Nursery Crimes

( 7 )

Overview

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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Nursery Crimes

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Overview

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: 9780425234983
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/6/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,479,561
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ayelet Waldman

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

Biography

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 www.ayeletwaldman.com

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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

More praise for NURSERY CRIMES . . .

“A delightful debut filled with quirky, engaging characters, sharp wit, and vivid prose. I predict a successful future for this unique, highly likable sleuth.”

—Judith Kelman, author of After the Fall

“Told with warmth and wicked humor, Nursery Crimes is a rollicking first mystery that will leave you clamoring for more. Ruby’s adorable and Juliet is the sort of outspoken and funny woman we’d all like as a best friend.”

Romantic Times

“[Waldman] derives humorous mileage from Juliet’s ‘epicurean’ cravings, wardrobe dilemmas, night-owl husband, and obvious delight in adventure.”

Library Journal

“Unique . . . will intrigue anyone who values a good mystery novel.”

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“[Waldman is] a welcome voice . . . well-written . . . this charming young family has a real-life feel to it.”

Contra Costa Times

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DEADLINE

LIFELINE

BORDERLINE

BLOODLINE

POTSHOT

COVER STORY

NURSERY
CRIMES

Ayelet Waldman

For Michael

Table of Contents

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 myself for 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?”

“No.”

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

“No.”

“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.”

“No.”

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 finger. 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 fawn-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.

Two

RUBY fell asleep in the car on the way home and Peter and I sat quietly, each immersed in private thought. I figured he was probably thinking about his latest script, the third in a lurid series about a marauding group of urban cannibals. It was definitely Peter’s biggest movie so far, and he was under a lot of pressure to make the script satisfy all the various parties, including a director who spoke virtually no English and a studio executive with artistic pretensions.

When Peter and I had met in New York City, seven years before, he was working at Movie Madness, a cult video store in the East Village, and writing horror screenplays in his spare time. Actually, he’d been writing screenplays at work instead of waiting on customers. Our first conversation involved my threatening to report him to his boss and his asking me out for a beer instead. I still have no idea why I went out with him. It probably had a lot to do with his soft, sexy, gray eyes.

At the time Peter and I met, I had been earning big bucks at a prestigious New York law firm. I married him six months after that first beer, fully expecting to support him for the rest of our lives together. Three weeks after we came home from our honeymoon (beach-hopping and rain-forest-trekking in Costa Rica), he got a call from his agent. Slasher movies were suddenly in vogue, and one of that year’s hottest producers had gotten his hands on Peter’s script for Flesh-Eaters I. He optioned it for more money than I made in a year.

Much to my joy, Peter’s success allowed me to quit my job. The short and only answer to the question of why I had ever become a corporate lawyer in the first place was money. I graduated from Harvard Law School owing seventy-five thousand dollars. Delacroix, Swanson, & Gerard offered me a starting salary of just under ninety thousand dollars a year. After two years at the firm I had lowered my debt to a mere fifty thousand dollars, higher than my parents’ mortgage but a slightly more manageable monthly payment than when I had started out.

During those two years I had billed six thousand hours, represented an asbestos manufacturer and a toxic-waste dumper, and helped to bust a union. My garment-workers’-union-organizing grandfather must have been spinning in his grave. I’d spent three weeks trapped in a warehouse in Jersey City, sifting through documents, and a month in a conference room in the Detroit Airport Hilton, listening to lying corporate executives. I’d done so many all-nighters that for a while Peter was certain I was cheating on him. The lunches at Lutèce and the Lincoln Town cars that drove me home each night were no compensation for the misery I felt during every one of my fourteen-hour days. By the time Peter got his big break, I was way past ready to quit.

We used Peter’s advance to pay off my law school loans, packed the contents of our apartment into a U-Haul, hooked it to the back of my aunt Irene’s 1977 Buick, and took off for the promised land, Los Angeles. We ended up in a 1930s apartment chock-full of period details and period appliances in Hancock Park, near Melrose Avenue, and I got the job I’d always wanted, as a federal public defender. For the next couple of years Peter wrote script after script, some of which were actually made into movies. We met a lot of interesting and creative people: writers, directors, and even an occasional actor. I represented gangbangers and drug dealers and became familiar with a side of L.A. that most of our new Hollywood friends tried to pretend didn’t exist. I was the only one of our set not either writing a script, producing a movie, or trying to do one or the other. Nonetheless, I managed to hold my own at industry cocktail parties, regaling studio executives with stories about my cross-dressing bank-robber clients and how I was “protected” by the Thirty-seventh Avenue Crips.

I loved my job, and I was really good at it. Everything was going wonderfully, and we were really happy. And then something happened that destroyed it all: We had a baby.

