Overview

It's been a long time since Clara Gamadge's school days, but forever young at heart she still has close ties to the old gang and her alma mater, Wolcott Academy. Springtime on campus is usually a time of winding down and wrapping up until suddenly murder and suspense are the only subjects on anyone's mind. Usually when Clara receives a note from Louise Littleton, Wolcott's youthful and sprightly headmistress, it's just to keep in touch, but this time it concerns mysterious circumstances. Margo Llewelyn, formerly ...
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Murder Crossed

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Overview

It's been a long time since Clara Gamadge's school days, but forever young at heart she still has close ties to the old gang and her alma mater, Wolcott Academy. Springtime on campus is usually a time of winding down and wrapping up until suddenly murder and suspense are the only subjects on anyone's mind. Usually when Clara receives a note from Louise Littleton, Wolcott's youthful and sprightly headmistress, it's just to keep in touch, but this time it concerns mysterious circumstances. Margo Llewelyn, formerly an Academy charity student, now a movie star of former and fading glory, has arrived at Wolcott's doorsteps in desperate straits. In a panic, she begs Louise to accept her three little girls as boarding students so she can immediately get out of the country. Louise has encountered parents anxious to part with their children before but this seemed especially odd. When a dead body breaks up commencement ceremonies it's time for Clara Gamadge to put the pieces together. What misfortune had caused Margo's shining star to sink so low? Would more blood tarnish Wolcott's ivy-covered walls? Only a super sleuth like Clara could sift through the avarice, the malice and the motives to solve a murder like this and save the good name of her beloved Wolcott Academy too. 
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her fifth appearance, 70-year-old widow Clara Gamadge (Working Murder) returns to the Massachusetts boarding school of her youth to advise and help Louise Littleton, who is being asked a favor by a notorious alum. Former superstar actress Margo Llewelyn, who is having trouble finding work because she's "difficult, drunk, and demoralized," wants to enroll her three daughters, each of whom has a different father, in the school. Margo shows up on campus with the girls, expecting to leave them at that very moment. Celestra Riondo, Louise's secretary, who has a history of mental illness, is star-struck with excitement by the visit. Three months later, after Margo is stabbed to death on the school grounds, her three former husbands arrive to pick up their daughters. Sensing a fight and not sure one of the men isn't the murderer, Louise, who has been named the girls' custodian, sends them to a remote Vermont convent for safety. Clara and Louise are stunned when Celestra confesses and when one of the husbands proves that the body is not Margo's but that of her movie stand-in. Where is Margo? And why did she hurriedly drop her children at the school? Clara is an entertaining presence, but Boylan's convoluted plot makes this cozy less exciting than some of Clara's previous outings. (Apr.)
Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
In her fifth appearance, 70-year-old widow Clara Gamadge Working Murder returns to the Massachusetts boarding school of her youth to advise and help Louise Littleton, who is being asked a favor by a notorious alum. Former superstar actress Margo Llewelyn, who is having trouble finding work because she's 'difficult, drunk, and demoralized,' wants to enroll her three daughters, each of whom has a different father, in the school. Margo shows up on campus with the girls, expecting to leave them at that very moment. Celestra Riondo, Louise's secretary, who has a history of mental illness, is star-struck with excitement by the visit. Three months later, after Margo is stabbed to death on the school grounds, her three former husbands arrive to pick up their daughters. Sensing a fight and not sure one of the men isn't the murderer, Louise, who has been named the girls' custodian, sends them to a remote Vermont convent for safety. Clara and Louise are stunned when Celestra confesses and when one of the husbands proves that the body is not Margo's but that of her movie stand-in. Where is Margo? And why did she hurriedly drop her children at the school? Clara is an entertaining presence, but Boylan's convoluted plot makes this cozy less exciting than some of Clara's previous outings.
Library Journal
Seventy-year-old Clara Gamadge visits her alma mater to assist notorious alumna Margot Llewelyn, a troubled actress. Shortly thereafter, someone murders Margot, and complications surrounding Margot's three children arise. A delightful sleuth.
Emily Melton
Miss Marple doesn't have a thing on sprightly supersleuth Clara Gamadge. A graduate of the respected Woolcott Academy, 70-year-old Clara is loyal to her alma mater--loyal enough to come running when the headmistress asks for help coping with a visit from another Woolcott alum, movie star Margo Llewelyn, who has decided to leave her daughters at the school while she goes to England for three months. Soon enough, though, Margo is found stabbed to death on the school grounds. Clara is on the case immediately, discovering that the dead woman wasn't Margo after all but her movie double. A delightfully warmhearted heroine who could be everybody's favorite grandmother, a highly entertaining plot, and a satisfying conclusion are guaranteed to produce the warm, fuzzy feeling that all fans of cozy mysteries so crave.
Kirkus Reviews
Another far-fetched adventure for Clara Gamadge, widowed grandmother and dogged amateur sleuth (Pushing Murder, 1993, etc.). Clara's long-ago high-school years were spent at Woolcott Academy, outside Boston, and Louise Littleton, its present head, is an old friend. Now, Louise has asked Clara to be with her when fading, fortysomething superstar actress Margo Llewelyn, another alumnus, makes a threatened visit. Mother of three young daughters by different fathers—TV journalist Patrick Brimmer the only respectable one—Margot is an emotional wreck after years of self- indulgence, and now she begs Louise to take her girls into the school while she fulfills a three-month engagement in London. Louise's ultrareligious secretary Celestra, a fanatic Margo fan, can scarcely contain her hero-worship throughout the visit; three months later, though, it's a different story: Margo returns to pick up her children, and then all hell breaks loose when her body is found, stabbed to death, on the school grounds. But is it really Margo? There's more, much more, including endless frenzied meetings with lawyers, ex-husbands, police and others, while Clara, with her family's patient help, eventually sorts it all out.

