A Little Learning (Madeleine Maclin Series #3)

( 3 )

Overview

Former beauty queen and fledgling private investigator, Madeline Maclin, has married her best friend, Jerry Fairweather, and settled into his old house in the small town of Celosia, North Carolina. Lately, she’s been concerned that quiet small town life isn’t enough for Jerry, who has given up his cons and schemes but not his phony séances.

But business calls, and Madeline soon becomes involved in the mysterious death of Amelia Lever, an unpopular teacher at Celosia Elementary ...

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A Little Learning: A Madeleine Maclin Mystery #3

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Overview

Former beauty queen and fledgling private investigator, Madeline Maclin, has married her best friend, Jerry Fairweather, and settled into his old house in the small town of Celosia, North Carolina. Lately, she’s been concerned that quiet small town life isn’t enough for Jerry, who has given up his cons and schemes but not his phony séances.

But business calls, and Madeline soon becomes involved in the mysterious death of Amelia Lever, an unpopular teacher at Celosia Elementary School, whose cigarette break turned out to be fatal. However, Maddy isn’t convinced it was a natural death. Grumpy, uncooperative Amelia Lever was despised by the faculty, mainly for voting against grant proposals. And her grown sons don’t seem very upset by her death.
And then there’s her latest case. Nathan Fenton has hired Madeline to help solve a riddle left to him by his Uncle Elijah, a man who loved to play games. The riddle says: “From west to east the river flows, from ancient times the sparrow flies. Trust animals that live in packs, and listen where the portrait lies.”

Are the teacher’s death and this mysterious riddle somehow related?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Amusing characters and charming village atmosphere"  —Publisher's Weekly
 
Publishers Weekly

The opening of Tesh's entertaining third cozy to feature PI Madeline Maclin (after 2007's A Hard Bargain) finds Madeline, who's just opened her own investigative office in Celosia, N.C., under a lot of stress. She has one week both to solve a case that could mean a large inheritance for her client and to paint a picture for a respectable gallery that's invited her to exhibit. In addition, Madeline can't resist an offer to guest art-teach at the local elementary school, where she's on hand for the suspicious demise of a unanimously loathed teacher. The teacher's death and Madeline's other case turn out to be linked by the latest must-have collectible cards for kids. The stakes rise when her new husband, semiretired con man Jerry Fairweather, is assaulted while working in a local bookstore, and those same cards are the object of the robber's desire. Amusing characters and charming village atmosphere more than compensate for a number of plot implausibilities. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590589090
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
  • Publication date: 7/5/2011
  • Series: Madeline Maclin Series, #3
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 250
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Tesh lives in Mt. Airy, North Carolina.  Besides writing, she enjoys playing the piano for productions at the Andy Griffith Playhouse, teaching aerobics, traveling, and playing with Winkie, her one-eyed Chihuahua.  She is still getting used to the thrill of being a published author and is working on many other stories.

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Read an Excerpt

A Little Learning


By Jane Tesh

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2009 Jane Tesh
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59058-650-1


Chapter One

I've often said I don't want to have children, and now I know why. I already have three. This bright Sunday morning in September, I came downstairs to find three heads bent over a patchwork of brightly colored cards spread across the kitchen table. The black hair braided with yellow beads belonged to Denisha Simpson, age ten. The green and purple hair sticking up like wiry weeds was attached to her best friend, Austin Terrell, also ten. The light brown hair that could benefit from a good combing belonged to my best friend and new husband, Jerry Fairweather, who is thirty going on ten.

"Okay, we've got all the Pond Palace series except the Drawbridge of Death and the Dungeon of Despair," Denisha said.

Austin moved one stack of cards to another. "Here's all Bufo's Webbed Foot Guard except for Rayford the Sticky-Tongued and Bart the Beeper."

"Weapons over here," Jerry said. "Sword of Destruction, Sword of Light, three Sword of Revenge cards. Can we trade one? What does Ronald have, Austin?"

"I asked him. He won't trade."

"Sword of Justice, Sword of Peace. We're missing the Sword of Illusion."

"That's really hard to find."

I went to the coffee maker. "Good morning, Warrior Toads."

Three heads came up. Three voices said, "'Justice Rules the Swamp!'"

"So I've heard," I said. "How's the collection coming along?"

"We need about twenty-five more to complete the first set," Jerry said.

"First set?"

"Set two comes out this week and set three in December just in time for Christmas."

"Someone is a marketing genius."

Austin rearranged the cards. "We weren't doing too well on our own, but when we combined our sets, we had almost all of them."

"And Jerry bought some more," Denisha said.