Anyone who tells you that having a child doesn’t completely and irrevocably ruin your life is lying. As soon as that damp little bundle of poop and neediness lands in your life, it’s all over. Everything changes. Your relationship is destroyed. Your looks are shot. Your productivity is devastated. And you get stupid. Dense. Thick. Pregnancy and lactation make you dumb. That’s a proven, scientific fact.

I went back to work when Ruby was four months old, and I quit ten months later. I just couldn’t stand being apart from her and Peter. I’d call in the afternoon, snatching a few minutes to pump breast milk between court appearances and visiting clients at the detention center. Peter would tell me the latest cute Ruby story. I missed her first word (“boom”) and the day she started to walk. Peter wrote at night, slept in, and took over for the nanny at eleven each morning. He and Ruby spent the day together, going to the park, playing blocks, lunching with pals from Mommy and Me. I was jealous. Completely, insanely jealous.

I was also doing a lousy job at work. I didn’t want to be there any longer than I absolutely had to. I was relieved when clients pled guilty because that meant I wouldn’t have to put in the late nights a trial demands. I finally realized that I was giving everything short shrift—my work, my husband, and most of all, Ruby.

So I quit. I dumped three years of Harvard Law School into the toilet and became a full-time mom. That decision blew everyone away, including me. My boss, the kind of working mother who came back to work when her kids were three months old and never looked back, thought I’d lost my mind. My mother kept me on the phone one night for two hours, crying. I was supposed to have the career she’d never been able to achieve. She felt like I had betrayed her feminist dream. My friends who hadn’t yet had kids looked at me with a kind of puzzled condescension, obviously wondering what had become of the ambition that used to consume me.

As for myself, I couldn’t really believe what I had done. For months, when people asked me what I did, I continued to reply, “public defender.” If pressed, I would clarify by saying that I was on leave to be with my daughter. I never really came to grips with my status as a “stay-at-home mom.” I’d always had just a little bit of disdain for women who devoted themselves completely to their families. I’d always assumed that they were home because they couldn’t cut it, out in the real world. It had never occurred to me that a person would voluntarily leave a career in which she excelled in order to spend her days changing diapers and playing “This Little Piggy.”

But that’s what I had done. The worst part of it was that I wasn’t especially proud of my skills as a mother. Ruby was turning out fine, if willful, stubborn, brilliant, and funny qualify as fine, but I wasn’t any June Cleaver. I did all the things mothers aren’t supposed to do. I yelled. I was sarcastic. I let her watch TV. I fed her candy and almost always forgot to wash the pesticides off the fruit. I never kept up with the laundry. My shortcomings as a mother bothered me enough to make me consider going back to work, but then I found myself pregnant again. That settled it. Awash in ambivalence, alternately bored and entranced, full of both joy and despair, I joined the ranks of stay-at-home moms. At least for the time being.

By the time we arrived back home from our debacle at the preschool, we were all sufficiently recovered from our ordeal to joke about it. Peter treated us to a dead-on imitation of Bruce LeCrone. Ruby and I invented a new game that consisted of pinching each other, shrieking “I love to gwab!” and then collapsing on the floor in giggles. By that evening our family’s failure to enter the social register of the preschool set was forgotten.

After we had bundled Ruby into bed, and Peter had read that night’s installment of Ozma of Oz, we settled down for the night. Peter went to work in his office, a converted maid’s room at the back of our apartment, and I got into bed with my evening snack of ice cream and salted almonds. The calcium needs of my pregnant body provided sufficient rationalization for my astronomical ice cream intake. A few almonds made my decadent snack a protein-rich necessity. Or at least that’s what I liked to tell myself. The increasing spread of my thighs I attributed to my body’s stockpiling fat in order to breast-feed.

I flicked on the TV and spent the next couple of hours watching a movie about a woman with lymphoma whose anorexic daughter is sexually abused by a cross-dressing drug addict while a mudslide threatens their home (or something like that; I don’t really remember). I was in hysterical tears from start to finish. I love watching disease-of-the-week films when I’m pregnant. That extra burst of hormones makes for a delightful two-hour sobfest. After the movie was over, I was about to turn off the set when the lead-in for the eleven-o’clock local news caught my attention.

“A prominent nursery school principal died tonight in an apparent hit-and-run. Angie Fong is live at the scene of the crash.”

No way. It wasn’t Abigail Hathaway. It couldn’t be. After all, there were umpteen preschools and nursery schools in the Greater Los Angeles area. I stayed glued to the set through the commercial break.

