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The Dead Cat Bounce (Home Repair Is Homicide Series #1)

The Dead Cat Bounce (Home Repair Is Homicide Series #1)

4.2 29
by Sarah Graves

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dead cat bounce n. Stock market jargon for a small, temporary rise in a stock's trading price after a sharp drop.

Since she bought her rambling old fixer-upper of a house, Jacobia Tiptree has gotten used to finding things broken. But her latest problem isn't so easily repaired. Along with the rotting floor joists and sagging support beams, there's


dead cat bounce n. Stock market jargon for a small, temporary rise in a stock's trading price after a sharp drop.

Since she bought her rambling old fixer-upper of a house, Jacobia Tiptree has gotten used to finding things broken. But her latest problem isn't so easily repaired. Along with the rotting floor joists and sagging support beams, there's the little matter of the dead man in Jake's storeroom, an ice pick firmly planted in his cranium.

Not much happens in her tiny Maine town, but that's about to change. Jake's unknown guest turns out to be a world-famous corporate raider, local boy turned billionaire Threnody McIlwaine. When Jake's best friend, quiet and dependable Ellie White, readily confesses to the murder, cops and journalists swarm into snowbound Eastport.

Jake smells a cover-up, and begins poking into past history between McIlwaine and Ellie's family. But someone doesn't like nosy neighbors...and Jake's rustic refuge may become her final resting place.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"No cozy this, it's amusing, cynical, yet warm, populated with nice and nasty characters and some dirty secrets...All the ingredients fit the dish of delicious crime chowder."—Booknews from The Poisoned Pen

"In her polished debut, Graves blends charming, evocative digressions about life in Eastport with an intricate plot, well-drawn characters and a wry sense of humor."—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With the advent of amateur sleuth Jacobia Tiptree, Eastport, Maine, could become as deadly as Cabot Cove. Having left the daily grind of her job as a financial adviser in New York, Jake, as she is known to her friends, has settled in an old house in Eastport with her teenage son, Sam, away from her annoying ex-husband, the brain surgeon. When Jake discovers a dead man in her storeroom, an ice pick stuck in his head, her tranquillity is up-ended. Her friend and neighbor, Ellie White, starts acting strangely and then confesses to murdering the man, one Threnody McIlwaine, an old friend of Ellie's father and a ruthless corporate raider. Jake is quickly convinced that Ellie is protecting someone--perhaps her vicious mother or her father, who was ruined by McIlwaine--and despite threats to her own well-being continues nosing into the dead man's past. In her polished debut, Graves blends charming, evocative digressions about life in Eastport with an intricate plot, well-drawn characters and a wry sense of humor. (Sept.)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Home Repair Is Homicide Series , #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.85(h) x 0.85(d)

Read an Excerpt

My house is old, and rambling, and in some disrepair, and I think that it is faintly haunted: a cold spot forming inexplicably on the stairway, a scuttling in the hall.  Then of course there is the matter of the enigmatic portrait, whose mystery I had not yet managed to resolve on that bright April morning when, after living cheerfully and peacefully in the house for over a year, I found a body in the storeroom.

Coming upon a body is an experience, like childbirth or a head-on collision, that takes the breath out of a person.  I went back through the passageway between the kitchen and the small, unheated room where in spring I kept dog food and dahlia bulbs, and where apparently I now stored corpses.

"Ellie," I said, "there's a dead man out there on the floor."

Ellie White looked up from the kitchen workbench where she was planting pepper seeds, sprinkling a few into each little soil-filled peat pot, to be set out later in the cold frame.  Ellie has coppery hair cut short around a thin, serious face lightly dusted with freckles; her pale blue eyes are so intense that even through her glasses, her gaze makes you feel your X-ray is being taken.

Her index finger paused in the act of tamping soil onto a pepper seed.  "Who?" she asked.

Sometimes I think Ellie has formaldehyde in her veins.  For instance, when I moved to Maine I thought sill work meant painting them, and if you have ever restored an elderly house you will understand the depths of my innocence; sill work is slightly less radical than tearing the house down and starting over entirely, and almost as expensive, and if you don't do it the old house ends up at the bottom of the cellar-hole.

Ellie, upon hearing that this was what my old house needed, merely remarked how lucky I was that I could pay for it, because she knew of another woman whose house had needed sill work, too, and that woman was now living in the cellar-hole.  Ellie's comment shut me up pretty quickly, as she had intended, and I resigned myself to getting the job done in spring, but along about March I'd discovered that sill work was only the beginning.  There was also the poignant little problem of the rot-raddled floor joists, and of the support beams holding up the floor joists.

