September Fair (Murder-by-Month Series #5)

( 6 )

Overview

". . . An entirely engaging novel with pathos, plot twists, and quirky characters galore. Beautifully written and wickedly funny." —Harley Jane Kozak, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity-award winning author of A Date You Can't Refuse

"Move over Janet Evanovich-mystery fans have a new reason to celebrate! September Fair is fun, funny, and so cleverly written, you'll be guessing until the very end." —Gemma Halliday, ...

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September Fair (Murder-by-Month Series #5)

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Overview

". . . An entirely engaging novel with pathos, plot twists, and quirky characters galore. Beautifully written and wickedly funny." —Harley Jane Kozak, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity-award winning author of A Date You Can't Refuse

"Move over Janet Evanovich-mystery fans have a new reason to celebrate! September Fair is fun, funny, and so cleverly written, you'll be guessing until the very end." —Gemma Halliday, best-selling author of
Mayhem in High Heels

The Minnesota State Fair-the beloved home of 4H exhibits, Midway rides, and everything on a stick. The festival fun is riding high until the recently crowned Milkfed Mary, Queen of the Dairy, a Battle Lake native, is brutally murdered while her regal likeness is carved in butter. Can Mira James, covering the fair for the Battle Lake Recall, expose a deadly State Fair secret and win a blue ribbon for caging a killer? You bet your last deep-fried Nut Goodie!

Praise for the Lefty Award-nominated
Murder-by-Month Series

[star] ". . . hilarious, fast paced, and madcap."—Booklist (starred review)

"Wonderfully funny."—Crimespree Magazine

"Another amusing tale set in the town full of over-the-top zanies who've endeared themselves to the engaging Mira."—Kirkus

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lourey's lively fifth murder-by-month mystery (after 2008's August Moon) finds Mira James, assistant librarian and part-time reporter for the Battle Lake Recall, covering the beauty pageant to elect Milkfed Mary, Queen of the Dairy, at the Minnesota State Fair. Unfortunately, “drop dead gorgeous” Ashley Pederson, a native of Battle Lake, Minn., turns up poisoned to death in the refrigerated room where, as winner of the contest, she was having her head sculpted in butter. Mira, in her effort to solve Ashley's murder, uncovers smalltown jealousies, secret love affairs, embezzlement and a big dairy concern engaged in dubious practices. The author does a good job of presenting the fairground activities, even if some of them, like sheep riding (billed as “mutton busting”), border on the absurd. Cozy fans who aren't sticklers for credibility will be entertained. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Dairy cows and a dead beauty queen on exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair. The 54th Milkfed Mary, Queen of the Dairy, is having her likeness sculpted in butter when the lights go out and the tourists panic. Two minutes later, the lights come back on, but Milkfed Mary doesn't. She's been fatally poisoned with cyanide. Already on hand to cover the fair for the Battle Lake Weekly, Mira James (August Moon, 2008, etc.) snoops around the fairgrounds to find out who wanted the teen dead. Her busybody antics are both abetted and thwarted by rambunctious 84-year-old Mrs. Berns and Battle Lake mayor Kennie Rogers. In between sampling fried nut-goodies-on-a-stick, swooning over Neil Diamond in the fair amphitheater and e-mailing her latest fella, Johnny Leeson, Mira cultivates several suspects: the president of the State Fair Association, the official Milkfed Mary chaperone, the marketing director of Bovine Productivity Management and a vegan protester of animal cruelty. Embezzlement, growth-hormone experimentation and the competitiveness endemic to all the great American beauty pageants will come into play before the fairgrounds are safe once again for suicidally diet-busting behavior. So-so plotting, but it's hard to resist the saucy octogenarian and all that fried butter.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738718729
  • Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
  • Publication date: 9/8/2009
  • Series: Murder-by-Month Series , #5
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 643,773
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Jess Lourey is the author of the Lefty-nominated Murder-by-Month mysteries set in Battle Lake, Minn. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, The Loft, and a founding faculty member of the Mystery Writers of America’s MWA University. Lourey resides in St. Cloud, Minn., where she is a professor of writing and sociology. For more information, visit her online at JessLourey.com.

Watch Jess on Showcase Minnesota (08/26/09).

Watch Jess on Twin Cities Live (09/02/09).

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First Chapter

SEPTEMBER FAIR

A Murder-By-Month Mystery
By jess lourey

Midnight Ink

Copyright © 2009 Jess Lourey
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7387-1872-9


Chapter One

As I snapped photos of Battle Lake's newest butter queen rotating in the crazy refrigerated booth, I wondered at the circuitous route by which I found myself back at the Minnesota State Fair for the second time in my life. After graduating from Paynesville High School, I'd moved to the Twin Cities to spend the next ten plus years haphazardly pursuing an English degree, escaping the accumulated demons of my small-town past, and generally drinking too much. A wake-up call and possibly the cat-clawed hand of fate had steered me to Battle Lake this past spring. The relocation came with a doublewide trailer and a dog, both of which I was responsible for caring for while my friend Sunny fished the waters of Alaska with Dean, her monobrowed lover. The house and dog-sitting were only supposed to have lasted through the summer, a fact I had rejoiced in once the dead bodies started blowing into town like ghoulish tumbleweed. Murdered dead bodies, to be exact, and they had all been connected to me.

