Nursery Crimes

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When the principal of Hollywood's premier preschool is killed in a hit-and-run accident, public defender turned stay-at-home mom Juliet Applebaum gets off the mommy track-to track down a murderer.

Ayelet Waldman has given birth to a ...
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When the principal of Hollywood's premier preschool is killed in a hit-and-run accident, public defender turned stay-at-home mom Juliet Applebaum gets off the mommy track-to track down a murderer.

Ayelet Waldman has given birth to a fresh new franchise with her Mommy-Track Mysteries. Juliet Applebaum is smart, fearless, and completely candid...Kinsey Millhone would approve. (Sue Grafton)

Funny, clever, touching, original, wacky and wildly successful. (Carolyn G. Hart)

Humorous...Juliet's voice is strong and appealing. (Publisher Weekly)

Unique. (Tribune-Review Pittsburgh, PA)

[Juliet is] a lot like Elizabeth Peters' warm and humorous Amelia Peabody-a brassy, funny, quick-witted protagonist. (Houston Chronicle)
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Stay-at-home mom Juliet Applebaum resumes her law career to see justice served in the hit-and-run death of a Hollywood preschool principal.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Former federal prosecutor turned stay-at-home mom Waldman debuts with a humorous tale featuring a sleuth much like her creator. Juliet Applebaum gives up her job as a federal public defender to stay home with her small daughter, Ruby. Her screenwriter husband, Peter Wyeth, shares parenting duties. Juliet loves her family, but as she nears the end of her second pregnancy, she's restless, missing her job and worrying about her skills as a mother. Trouble starts when Juliet, Peter and Ruby attend an interview at the Heart's Song School, the most prestigious preschool in Los Angeles. The principal, Abigail Hathaway, doesn't seem impressed by either Ruby or her parents. Ruby doesn't get in--nor does the daughter of a temperamental and violent studio head, Bruce LeCrone. When Hathaway dies in a hit-and-run outside the school, Juliet immediately suspects LeCrone. But LeCrone turns out to have a solid alibi, so Juliet shifts the focus of her sub-rosa investigation to the victim's real-estate developer husband and rebellious daughter. Juliet's nosing around helps the police zero in on a suspect, but when she realizes that she's misinterpreted a crucial piece of evidence, she foolishly jeopardizes her own life, and that of her unborn child, to bring the killer to justice. Juliet's voice is strong and appealing, and the Hollywood satire is dead on, but in future outings perhaps Waldman can avoid putting an otherwise intelligent heroine into a clich d, vulnerable-female-in-peril denouement. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
L.A. public defender Juliet Applebaum quits her job to stay home with baby Ruby and her screenwriter hubby. A couple of years later, pregnant with number two and missing her job, Juliet investigates the hit-and-run murder of an exclusive nursery school's owner. Despite her impediments, she discovers several viable suspects, including an unfaithful third husband and a violently disgruntled film personage. Waldman, herself a former prosecutor turned stay-at-home mom, derives humorous mileage from Juliet's "epicurean" cravings, wardrobe dilemmas, night-owl husband, and obvious delight in adventure. First of a series for a new author; recommended. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425180006
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/10/2001
  • Series: Mommy-track Series, #1
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 4.23 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman currently lives with her writer-husband Michael Chabon and four children.


Some writers make it all look too easy. Take Ayelet Waldman, for example. The first novel she ever wrote -- heck, the first piece of creative writing she ever attempted -- was not only published, but it launched the successful Mommy-Track mystery series. Six years and eight novels later, Waldman is still wowing fans and critics alike while occasionally moving into more serious territory.

Waldman is most famous for her witty Mommy-Track mysteries, which follow the adventures of Juliet Applebaum. Like her creator, Juliet Applebaum is a former-public defender now playing the role of stay-at-home mom Unlike Waldman, Juliet breaks up her days of parenting with a little amateur sleuthing on the side. Waldman explained the origin of her beloved series during an interview at UC Berkley in 2004. "They grew out of this period in my life when I had left the public defender's office and I was staying home; I started writing them to keep myself entertained."

The novel that Waldman essentially wrote on a self-entertaining lark -- Nursery Crimes -- became the first in a series of lighthearted mysteries that clearly struck a chord among the writer's peers. "I think they kind of hit the market at a time that there were a lot of women like me," Waldman explained. "A lot of ex-lawyers, ex-doctors, ex-CEOs of companies who were finding themselves straight from the boardroom to the sandbox and kind of going crazy, so there was a ready audience for people who were not necessarily all that fulfilled by making homemade play-dough, but nonetheless realized where they were gonna be for the next couple of years."