Only Clara's appealing persona, and her ingratiating way with words, will hold the reader to the end of this nonsense; for many it may not be enough.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781497625594
  • Publisher: Open Road Media
  • Publication date: 4/1/2014
  • Series: Clara Gamadge Mysteries , #5
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 125
  • Sales rank: 468,169
  • File size: 524 KB

Meet the Author

Eleanor Boylan has been writing mystery fiction since the 1950s. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen’s mystery magazines and in Yankee Magazine. In 1987, she began a series of Clara Gamadge suspense novels that continued the Henry Gamadge novels of her aunt, Elizabeth Daly, published during the 1940s and 1950s. Boylan has also been a professional puppeteer, and her children’s book How to Be a Puppeteer, with illustrations by famed artist Tomie de Paola, went into three printings. Boyland raised her family in Newton, Massachusetts, and moved to Anna Maria Island in Florida in 1985. She has two sons, three daughters, and eleven grandchildren.
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Read an Excerpt

One

I must take you back three months, gestation time for the murder, the same number of months, I'm told, as for a tiger. Grimly appropriate.

It was conceived on a breezy March day in the town of Woolcott, Massachusetts, and though one might have wished for a miscarriage, the thing went full term and was born, bouncing and terrible, the following June.

My cousin Charles Saddlier, known to family and friends as Sadd, values literate expression above life itself and thinks I've carried the above metaphor too far; but I like it because there were children involved, three little girls whom my daughter, Paula, called "the beanbags." Certainly they were tossed about, poor mites, but when your mother is a famous movie star, you can't expect to have the childhood of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

Now to take you back those three months.

Woolcott is a pleasant suburb of Boston where I spent four teenage years at Woolcott Academy. This small, first-rate, rather obscure boarding school for girls has survived chiefly owing to its excellence and a militantly loyal alumnae. In this era, which has seen the closing of so many private schools, "Wooly," as it is affectionately known -- and its students as "Woolies" -- has gone stoutly on educating our daughters and granddaughters and as stoutly remaining an all-girl school. Twenty years ago when Paula graduated, the headmistress, or rather the Head (I struggled valiantly to keep up with the times), herself a granddaughter of the school's founder, said in her commencement address: "We simply believe that a young woman can study better when seated in class beside another young woman rather than a young man."

Conservativealmost to the point of being reactionary, Woolcott Academy is the kind of school that girls complain about being sent to, then proceed to send their daughters.

"I'm dying of curiosity," said Paula on that March morning as we sat, I still in my bathrobe, on her rather sagging front porch. Her two cats squatted on the rickety rail. Paula and her husband, Andy, had bought a big, old "fixer-upper" in the Boston suburb of Dedham and were blithely not fixing it up. "Louise wouldn't tell me a thing on the phone except that she wanted to see you and was sending you this letter." She pulled an envelope from the morning mail. "Do you know how to get there?"

"Get to Wooly?" I looked at my daughter in surprise.

"I mean, some of the exits have been changed." Paula took her sneakered feet from the rail, and both cats clawed into it as it swayed. "When 95 went in it screwed up a lot of old exits. Woolcott is exit number 53 now."

"Oh. Thanks. Will an hour do it from here?"

"Less. I'll get more coffee."

Paula went into the house, and I opened the letter. There was a folded enclosure that appeared to be another letter in enormous handwriting. I opened Louise Littleton's typewritten one first. It was on familiar Woolcott Academy stationery and engraved "Office of the Principal." It read:

Dear Mrs. Gamadge:

You were out when I called Paula, but I was delighted to learn that you were visiting her. She said you'd come up to see her new house. How lucky for me! I'd called to get your phone number in New York, but now I can ask for your help in person. That is, if you can spare the time to come see me. I'm told you often advise people in difficult situations, and as an "old Wooly" your opinion will be especially valuable to me.