Or rather, not holding them up.  "I don't know who.  He's lying facedown in the corner where everything sags.  I should have had that floor jacked up last autumn."

Ellie was wearing denim coveralls, a bright yellow turtleneck with jade-green turtles satin-stitched onto it, and shiny green gardening clogs over thick, yellow socks.  On anyone else the outfit would have been hilarious, but Ellie is so tall and slender that she could wear a painter's drop cloth, possibly with a couple of frayed dishrags belted around it, and still look just like a Paris runway model.

"I don't think the floor is the issue here," she said.

"That's because it's not your floor.  The only thing holding that floor up now is habit, and when the homicide detectives and the medical examiner and I don't know who all else start tramping in and out of there, then that floor is going to ..."

She was looking at me as if I'd just arrived from Mars.  "Jacobia," she said, "I don't know what kind of law enforcement you got used to, back in the big city where you come from."

She picked up the telephone, dialed George Valentine's number, and let it ring.  "But in case you haven't noticed, you're not in New York anymore.  You're in Eastport, Maine, three hours from Bangor and a heck of a lot farther from anywhere else, and the only person tramping in and out of that storeroom is going to be George.  That is, if he ever answers his phone.  He was over at my house earlier, but I don't know where he is now."

Of course it was George's number.  In Eastport, George was it: if you had a fire, or a flood, or a skunk in the crawlspace, George was the man you wanted, which was lucky since the rest were out on fishing boats: dragging for scallops, hauling lobster pots, or collecting sea urchins, depending upon the season.

"I'm going out there," Ellie said, after George had picked up at last and promised to be right over.

People in Eastport do not think the telephone grows naturally out of the tympanic membrane, and some of them will actually decide whether to answer it or not based on what sort of news they are expecting.  But George always answered his telephone sooner or later on account of being the clam warden, on call to make sure diggers had valid clam licenses, chase poachers out of forbidden clam areas, and spot-check the clams themselves with his two-inch metal claim ring, through which a legally harvestable bivalve must not be able to pass.

"I think," Ellie added, "we should make sure the man is really dead."

This struck me as pointless, since an ice pick in the cranium promised little in the way of future prospects.  But Ellie was determined; it was part of her downeast Maine heritage, like being able to navigate in the fog or knowing how to dress out a deer.

"It might be he's only wounded," Ellie said.  "It might be we can still do something for him."

Right, and it might be that next we could multiply some loaves and fishes.  When she had gone I ran a glass of water and stood there by the sink, pondering whether to drink it or not.  Just breathing in and out suddenly seemed to require a series of massive, separately considered decisions, as if each small action of mine had abruptly become huge compared to all the ones the dead man was not taking.

Outside my kitchen window a flock of cedar waxwings descended on the crabapple tree and began devouring frozen fruit, their short, metallic cries creating a happy clamor.  A shower of snow as fine as salt fell around them, whitening the snow already lying on the ground, so their lime-green feathers and candy-corn beaks stood out as brightly as paint drops.

Down at the breakwater, the big ship Star Verlanger sounded her massive horn and cast off, loaded with paper pulp, and the dockworkers jumped in their pickup trucks and headed for a well-earned bottle of Narragansett beer, no bottle of which the dead man would be enjoying.  I wondered if his absence would be noticed, or if he was from away.  Whichever; by tonight, news of his death would be all over town.

That was what I thought when the whole thing began.  But back then, I didn't know the half of it.

• *

My name is Jacobia Tiptree, and my ex-husband says I am insane.  I have proved this, he says, by giving up a perfectly charming little townhouse on the upper east side of Manhattan—complete with doorman, elevator, and building superintendent—for a huge antique structure every centimeter of which needs paint, plaster, or the underpinnings required to hold up both.  The roof leaks, the gutters dangle, and the bricks in the chimneys are quietly turning to sand; when the wind blows hard, which it does very often here, the windows rattle as if they are trying to jump out of their frames, and if you put a marble down on the kitchen floor it will probably roll forever.