It was odd because my beginning in Battle Lake had actually been auspicious. I'd strolled into an assistant librarian position which coincidentally opened up a week after I'd moved to town. It didn't pay great but was full-time, and life became financially comfortable after I supplemented that income with a part-time reporting gig for the Battle Lake Recall. Emotionally comfortable, less so, especially after I found a corpse in the library my first solo day on the job, another in a 100-year-old safe a month later, yet another at an isolated cabin in July missing part of his scalp and all of his pulse, and a final one in a gully just a few weeks ago with a bloody hole through her teenage spine.

You know those people who always win stuff? Radio call-in shows, door prizes, pull tabs, scratch offs-they can't help but get lucky? Well, I'm the yin to their yang, the shadow to their light. Their luck brings them money, concert tickets, and fruit baskets, and mine brings me corpses. I figured my karma must be off. Maybe my chi got dinged a little somewhere along the line. Or, my planets were misaligned. Whatever it was, I had recently vowed that there was no way I was going to get involved in another murder investigation as long as I lived. I was only a librarian and part-time reporter, after all. Slain bodies weren't in my job description.

My initial instinct, once the cadavers had started lining up, had been to ditch Battle Lake. That was the same bail instinct that had kept me out of serious relationships and in the bottle for the last decade or so, following in the footsteps of my father, one Mark James, prolific drinker and real-life crash test dummy, who ended up killing himself and another person in a head-on collision before my junior year of high school. After that, I was a pariah in Paynesville and only too happy to leave the second I graduated.

A series of events had convinced me to stick it out in Battle Lake despite the bodies piling up with freaky irregularity, however, and as much as it scraped and chafed, that was what I was going to do until I got my head on straight. It was a new idea, this sticking-it-out approach, and it looked good on paper. At least that's what I thought until the lights flat-lined in the Dairy building at the exact moment I noticed something odd about Ashley through the viewfinder of my camera. I pressed the shutter button just as the room went inky black, not sure what I had seen.

The initial assignment had seemed pretty cherry, offered to me by Ron Sims, publisher, editor, marketer, layout director, and chief reporter at the Battle Lake Recall. The paper was small, and except for his wife, who functioned as receptionist and occasionally wrote a column or two, I was his only staff. Even though I was a part-time reporter, he acted all-the-time bossy. Go to St. Paul and cover the Milkfed Mary pageant. Write about all the Battle Lake farmers showcasing their work. See what the 4-H kids are up to. We're having a special State Fair issue, and it'll be chock full of your articles. He had sweetened the pot by offering me his camper trailer, which I could park on a State Fair lot paid for by the Battle Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Without a good reason to turn down an all-expenses-paid week at the State Fair, I had established Mrs. Berns, my recently reinstated assistant librarian, to run that show, coaxed my friend Jed to stay with my cat Tiger Pop and Sunny's dog Luna at the double-wide, and driven the camper to a site in the campground located at the northeast end of the fair. I'd arrived early enough to snag a spot underneath the water tower, near where the bathrooms and showers were housed. I'd set up camp yesterday afternoon, feeling like it wasn't a bad deal. That is, until the Dairy building went black, compressing my highest-pitched fears into one tight package.

I am mortally terrified of being trapped in dark spaces, specifically haunted houses, but a Dairy building would do in a pinch. This fear is my Achilles' heel, my soft underbelly, the chink in my otherwise considerable armor. I know dark spaces and particularly haunted houses are supposed to be scary, and that it's all right to be frightened of them, but my terror lurched to a bowel-loosening level when they were so much as mentioned. I knew from whence the fear arose, but that didn't help to mediate it.

Right before my sophomore year of high school, Jenny Cot had invited me to the State Fair with her family. My dad was still alive and by this point in my life, his drinking had affected most of my friendships; I couldn't have people over and so they eventually stopped including me in their lives outside of school. Jenny's invitation was an unexpected treat, a thrilling opportunity for a fifteen- year-old to leave her dysfunctional family and travel to glamorous St. Paul. No one would drink and then expect me to get in the car with them, the adults wouldn't fight on the trip down and back, and people would actually care where I was going and when I was going to return. It was a slice of TV-ready perfection that I was at pains not to screw up.

In fact, I hadn't slept the night before, twisting in my sheets as I imagined all the ways the trip to the Cities could be thwarted: Jenny could change her mind about me in the middle of the night and choose to bring a closer friend. Even if she still wanted to bring me with, I might say something inappropriate in the driveway and make her parents realize they'd rather not bring me with. Or, my dad would stumble out drunk and shame us both, and the Cots would drive away without me. The list was endless, spinning and growing in my brain and striking down hope wherever it was hiding. When Jenny and her family came to pick me up the next morning, I was bone-tired and edgy. I gritted my teeth when my dad went out to meet them, still sure he was going to mess it up somehow. But he didn't. And I got to go.