After the initial four books in the Mommy-Track series (which included such tongue-in-cheek titles as The Big Nap and A Playdate With Death), Waldman decided to use her newfound literary success as an opportunity to try her hand at a non-series novel. "The more I wrote," she said, "the more I realized that [writing] was something that I really loved to do and I wanted to do more with it. I wanted to grow as a writer and I wanted to start writing more serious fiction." Daughter's Keeper, a tale that sheds some critical light on the War on Drugs, revealed that she was more than capable of handling heavier subject matter. As Publishers Weekly noted: "Waldman's passion and affection for her characters shines through."

Having broken into a new realm of writing, Waldman then delivered two more installments in the Juliet Applebaum adventures before penning her second non-series novel. Like all of her previous works, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits addresses Waldman's favorite subject, motherhood, but this time around she also touches on the grittier issues of grief and death. Once again, Waldman's foray outside of her popular series has proved a resounding success. In Chelsea Cain's laudatory review in The New York Times, she described Love and Other Impossible Pursuits as "a romantic, shocking and sometimes painful page-turner does the unthinkable: it actually says something new and interesting about women, families and love."

While more Mommy-Track mysteries are likely on the way from the prolific Waldman, the side roads she has taken thus far confirm that she is a writer willing to defy expectations.

In addition...
Waldman is also noted for the controversy that followed the publication of her 2005 essay "Motherlove." The essay, first published in the anthology Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race and Themselves, sparked a heated national debate about the nature of love, marriage, and motherhood.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Waldman:

"My children are my inspiration. I write about mothers, and about maternal ambivalence. No matter what I set out to do, it seems, I end up writing about that. My four kids have veto power on anything I write about them, but the only time it's ever been exercised is when my eight-year-old told me never to write about breastfeeding him ever again, as long as he and I both walked the earth."

"My husband and I both edit one another's work. Nothing leaves the house that the other hasn't gone over with a fine-toothed comb.

"Nursery Crimes, my first murder mystery, was the first piece of fiction -- the first piece of creative writing -- I ever did.

"I have no hobbies, other than reading. I love to read, and on my web site I keep a log of every book I read, along with a few words about the book and about what I thought. Check it out at

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    1. Hometown:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 11, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      Jerusalem, Israel
    1. Education:
      Wesleyan University, 1986; Harvard Law School, 1991
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I'm not sure whose fault it was, Ruby's or mine, that we didn't get in. Let's just say neither of us aced the admissions interview. I knew we were in trouble as soon as Ruby woke me up, at 6:00 A.M., with a scowl as black as the cowboy boots she had insisted on wearing to bed the night before. She refused to let me comb the left half of her hair, so I ended up walking out of the house holding the hand of a tiny little carny sideshow attraction: a half adorable, beribboned angel, half street urchin from hell. The effect was dramatized further by her chosen attire: Superman T-shirt, magenta miniskirt, and bright yellow clogs. She was impervious to my pleas, and seemed uninterested in my explanation of how not going to the right preschool would preclude Harvard, Swarthmore, or any other decent college. She'd end up at Slippery Rock State, like her dad. Even if she hadn't been two and a half years old, this would likely have made little impression on her. Her un-Ivied father made about ten times as much money as her thickly Ivied mother, and had an infinitely more satisfying career as a screenwriter than mine had been as a public defender.

    By the time we got into the car, we were all three, Mama, Daddy, and Baby, in matching moods. Bad. Really, really bad. Peter was irritated because he'd had to get up before eleven. Ruby was irritated because I had turned off The Big Comfy Couch and forced her to eat some Cheerios and get out of the house. I was irritated at Ruby for being such a stubborn little brat, at Peter for failing to help me get her ready for the interview, and at myselffor having gained fifty-five pounds in the first thirty-two weeks of my second pregnancy. I'd already outgrown most of my maternity clothes, and the only thing I could fit into was an old, dusty-black smock that I had worn to shreds when I was pregnant with the tiny Hell's Angel herself.

    As we drove up Santa Monica Boulevard I desperately tried to give Ruby some last-minute admissions hints.

    "Listen, Peach Fuzz, it's really important that you try to be sweet today, okay?"


    "Yes. Yes. It is. You have to try to share with other kids. Don't grab toys or fight. Okay?"


    "Yes. Hey, I have an idea! You can tell some of your funny stories. How about that story about the crazy kitty? Want to practice that now? That's such a great story."


    I sighed. Peter looked over at me and raised his eyebrows.

    "She'll be fine," I said. "As soon as she's around the other kids, she'll be her sweet, agreeable self."

    I glanced into the backseat. Ruby was grimly picking her nose and wiping it on the armrest of her car seat. When she saw me looking at her, she covered her eyes with her hands.