I pushed back my tangle of dark curls and poured a cup of coffee. It was typical of Jerry to spend his money on Bufo the Warrior Toad cards instead of buying normal things or paying outstanding bills, but I really couldn't complain. Being married to him is everything I hoped it would be: intensely satisfying, especially in the bedroom, without sacrificing the fun we've always had together. And he was actually working. Before we'd got married, Jerry and I made a bargain that if I'd go back to my artwork, he'd give up his scams and get a legitimate job. To my surprise, Jerry had found a job at the local bookstore and enjoyed it.

"Can we go to Georgia's today and get a few more packs?" Austin asked him.

"Sure. I'll be working there today."

I leaned against the counter and sipped my coffee. As for my part of the bargain, well, I hadn't been as successful. The portrait of children I painted for the local theater had brought me a few more commissions, but I wasn't painting as much as I should. I kept telling myself my detective work kept me busy, but that was stretching the truth.

You can't fuss at Jerry for stretching the truth, now, can you? I told myself, and a little worrisome thought wormed its way into my mind. I looked at my slim, youthful husband, his gray eyes shining as he and Austin argued the merits of Bufo's Glowing Sword versus Bufo's Wart of Power. I'd known Jerry since we met in college, and he'd been very good at keeping his schemes and his problems secret from me. But I recognized the signs. Something was going on, but I couldn't tell what.

He looked up and smiled that smile that had won my heart from the first time I met him. "What's up with you today, Mac?"

"I thought I'd go in to my office for a while."

"Meet you for lunch?"

"Shana wants me to meet a friend of hers. I'm hoping this will lead to another case."

I tried to put my worries aside and concentrate on my new career. My fledgling detective agency could use all cases possible. I'd known when I moved to Celosia the small town wouldn't have much use for a private investigator, but I'd already solved two murders.

"It's been almost two months and no one's felt the urge to kill," Jerry said. "Either you're slipping or Celosia is."

"People are beginning to eye me strangely. I thought about putting the Grim Reaper on my business cards."

"What do you want for breakfast? The kids and I had cheese toast."

"That would be fine."

I took my coffee to the front porch and looked out across the fields surrounding the Eberlin house, the house Jerry had inherited from his uncle. We were still in the process of remodeling. Goldenrod and white Queen Anne's lace shimmered in the morning heat. In the oak trees, cicadas whirred like tiny buzz saws. Beyond the dusty driveway and wandering rail fence, the highway led about a mile into town where Georgia would be opening her bookstore and maybe a few minor crimes would occur. Some shoplifting, perhaps, or a serious case of littering. Something calm and normal. I really didn't want to get involved with another murder.

After a while, Jerry came out with my cheese toast on a plate. "Breakfast is served."

"Curb service. How nice." I sat down in one of the rocking chairs.

Jerry perched on the porch rail and admired the view. He had on his khaki slacks, white shirt, and a yellow tie decorated with flying pigs. "And it's going to be another hot day."

I set my coffee cup beside my chair. "I hope Nell's coming to install the new air conditioner."

"She said she'd get to it today."

The ancient upstairs unit had finally died. Fans helped a little, but in our part of North Carolina, the heat can continue long into October. "Great," I said. The cheese toast was a perfect combination of crunchy toast and gooey cheese. "This is great, too. Have you ever thought about being a chef?"

"One career at a time, please."

I licked an extra bit of cheese off my finger. It had taken a lot of wheeling and dealing to get Jerry to find any sort of job. I wasn't going to push. "How are things at the bookstore?"

"I'm helping Georgia rearrange the magazines. She wants to put in a line of greeting cards."

He continued to look at the fields, but I could tell his gaze was miles beyond the trees and wildflowers. I never dreamed he would ever settle down, much less with me in an old house in a small town, so I wondered if he missed his wandering life. I was glad Austin's and Denisha's Bufo obsession was keeping him occupied.

He brought his calm gray gaze back to me. "Ready for seconds?"

What a loaded question. "With the kids here?"

He grinned. "They need to go get more Bufo cards."

"What were you thinking about just then?"

"Besides you?"

"Not getting restless, are you?"

"No."

"Not feeling the urge to sell fake pocketbooks or play mind reader?"

"Just let me hold an occasional séance and I'll be fine." He put his arms around me. "Actually, just let me hold you."

We were enjoying a long soulful kiss when behind us we heard Austin say, "Eeeuww."

Denisha said, "Austin Terrell, that's perfectly all right now that they're married. You ought to watch and see how it's done."

"There's no way I'm kissing you!"

Denisha was unfazed. "One day you will."

Jerry gave me another quick kiss before letting go. "Come on, kids. We'll ride into town with Mac and see what's at the store."