I'm typing this letter myself because I don't want my secretary to know about it. She's a dear soul and very good at her job, but she's also Cuban and excitable. I'm afraid she'd be very excited by the enclosed. Fortunately, it was marked "Personal" and came to my desk unopened. By the way, doesn't it sound exactly like the writer?

I'd be so grateful if you could come before Thursday. I don't want D. arriving before I've had a chance to talk to you. And don't bother to call; just come at any hour.

Many thanks,
Louise Littleton

I unfolded the enclosure. It was the antithesis of the other letter. The writing sprawled and slanted across pinkish lavender paper, and it was full of underlinings and scratched-out words. I had the odd feeling of almost having to hold it down to calm it as I read it.

Darling Lou,

I know! I know! You're saying to yourself how does she have the nerve after all the years and all the awfulness, but oh, Lou, I'm desperate and I need you so badly! I'm in Boston and I'm not going to phone you because I'm scared you'd hang up, so I'm just arriving at Wooly on Thursday, and for God's sake please, please see me and hear me, my dear, darling friend.

Duff

The thing affected me as it had undoubtedly affected Louise Littleton. I felt a breathlessness combined with bafflement and curiosity to which, in her case, must have been added an element of dread.

Paula came back with two cups of her rather awful coffee; she's a terrible cook, and her husband is a superb one. Andy Fortina's parents were born in Brazil, and his sauces ...!

I said, extending the letters, "The name Duff will ring a bell."

Paula stared at me. "You mean ...?"

I nodded. She gave me a cup, took the letters, and sat down, devouring the contents of both.

It was fascinating but sad to consider the identity -- and yet the gulf -- between Elaine Duffy, charity pupil at Woolcott Academy twenty-five years ago, and superstar Margo Llewelyn, who, with her shiny new name, shot to the heights of "filmdom" (Sadd says there's no such word) in the seventies and eighties. In the delightful tradition of Carole Lombard and Kay Kendall, names that come to me from my own generation, she was lovely and funny, that rare thing, the beautiful comedian. But gradually and tragically, her fate had closed in. Now in her forties and racked by a life of dissipation and wildly inappropriate marriages, her professional reputation was in shreds and she hadn't made a movie in several years. Too often difficult, drunk, and demoralized, she was, according to gossip, unhireable.

And she was about to descend on her old friend and classmate, Louise Littleton, highly respected Head of Woolcott Academy. No wonder Louise was quailing.

Paula folded both letters with a "Wow!"

I said, "Help me with chronology. How much older is she than you?"

"Four or five years. She and Louise were graduating when I was in the ninth grade. Both of them had started in the Lower School when they were just little kids."

I took the letters from Paula. "I remember you telling me they were good friends."

"Yes. The best. All those years. And it was funny because they were so different. Lou -- and Duff was the only girl in the school who could get away with calling her that -- Lou came from some snooty Philadelphia clan, and Duff had no family at all. The rumor was that her mother had been a maid in the school." Paula pulled one of the cats into her lap. "You and Dad used to come to Wooly a lot my first year. Did you ever see Duff?"

"Not that I remember. And it wasn't until she got famous that you began talking about her."

Paula nodded. "And remembering things. She was so gorgeous -- blond, of course -- and she got lousy marks and was always in trouble. Louise was the perfect lady and a brain. She wasn't bad looking herself, but Duff just put everybody in the shade. A lot of the girls hated her, but in some weird way, she and Louise hit it off."

I stared out at the brown lawn. Paula held the cat against her cheek and went on.

"Everybody knew they had one thing in common -- neither of them had parents. Louise's grandparents were quote unquote 'raising her,' which meant they threw her in Wooly when she was seven or eight." She laughed. "Once in a while they'd drive up from Philly in their Rolls to see her, and we'd all hang out of the window to look at it. Nobody ever came to see Duff."

We were silent for a moment. A breeze stirred the about-to-burst forsythia bush beside the porch.

Then I said, "What was Louise's maiden name?"

"Archer. That was sad. The year she graduated from Bryn Mawr she married Brad Littleton who taught at Wooly, and he was killed in Cambodia six months later. She went back to Wooly as a teacher and she's devoted her life to it." Paula drained her coffee cup and looked back at the pink letter. "She's right. This does sound like Duff. Crazy wild from day one. What do you suppose she wants?"

"We may never find out."

"Why?"

"I have a feeling Louise will get cold feet at the last minute and decide to be away. Simpler just to leave a message: 'Sorry, called away on business.'"

"Oh, that would be rotten! Duff sounds so desperate."

"All the more reason. Forget Duff for a minute. Doesn't Margo Llewelyn have children?"