The Heart's Song School was widely considered the best preschool in the city of Los Angeles. The competition for the seventeen spots that opened each fall in the Billy Goat room was cutthroat. It was probably easier to qualify for the Olympic gymnastics team. It was certainly easier to get into medical school. Everyone who was anyone in Hollywood had a little Billy Goat. The school's spring fund-raiser, a talent show, had boasted original songs by Alan Menken, dance numbers by Bette Midler, and one legendary reenactment of Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Whoopi Goldberg.

    Our interview at the preschool took place with two other families. We perched on miniature chairs, covertly sizing each other up while waiting for the school principal. One family seemed pleasant enough. The parents were exhibiting the same slightly manic, good cheer as Peter and I. The father had a kind of artistic look, with longish, tousled hair. I decided he was probably a cinematographer or a moderately successful film director. He wore the same dress-up uniform as Peter, chinos and a slightly wrinkled oxford shirt. The mother was an attractive, dark-haired woman about my age, thirty-two or -three, wearing a long sweater over leggings and pretty brown boots. When she caught me looking at her, I smiled ruefully and rolled my eyes. She smiled back. Their son sat quietly in his father's lap and buried his head in his father's shirt whenever anyone looked at him.

The other couple was a whole different kettle of fish. First of all, he was wearing a suit, a double-breasted sharkskin. Definitely Italian. He was substantially older than the rest of us, at least forty-five or fifty, but trying real hard to look thirty-five. He sported an expression that managed to look tense and bored at the same time. Skinny wasn't the word to describe his trophy wife. Emaciated more like. Her very young, twiglike body was wrapped in an elaborate slinky skirt with a Lycra top that revealed a strip of bare midriff. She sported a diamond the size of a small puppy on one ringer. She had a gash of bloodred lipstick in an otherwise alabaster-white face, and her petulant pout precisely matched that of her daughter. I discreetly snuck a tongue out over my lips to see if I had remembered to put makeup on. Of course not. I rummaged in my purse for a lipstick, but had to satisfy myself with a tube of Little Mermaid Junior Lip Gloss.

    The hyperelegant couple's daughter wore black velvet leggings and a red tunic with shiny black cuffs and pockets. Ruby was transfixed by her red patent-leather boots. She pointed at them and said, "Mama, buy me that"—dat—"I want that!"

    Normally that kind of demand would be greeted with a minilecture on why we can't have everything we see. It is a mark of how desperately I wanted Ruby to get into that school that I leaned over and whispered in her ear, "I'll tell you what, kiddo. If you are really, really good I'll try to find you a pair of those boots."

    The principal walked in just in time to hear Ruby say to the proud owner of the boots, "I'm getting those boots if I'm weawy good!"

    I blushed to the brown roots of my red hair, and Peter snorted with laughter. The nice couple smiled and the not-so-nice couple looked superior. Trophy wife hissed "Morgan, come here," and hustled her daughter away from Ruby as if she imagined that my baby would try to wrench the boots clean off her little treasure's feet. As if Ruby would ever have tried that. At least not with me right there.

    Abigail Hathaway, the founder and principal of the Heart's Song School, was a woman in her mid- to late fifties, tall, thin, and striking. She had black hair, shot lightly with gray, that she wore rolled in a chignon at the nape of her neck. Her clothes were gorgeous, conservatively elegant, and obviously expensive. She wore a faun-colored wool jacket buttoned loosely over a thick, creamy, silk blouse. Her skirt was in a matching herringbone. It occurred to me to wonder how she kept herself looking so splendid when she was surrounded every day by forty or so frenetic and filthy preschoolers. Ruby and I had already managed to acquire matching milk stains on our shirts, and my shoulder was festooned with a pink splash of toothpaste where she had wiped her mouth after brushing her teeth. I looked like the "before" picture in a Calgon bubble bath ad. Abigail Hathaway looked like she was heading out to lunch at the hunt club.

    She perched herself on the edge of a minichair, introduced herself, and told us how she had come to start this most elite and special preschool fifteen years before. I put on my alert and interested expression, the one I had perfected in law school to impress professors with my zeal and engagement with the material. Actually, I was listening with only about fifteen percent of my brain. The other eighty-five was concentrating on Ruby as she wandered around the room, picking up toys and books.

    "Heart's Song is designed to be a place where children learn the most important of lessons, how to cooperate and communicate," Ms. Hathaway said. "To that end we try to inculcate values such as empathy and concern for others."

    At that moment Ruby plucked a toy from the nice couple's son's hand. He began to cry.

    "Look, Mama, I'm gwabbing!" she announced proudly.

    "Ruby!" I snapped. "Don't grab."

    "But Mama, I love to gwab." She smiled hugely. I shot a quick glance at Ms. Hathaway to see if she'd heard. She had and was looking at me expectantly.

    "Ruby, these toys belong to all the children and we have to share." I was using my best Miss Sally, Romper Room voice.

    "It's virtually impossible for children of this age to share, Ms. Wyeth," the principal said.

