieter than the rest of us, but she’d become more vocal as of late. It was almost like she was climbing back into her shell.
“This coffee smells amazing.” In strolled Amelia Klein, carrying the crate. She, Mel, and I were the core members of the group. We set every meeting and made sure our social media group remained active. Amelia and her lovely husband, Ethan, were transplants. Born and raised in Maryland, Amelia had been thrilled to find our little group a few years ago after her husband’s job brought them to the metro area. She had a tight, curly mix of silver and black hair she’d decided to never color, big chocolate-brown eyes, and a flawless copper-colored complexion.
“Thank you. I got caught up chatting with Harper and forgot I left the coffee and tea in the trunk.”
“No problem. I’ll have this coffee brewed in a second.”
I turned to the side, blocking the other’s view. I kept my tone low. “Sorry for the interruption.” Harper’s wariness made me more concerned about her situation. “Would you like to continue this discussion in the other room?”
“No.” Harper smoothed her hair back. “I better go finish up out front. Later, okay?
“Sure.” I leaned in, “Are you sure you don’t want to have a quick chat?”
“Yes. Quite.” Harper glanced down at her watch. “I need to leave a few minutes early, so I can run home and change, and I have a couple of things to button up first.” She pivoted around me and out the conference room door as if her hind end was on fire. Okay, guess she’s not ready to talk.
“Hey, I wanted to run an idea by y’all.” I informed my friends about a mini club meeting for Rosa and hoped it would draw attention away from Harper’s odd exit. They both agreed, but I could tell it hadn’t taken the spotlight off Harper. I busied myself, moving the refreshments around and tidying the table.
Mel furrowed her brow. “What was that about?”
I took a cookie from the box and nibbled it. A few crumbs fell, and I dusted them off my shirt and smoothed the front of my tan slacks. “I’m not quite sure. I wasn’t able to get all the facts.”
“She looked super stressed."
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