I found the place on a warm August day when the garden was clotted with raspberries and zinnias, poppies and Michaelmas daisies whose blooms were wide as saucers.  I was coming back from Halifax and the kind of contentious stockholders' meeting that sets one to wondering how early man ever found his way out of the cave, and why, considering his natural tendencies, he didn't stay there, when on impulse I drove over the long, curving causeway connecting Moose Island with the U.S.  mainland.

I bought my lunch of a sandwich and coffee at the IGA, and walked all over town before sitting down on the green-painted front steps of a big old white house whose bare windows showed a shimmeringly vacant interior.  In front of the house I stood on tiptoe and peered in, watching a patch of sunshine move slowly across a pale maple floor that was badly in need of refinishing.  Someone had torn the carpeting down from the stairs; the risers looked wormy with old nail holes.

I noted with surprise how certain I felt, how calm.  Later I found my way to a tiny storefront real-estate office on Water Street, overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay, and that evening when I drove back to the mainland, the house belonged to me.

What were you thinking of? my ex-husband asked, and so did my relatives and friends.  Even my son Sam looked doubtful, although at sixteen he had begun looking doubtful about everything.  With a brain surgeon for a father and a money expert for a mother, he was unhappily aware of the problem of living up to all the brilliant genes he had supposedly inherited.

The trouble was, Sam's brains were not of the quick, flashy variety so popular with Ivy League admissions committees.  He was the type who could take one look at a broken washing machine, come back from the appliance store with a part that cost five dollars, and a little while later the washing machine would be fixed.  He could do the same with an ailing cat, or the gizmo that makes (or doesn't make) a doorbell ring.  What he couldn't do was explain how to fix the washing machine, or what sort of attention to give the cat; his perceptions were visceral and immediate, not filtered by words and numbers.  They weren't particularly quantifiable, either, unless you happened to have a broken washing machine.

Which is to say that despite every effort of mine, he was flunking out of school, and so angry about it that he had turned to a group of similarly estranged young outlaws, each with a bad attitude and a ready supply of marijuana, and I was worried about him.

"Just come and look at the place," I said.  "Will you do that? And if you don't want to, you don't have to stay."

"Yeah, right," he muttered.  "Like I can go and live with Dr.  Doom."

That was what he had taken to calling his father, on account of the dismal prognosis of most of his father's patients; my ex-husband's operating room is a sort of last-chance hotel for the neurologically demolished.

"Dr.  Doom," I told my son, "would be delighted to have you." Over my dead body, I thought but did not say.  Sam's father is a charming fellow when he wants to be, but too many years inside other people's heads have convinced him that he is an authority on all that goes on there.

Which he is not.  When it comes to the sport of human beingness, my ex-husband knows the rules but not the game, and it is never his blood on the playing field.  After six months in the presence of his superachieving father, nothing would be left of Sam but a little pile of bones and hair.

"But that won't be necessary," I told Sam, "because if you don't like Eastport, I'm not going there, either."

Then I held my breath for three days: one while we drove up Route 1 through Bucksport and Bar Harbor and 1A through Milbridge toward Machias, and two more while Sam auditioned Eastport.  He explored Wadsworth's hardware store, and pronounced its nuts-and-bolts selection adequate.  He stood on the wharves where the cargo ships come in, the massive vessels looking as incongruous as twenty-story buildings plunked down in the midst of the tiny fishing village.  He sat on the bluffs overlooking the whirlpool, Old Sow—the largest whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere—and watched the diurnal tide rise its customary twenty-eight feet, which is nine-point-two inches every ten minutes.

During this time I did not smell marijuana, nor did I see the unhappy look I had grown accustomed to back in the city: the look of a boy with a dozen extraordinary talents, none of them valued or even recognized on Madison Avenue, and by extension not in the rest of the world either, because their possessor was unlikely to earn enough money to buy a lot of expensive products.

On the fourth morning I found him sitting at the oilcloth-covered table, in the big old barnlike kitchen with the tall maple wainscoting and the high, brilliant windows.  He was drinking a cup of coffee and looking at a set of papers, registration forms for the upcoming year at Shead High School.  Carefully, in the labored but rigorously correct block printing that, at age ten, he had finally managed to master, Sam had filled in all the spaces except one.

Parent's signature, the line read.  "I think," Sam said, "that you should sign this." So I did.

And that, as they say, has made all the difference.

Meet the Author

Sarah Graves lives with her husband in Eastport, Maine, where her mystery novels are set. She is currently at work on her eleventh Home Repair is Homicide novel.