    "Actually, it's Applebaum, Ruby and Peter are Wyeth, I'm Applebaum" I said automatically, then winced. Like I really had to make that particular point at that particular moment. I looked over at my daughter. "Never mind, Ruby."

    At that point Peter decided to take over for me, since I was obviously not wowing the room with my parenting skills.

    "Hey, Rubes, come over to Daddy." She ran over and jumped up into his lap.

    The school principal continued on for a while, describing how at the end of the afternoon those of us who had been selected to move on to the next stage of the application process would be given forms to fill out and send in, along with the $125-dollar, nonrefundable application fee. After about five minutes of sitting quietly, Ruby had had it. She wriggled out of Peter's arms and leaped off his lap. She was making a beeline for the sand table and had mischief on her mind. As she blew by me, I reached out an arm, stopping her in midrun. I hauled her onto my lap.

    "If we're all ready to settle down," said Ms. Hathaway with a disapproving glance in my direction, "I'd like to tell you about the pedagogical goals of the Billy Goat program."

Ruby, it turned out, was on her best behavior after all. She played nicely and managed not to break anything. But none of that mattered. My parenting skills had not impressed Ms. Hathaway. As we gathered our belongings at the end of the morning, I watched as she handed a thick manila envelope to the pleasant couple, who, laughing delightedly, scooped up their shy little boy and rushed out the door. No packet came our way. I had a moment of sadness thinking that we probably would never get to know that nice family, who had seemed like people we could be friends with. Those thoughts were interrupted by a scene unfolding at the other end of the room.

    "Excuse me. We haven't received our application packet." Morgan's father had reached his arm out to stop Ms. Hathaway as she walked toward the door.

    "I'm sorry, Mr. LeCrone" she said.

    "Sorry? What do you mean, you're sorry? Where is my application packet?" He leaned over her, threateningly.

    "We are only able to extend an invitation to apply to a small number of those who visit. I am sorry."

    "Look, what the hell are you talking about? Do you realize that I employ the parents of half your students? I suggest that you get me an application."

    His wife put her hand on his arm. "C'mon, Bruce. Let's just go. Who gives a shit."

    Ruby, who had been staring at the drama unfolding in the doorway, gasped. "She said `shit,' Mama!"

    I leaned down and picked her up. "Shh, honey-pie," I murmured. I wanted out of that room right away, but they were blocking the only exit. Peter and I looked at each other. Neither of us could figure out what to do.

    "I give a shit, goddamn it. Who the hell do you think you are, lady?" LeCrone's grip tightened on Ms. Hathaway's arm. Two spots of color appeared high on her cheeks. She looked genuinely frightened.

    "Bruce, I'm leaving right now," LeCrone's wife said, grabbing their daughter by the hand. She pushed by him, out the door. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything more, Peter walked over.

    "Hey, let's just chill out here a minute. We're all a little tense. Nobody means any harm," my husband said as he put an arm around LeCrone's shoulder. "I don't know about you, man, but my back's killing me from those little chairs, and I'm seriously coffee-deprived."

    LeCrone looked, for a moment, like he was going to snarl. But suddenly he seemed to change his mind. Angrily shrugging off Peter's arm, he spun on his heel and marched out the door. Ms. Hathaway sighed with relief. She hugged her waist with her arms and shivered.

    "Mr. Wyeth, if you'll wait a moment, I'll go get you an application."

    "That's okay. You don't have to reward me. We understand you have your selection process. It's no big deal," Peter said, motioning to me. I scooped Ruby up in my arms and accompanied him out the door.

    "Thanks for everything and have a nice day," I said, smiling over my shoulder at the principal. I'm not sure what prompted that, maybe I just wanted to show her that we were fine and unscathed by her rejection. At any rate, it turned out to be a singularly inappropriate comment, given what happened later that evening.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2006


    This isavery good and intresting book!! I really enjoy reading this book!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2003

    Predictable but fun

    I found this book to be a nice break from the more deep and involved mystery novels out there. Like many of the other reviewers I too had figured out the actual murderer half way through reading. Although it was predictable and I felt that it lacked some detail, Nursery Crimes did make for some easy and enjoyable reading. I will read the next book in the series, however if it does not raise the bar slightly from it's very juvinile level I will have to abandon the series and return to more adult type reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2001

    Possibly the Worst Book I Have Ever Read

    This is a very poor mystery. The characters are stereotypical (do we need yet ANOTHER wacky former lawyer sticking her nose unattractively into other people's business?) and uniformly unlikable; even the protagonist's 2 year old daughter is revolting. The solution to the 'mystery' is telegraphed very early on; this, coupled with the fact that the heroine's antics also pall very early, made the book excruciating to work through. Frankly, I think this author should refund my money with interest for pain and suffering!

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