* * *

We have just one car, my light blue Mazda, so, after dropping Jerry, Austin, and Denisha at Georgia's Books, I went to my office. My office is located in the Arrow Insurance building, just down the hall from Ted Stacy, a tall, dark Southern gentleman, who was one of my first friends in Celosia. The letters on my door still say, "Madeline Maclin Investigations." I'd wanted to add "Fairweather," but Jerry convinced me that would be too long. Jerry and I had spent most of Saturday in Parkland visiting his brother, so I hadn't had a chance to check my messages and look through my mail. Besides the usual bills and flyers, there was a card from my ex-husband, Bill, announcing the birth of his third child. I sat looking at the card for a long time. Hooray for you, Bill. He'd always wanted children, the main reason our marriage fell apart. Never mind that Bill was also domineering and thoughtless. I'd never felt any maternal stirrings, and to him, this made me less of a woman. Between Bill and my mother, who tried her best to make me into Miss America, it's a wonder I have any sense.

Well, now Bill had babies and I had my own career so we were both happy. I had to chuckle as I read the new baby's name. Darlan Kyle. Boy, girl, or alien?

The next piece of mail was a letter from a friend in Richmond, congratulating me on my agency. Thank you very much. I took a moment to look around the room. I had a small oak desk, bookshelves, filing cabinet, a beige and green armchair for my clients, and a view of trees and the swing set in the next yard. Pleasant and useful, a direct contrast to the hot dusty office I had with an agency in Parkland. There, I had been one of many investigators hoping for a scrap of a case. Here, I was my own boss, and even if I didn't have a lot of work, at least I was in charge.

The third letter was from the Weyland Gallery, one of the many art galleries in Parkland. I frowned as I opened the letter. I didn't know anyone at the Weyland Gallery. I'd like to know someone at the Weyland Gallery, because it's one of the most prestigious in the city. I wondered how I'd gotten on their mailing list. My frown turned to open-mouthed astonishment as I read the letter. I'd been invited to enter the New Artists Show.

"Dear Ms. Maclin," the letter read. "We are pleased to inform you that your application for our New Artists Show has been favorably reviewed, and we invite you to enter three pieces of your choice. Please bring your work to the Weyland Gallery on Monday, September 23. The show will be on Saturday, September 28, at 8:00 PM, followed by a champagne reception. We look forward to presenting your work to our patrons and sponsors."

The letter was signed, "Letticia Booth, curator."

I read the letter again. I looked at the envelope. Was this a joke? Application? Favorably reviewed? I hadn't sent in anything in to any gallery! How had I managed to get into a show in Parkland? Who in the world knew that I even painted—

Jerry.

I knew something was up! Oh, my lord, I was going to wring his neck! I was punching the book store phone number furiously into my phone and growling about the various means of strangulation when I stopped. A man stood in my doorway, one hand raised as if to knock.

"I can come back," he said.

I felt the heat rise to my face. "No, please come in. Sorry about that. A little burst of temper. Nothing serious."

The man looked about thirty years old. He had reddish hair and little round glasses. In his neat buttoned-down shirt and sharply creased slacks, he reminded me of one of my history professors. He smiled. "A dissatisfied customer?"

"No, no. Just a little family matter. I apologize." I held out my hand. "I'm Madeline Maclin."

He shook my hand. "Nathan Fenton. I was hoping to find you in today."

"Please have a seat, Mr. Fenton. What can I do for you?"

He sat down in the chair opposite my desk. "Well, here's my problem. I've received a very curious gift from my late uncle, and I'm hoping you can help me figure it out." He took a piece of paper from his pocket and slid it across the desk to me. "I've inherited some money from my uncle, but I can't get it unless I solve what appears to be a riddle of some kind."

The flowing script was easy to read. "To my nephew, Nathan Ellis Fenton, I leave a fine fortune, provided he unlocks this puzzle and finds the one true key." The next part made little sense. "'From west to east the river flows, from ancient times the sparrow flies. Trust animals that live in packs, and listen where the portrait lies.'" I looked up. "Do you know what any of it means?"

"There's a river near by, but it doesn't flow west to east."

"What about the portrait? Have you looked behind all the pictures in your uncle's house?"

"That's another problem," Nathan Fenton said. "He moved out of his house. He lived in a trailer. He didn't take any portraits with him. I'm at a loss."

"And the sparrow? Did he have a bird?"

"No pets. He hated animals, so the trust animals line doesn't make any sense."

"The poem must mean something else," I said. "What else can you tell me about your uncle? When did he pass away?"

"Last week. He was seventy-five and had been in poor health for years." Nathan Fenton sighed. "He wasn't the friendliest man in the world, but he loved games and puzzles. I'm really not surprised he would leave a riddle. The trouble is, he probably sent this riddle to other people. It would be just like him to have folks competing for the same prize."

"Was there a will of any kind?"

"Yes, he left the family home to my cousin's wife, Victoria Satterfield, as well as enough money to maintain it. Apparently, this riddle is his idea of a treasure hunt."