The perky, helmet-haired news reporter stood in front of a cordoned-off street corner. Behind her I could see a mailbox tipped over on its side and crushed. I could swear I saw a woman’s shoe lying next to it on the sidewalk. As soon as I heard Abigail Hathaway’s name, I yelled for Peter. He came rushing in to the bedroom, looking panicked.

“What? Are you okay? Is it the baby?”

I pointed wordlessly at the television.

“Abigail Hathaway, the founder and director of the exclusive Heart’s Song School, was killed in an apparent hit-and-run outside of the school entrance this evening. Witnesses say a late-model European sedan, either gray or black, swerved onto the sidewalk, crushed the victim against a mailbox, and then took off at a high rate of speed. No suspect has been apprehended.”

The news reporter turned to a man in a baseball jacket with long, stringy hair. He was standing next to a shopping cart piled high with empty cans and bottles.

“Sir, you saw the accident?”

“It was no accident, man,” he said. “This car comes speeding ’round the corner, goes up on the curb, bashes into her, and then takes off. I swear it was aiming right for her.”

“And did you see the driver, sir?”

“Nah, but I saw the car. Silver Mercedes or maybe a black Beemer. Something like that. It was aiming for her, swear to God.”

The screen switched back to the news anchor in the newsroom.

“Police are asking that anyone with any information about this incident please call the number on the bottom of your screen.”

A commercial began, and I switched off the set. I had this strange, nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Oh, my God. I just can’t believe it. We saw her today. Today.” I felt tears rising up in my eyes. Peter sat down on the bed and pulled me to his chest. I started to cry.

“I know, honey, I know,” he murmured, stroking my hair with his hand.

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” I said, sobbing. “I didn’t even like her.”

“I know, honey.”

I stopped my tears. I had the hiccups. “I’m okay. Really. You can go back to work.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, it’s okay. I’m going to call Stacy.” Stacy was an old friend from college, whose six-year-old son was a graduate of Heart’s Song. Peter went back to his office and I dialed the phone.

“Hello?” Stacy’s voice sounded groggy.

“It’s me. Sorry to wake you, but have you heard?”

“What?”

“Somebody killed Abigail Hathaway.”

“What?” She perked up. “Are you serious? What happened?”

“I was just lying here watching the news. We didn’t get in, by the way. And they come on with this story about how somebody mowed her down with their car. I couldn’t believe it. I started crying.”

“What do you mean, you didn’t get in? She didn’t give you an application?”

“No. Anyway, are you listening to me? The woman is dead!”

“Jeez. Wow. It was a car accident?”

“Yes. I mean, no. She was on the street outside of the school and some car hit her and then took off.”

“Outside of the school?” Stacy sounded horrified. “Outside of Heart’s Song?”

“Right on the corner. A car hit her and knocked her into a mailbox. At least I think that’s what happened. Anyway, she’s dead.”

We talked for a while longer, speculating that the driver must have been drunk. I told Stacy about the interview and described the scene between the angry father and Ms. Hathaway.

Suddenly something occurred to me. “Oh, my God, Stace. Maybe he killed her! Maybe he freaked after not getting into the school! Maybe he snapped!”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Juliet. He did not kill her. Bruce LeCrone is a studio executive. He’s the president of Parnassus Studios. And he used to work at ICA. He’s not a murderer.”

Stacy is an agent at International Creative Artists, one of the most prestigious talent agencies in town. She knows everybody in Hollywood.

“How do you know what he’s capable of?” I said. “You didn’t see this guy. He was furious. Insanely furious.”

“Juliet, Bruce LeCrone’s temper is legendary. That was just par for the course with him. You should hear how he treats his assistants.”

“I still think there was something bizarre about how angry he got. I think I’m going to call the cops and let them know what happened.”

“I really don’t think that’s such a hot idea. If you make trouble for LeCrone, and he finds out it was you, Peter will never sell a script to Parnassus. You don’t want to go throwing wrenches into your husband’s career just because you have some wacked-out theory.”

That stopped me in my tracks. I certainly didn’t want to ruin Peter’s chances of doing a movie with one of the biggest studios in town.

“I’ll talk to Peter about it before I do anything.”

“You do that.”

“So, what were you up to tonight?” I asked.

“Nothing! What do you mean? What are you suggesting?”

“Jeez, Stacy. Get a grip. I wasn’t suggesting anything. I just wanted to know what you were up to.”

“Oh. Nothing. I worked late.”

“Poor you.”

“Yeah, poor me.”

We said good night and I turned off the light. Shivering, I snuggled down into my bed, tucked my body pillow under my heavy belly, and pulled the down comforter up to my chin. I couldn’t seem to get warm. It was a long while before I fell asleep.

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

    Posted May 12, 2006

    GREAT BOOK! SASSY

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

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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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