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Dead Cat Bounce (Home Repair Is Homicide Series #1) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I returned the entire series after reading the first book. What a disappointment. Extremely long sentences that lasted for an entire paragraph. Too many dashes and thoughts within thoughts. I completely lost track of everything. bch
nancydrew123 More than 1 year ago
I felt like I got to know the people in Eastport, Maine. I loved the descriptions of the repair projects along with the description of the town and scenery. Jake is a likeable character and I felt I was solving the murder right along with her. I felt sorry for her son who went back and forth with his father about his future career. The beginning of the book was a little slow and at times the author took too long to describe the scene. The mystery had nice twists and turns and a few red herrings. I can see why this series is so successful. I enjoyed the romance, character, suspense and even the storms. I look forward to reading all of the books in this series.
Trewbeliever More than 1 year ago
I picked this book off the shelf on a whim - the cover art and synopsis caught my eye. Really glad I did -- currently reading #8 of the series. Really love the characters and feeling of being in Maine. All the elements - suspense,romance,murder, characters -- and Sarah Graves has a great way of making the action - even storms at sea come alive. Very character driven as well. Jake Tiptree is one of my favorites.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to disagree with the previous reviewer in that I really enjoyed the descriptions of the house repair projects. It added to the atmosphere and made for some fun mirroring with the action of the people (what Jacobia was doing to her house and what was happening around her!) I can totally picture the town, the locals, the tourists, the scenery, and it was a fun mystery to boot! Have loved this whole series.
Anonymous 4 months ago
. . . and yes, I did teach literature once upon a time. That being so, I enjoy giving a good review when it is merited, spiced with a note to the copy editor about at least one error I find in the book. Today's special is the difference between "hung" and "hanged." Things are hung. People are hanged. Examples: The damp coat hung from a peg on the wall. BUT They hanged poor Judd from a sour apple tree. That's today's lesson done.
TheDownloader More than 1 year ago
The book was well-written and edited. I enjoyed meeting the characters and the descriptions of Maine made me want to make it my next vacation destination. The mystery was fun, and It was very easy to become absorbed in the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do not count on reviews listed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You well like
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Gaph More than 1 year ago
Yawn ....this book did not hold my interest. It was more like a History of Maine.
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PattiBascomb More than 1 year ago
Review by PattiBascomb The 'Home Repair is Homicide' series gets off to a hammering start with this first installment. Jacobia Tiptree has purchased a fixer-upper on an island in Maine and while handy with a wrench and other assorted tools, she is not prepared for the corpse she discovers in her storeroom one murky morning. When the body is revealed to be that of a local billionaire and Tiptree (the newbie in town) begins to investigate why he wound up in her house, her safety and that of her son is threatened. Family trust is tested, an ex-husband proves to be a forever jerk and Tiptree relies on her Wall Street savvy to uncover the truth behind the murder. Graves reveals that 'dead cat bounce' refers to stock market jargon for a temporary rise in a stock's trading price after a sharp drop."even a dead cat will bounce if dropped." Along the way, we learn handy home repair tips for old houses. I now know why sagging floors have to be jacked up slowly and that if repairs turn out to be extensive, "you might as well stick your checkbook on the back door and let people fill out their own." "Dead Cat Bounce" is a witty take on murder in a small town, with home repair as the source for many of the plot twists. A gal with a tool belt can not be underestimated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago

The eye-catching title is really a reference to stock market jargon, which fits neatly into the story as the past career choice of the main character,Jacobia Tiptree, and which was extremely lucrative as evidenced by the vast amounts of money she shells out to fix up her antique house in Eastport,Maine. I live in one just like it, so I know of what she speaks.

The mystery of who killed Threnody McIlwaine was filled with numerous red herrings, yet I had it narrowed down to 2 suspects about 2/3 of the way through. I liked the Eastport, Maine setting as the northern coast of Maine is one New England area I've yet to visit, and Ms. Graves' details made the area sound very inviting.

Referencing cozy mysteries I've read lately, I felt this book a bit overlong in comparison, that the story could have been wrapped up sooner if some of the renovation details had been sacrificed and the story tightened up. Another common theme is the abusive ex/likeable new significant other and in this instance, as in previous books by other authors, I found nothing to like about the ex and a lot to like about Wade Sorenson. However, the similarities won't stop me from reading the other 2 books in this series (Triple Witch and Wicked Fix) and, in fact, they are in my to-be-read pile.