"Any idea how much money is involved?"

"Elijah did well on the stock market and owned quite a bit of land that he sold. I imagine the prize is several hundred thousand dollars, maybe even a million."

"Who else is likely to be included in the hunt?"

"I have the one cousin, Aaron Satterfield, but Elijah could've sent the riddle to anyone."

"Does your cousin live here?"

"No, he's in Parkland."

"Give me a few days. I'll see what I can do."

Fenton looked relieved. "I don't want you to think I'm anxious about the money, but I have a chance to buy a camp about ten miles from here in Westberry. I don't know if you've heard of Camp Lakenwood?"

Being in Little Miss pageants gave me no time to enjoy summer camp. "No."

Nathan's eyes gleamed. "It used to be a wonderful camp. I went there every summer. I learned to fish and row a canoe and build a campfire. But the owner can't keep it up and wants to sell it. It's my dream to fix it up and have a camp, not only for the kids who can afford it, but have it free for underprivileged children."

"That sounds wonderful."

"But according to Misty May, my uncle's lawyer, I have to solve this riddle by Monday, September 23, or the money goes to—well, I honestly can't believe this, but she says it's true—a fund to build bat houses."

"Bat houses?" Jerry's Uncle Val had studied bats. I thought we were through with them. "You mean the little wooden shelters to put on trees?"

"Yes. Isn't that the craziest thing you ever heard of? And he hated animals! It's some kind of stupid joke."

When Jerry and I moved to Celosia, we thought it was pretty small, but since then, we'd learned that the town had a popu- lation of over eight thousand—ten thousand, if you included some of the little adjoining neighborhoods. And yet there were two batty uncles in the neighborhood.

"Did your uncle know Val Eberlin? This sounds like one of his projects."

"I don't know where Elijah got the idea. Probably to drive us all bats."

"Is Ms. May in Celosia? I'd like to speak to her."

"She has an office in Rossboro." He dug in his pocket for his cell phone. "I have her number."

Nathan Fenton had to solve the riddle by September 23, the day I was supposed to have three pieces ready for the Weyland Gallery. That gave me a week. I hesitated just a moment and decided if I wanted to paint and detect, here was a chance to see if I could do both.

Nathan gave me the lawyer's number. "I don't have Aaron's, but he's in the phone book."

"I'll get right on it."

After discussing my fee, Nathan Fenton wrote me a check, shook my hand, and left. Since this was Sunday, I didn't expect either Misty May or Aaron Satterfield to be at work, so I left messages on their answering machines, asking them to call me. I read the poem again. Well, you have a case that doesn't involve murder, I told myself. Solving cryptic riddles may not be your idea of fun, but you need the work. Besides, something like this will keep Jerry occupied for hours.

Which reminded me.

I called the book store and asked to speak to Jerry. He sounded extremely innocent.

"Yes?"

"There was a certain letter in the mail today from the Weyland Gallery."

"Was there?"

"It seems I'm invited to enter three pieces in their New Artists Show."

"That's great news."

"I'm wondering how I managed to enter a show without knowing about it."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from A Little Learning by Jane Tesh Copyright © 2009 by Jane Tesh. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2014

    R

    The story was fast moving with enjoyable characters. The minor problem I had was that the dialogue seemed stilted.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2013

    Series

    Love this series just finushed book 3 .will there be anither one
    ?

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  • Posted April 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    a fun lighthearted Tarheel romp

    In Celosia, North Carolina private investigator Madeline Maclin is excited over opening her new private investigative office. However, she is also under immense pressure to accomplice two divergent deeds. First she has one week to resolve a riddle left in a will for a client, Nathan Fenton who, if Madeline succeeds, will receive a major inheritance. Second she needs to paint a picture also within a week so that it can be exhibited at a gallery.------------------

    Already overwhelmed with work, Madeline accepts an opportunity to teach art at the local elementary school. However, to her surprise Amelia Lever, an elementary school teacher detested by faculty, administration, parents and students, is murdered. Madeline's inheritance case and the teacher's homicide are tied together by of all things collectible cards. When her new spouse con man turned bookstore employee Jerry Fairweather is attacked over those collectible cards, Madeline struggles to learn what is going on and by whom?-------------------

    The third Madeline Maclin cozy (see A HARD BARGAIN and A CASE OF IMAGINATION) is a fun lighthearted Tarheel romp starring an eccentric cast. The story line is over the top of the Great Smokey Mountains, but no one will care as the inexpedienced Madeline connects the dots while Jerry tries to behave in the small town. Filled with zany characters, fans of the series will enjoy assisting Madeline as she tries to solve Uncle Elijah's riddle, Amelia's homicide, and the collectible cards assault that seem tied together yet with no link.-------------

    Harriet Klausner

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