Paula regarded me for an instant, then grinned. "She sure does! Two or three, I think. And as many husbands -- maybe more -- who can count?" Paula grasped her brow and hooted. "Wait! At least one of her kids is a girl -- I'm sure of it! Oh, Mom, this is rich! You don't suppose she wants to put her in Wooly!"

"I could be totally wrong." I tucked the letters in my bathrobe pocket. "Maybe Margo Llewelyn just wants to decide whether to endow her alma mater now or later."

"Oh, sure!" Paula was hugging herself. "Can't you just picture it? Margo whirling in on Visiting Day, having alerted the press, of course, that she is doing her maternal duty."

"And insisting," I couldn't help adding, "that her picture be taken with her dear old friend, Louise Littleton -- "

" -- who would just die at this kind of publicity! I love it!" Paula stood up. "All I can say is get out there quick, and hey" -- she snapped her fingers -- "didn't she say come before Thursday? This is Wednesday!"

"I better get dressed." I stood up.

"Shall I call Louise and say you're coming?"

"She said not to. What time is it?"

"Almost nine. Gotta get to work." She hugged me. "Watch out for those boxes in the upstairs hall." (I'd tripped over them twice already.) "One of these days I'm going to unpack 'em, I swear it." She cupped my face. "In spite of all the booby traps, you do like our house, don't you?"

"I love it."

"It's a rambling wreck, but so are we." Paula took her shoulder bag from the chair back and ran down the creaking steps.

I called, "Do you go to work in sneakers?"

"Why not?"

And seconds later, the blue and white van backed precipitously out of the rutted driveway and disappeared.

Paula worked in the office of her children's grade school. At about three o'clock the van would wheel in again carrying third grader Janey and kindergartner Andrea. Then there would be bedlam till the arrival of their father, usually bearing an armload of metal film containers. "Vintage Flicks" was Andy's shop/studio in South Boston where he wallowed happily in the cutting, mending, sorting, splicing, trading, and God-knows-whating of old films, making a living, thank heaven, and coming home to make wonderful family meals. Afterward, Paula more or less cheerfully tackled the kitchen -- anything was better than cooking to her -- and Andy would betake himself to his "basement office" (a badly lit cellar) to continue cutting, sorting, splicing, etc. Janey and Andrea simply circulated constantly, as did the cats. On weekends, as far as I could see, when the fixer-upper should be getting fixed up, Paula preferred to play indoor tennis, and rotund Andy, who loathed exercise, preferred to cook, or to cut, sort, and splice.

The ménage, to my satisfaction, seemed a contented one.

I walked up the long bare stairs of the house, the words of Margo Llewelyn's letter running in my mind. "I know! You're saying to yourself ... but oh, Lou, I'm desperate.... Please see me and hear me."

I was scouring the grubby bathtub and praying for enough hot water, when the phone rang. Picking my way around the packing boxes, I reached Paula and Andy's room and plucked the phone from the unmade bed.

"Paula?"

"No, this is her -- "

"Mrs. Gamadge!" The voice was unmistakably that of someone with a bad cold. "Your voices are so alike! This is Louise Littleton."

"Louise," I said, "I've just gotten your letter, and I'm dressing to come see you."

"Oh, thank heaven! Oh, that's wonderful! Oh, I'm so relieved!" Three "Oh's" in three sentences. Anxious? Ill? Then, "Oh, thank you!" The fourth "Oh" was followed by a violent sneeze.

"You have a bad cold," I said.

"Yes, the kind that won't quit." A nervous laugh. "Has Paula told you about the new exit number?"

"She has, and I'll see you in about an hour and a half."

Another sneeze blurred her continued thanks, and I hung up.

We city dwellers are always glad of an excuse to rent a car. I'd picked this one up at the airport and had been enjoying tooling around the Boston suburbs with my grandchildren, conscientiously remembering to strap them in, while recalling guiltily how my own children would roll around in the back of a station wagon. When tempted to deplore certain aspects of modern civilization, I try to think of things like compulsory seat belts for babies' car seats. We can't be all bad.

Again, bits of that letter came to me as I sailed down Route 95. "I'm in Boston." Odd that the media hadn't mentioned it. Was Margo Llewelyn so pathetically passé that there would be no interest? Not possible. The public adores a spectacle of disintegration among its icons. No, she must have taken pains to come in quietly, even anonymously.

I got off the highway at Exit 53, thinking of her children. Where were they? Where they always were, I supposed, in various lush and lonely spots with everything money could buy and in need of everything it couldn't, vied for, wrangled over, cut, sorted, and spliced ...

Did Louise Littleton suspect, as I did, what she was to "please, please ... hear" and its ramifications? Not exactly a thought to improve one's morale -- or one's cold.

Copyright © 1996 by Eleanor Boylan

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