The car ride to the State Fair was exactly as I'd imagined it. Her parents even held hands and joked with each other. We played "I Spy" in the backseat for most of the trip. Outside, the sun shone warm and clear. It was the ideal fair day, Jenny's dad, Craig, kept reminding us with a wink in the rearview mirror. Jenny and her brother told him to lay off after about the sixth time, and I pretended to laugh at him along with his kids, but I couldn't stop looking back at the mirror to catch his occasional playful glance. That's how a dad is supposed to act, I told myself.

When we entered the Cities we took the Snelling Avenue exit off of 94 and followed the signs. The State Fair abuts the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, Craig informed us, and is six blocks wide and eight blocks long. It takes ten minutes to circumnavigate, which we did twice before finding parking. Once inside the fairgrounds, I found myself pleasantly overwhelmed by the crowds and the smell of fried foods and the buzz of a thousand conversations happening at once. I'd never been far from Paynesville except when our volleyball team, for which I was a perennial benchwarmer, played away games. The busy, loud, and colorful State Fair environment was both scary and thrilling, and I tied the joy at discovering the largeness of the world to Mr. and Mrs. Cot, who had brought me there. I would have done anything for them that day.

They bought us food-a corndog for me and cheese curds, fries, and pizza for their kids. My stomach still rumbled after I ate the corndog, but I didn't want them to think I was a mooch and so turned them down when offered more food. I'm good, I'd said. I had a big breakfast. Thank you, though.

We walked the Midway together, and then Craig and his wife offered each of us $10 to do our own thing. Jenny's brother was seventeen and grabbed the money and ran. I was reluctant to leave the Cots, but Jenny was excited to explore without her parents, and she was tugging relentlessly at my arm. We agreed we'd all meet up at the Space Tower in two hours.

I let Jenny lead us, and she did-straight to the haunted house. I'd never been in one before and felt a chilly apprehension like a wet lick up my spine as we stood outside the gray Victorian mansion. It was surrounded by a black, wrought-iron fence that was as welcoming as bones jutting from a graveyard. The windows of the two-story building were curtained with rotting lace, and a permanent cloud seemed to hang over the turrets that graced the second story like devil's horns. Faint screams emanated from inside. The overall impression was of a ravenous gray monster biding its time until someone was stupid enough to walk into its belly.

Couldn't we go on the River Raft ride, I asked, or check out the crazy drum music we heard walking past the International Bazaar? But Jenny was dead set on the haunted house, and I was her guest. I took a breath and reevaluated the situation. Sure the house was maliciously terrifying, but other than that one cloud directly over it, the day was warm and sunny, and laughing groups of people stood in line waiting for their chance to get scared. I could do this. After all, Jenny was the reason I was here. I bucked it up, slapped on a brave smile, and got in line. When it came our turn to enter, we handed $5 each to the teenager working the door. "Don't worry," he said, raising his eyebrows at us. "No one gets out alive."

Ignoring him, we went in as a pair, standing back until the people in front of us were out of sight before creeping along the dark hallway. The lighting was a mixture of shadows and electric candle flickers, and we clung to each other, picking our way through. The carpet felt soggy underfoot, and the air had a sinister, metallic smell, like spilled blood. Ahead, a low moan made Jenny jump and then giggle. Surprisingly, her fear made me less scared. This is just a pretend house, I told myself. Relax and enjoy it.

We soldiered on, through sticky cobwebs and feathers set near the floor to brush against our naked ankles. Mirrors lined the halls, reflecting moaning faces in excruciating pain, their eyeballs hanging out, grisly mouths gaping. The wallpaper seemed to melt and bend as searching fingers pushed through it, stopping just short of groping us. Our steps were tiny, and Jenny was nearly riding me piggyback, pushing me to go first. I turned a corner in front of her and was greeted by Jason Voorhees, bloody axe in one hand and knife in another. I screamed, my stomach and heart switching places, and grabbed Jenny's hand. She buried her head in my back and we dashed past, catching our breath.

"What was it?" she squealed.

"Jason from the Friday the 13th movies." I laughed, adrenaline pounding through my veins. "Let's see what's up ahead."

"I don't want to go any farther."

Looking back, I should have caught the tone in her voice. She wasn't joking any more, but I was too pumped up on my fear rush to catch her switch in mood. "They don't let you turn back." I dragged her along and we found ourselves in a dimly lit room the size of a large walk-in closet. Blood poured down the walls, and in the outline of a door, a dismembered skeleton dropped goopy intestines from one bony hand to another like a macabre Slinky. I was pulling Jenny toward the grody doorway, the only apparent exit, when a creak behind us announced danger. Before either of us could turn, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre guy grabbed Jenny around the neck with one hand and revved his chainsaw with the other.

The closeness of the gruesome stranger made my knees weak until I saw the Voss label emblazoned on his machinery, marking it for the child's toy it was. I laughed shakily and reached for Jenny's hand to haul her away from the monster and out of the room. I clasped it just as she fell to the ground in a dead faint. Her head hit the floor with a ripe thud, and in the dimness of the room, it looked like her real blood was joining the fake gore around us. I tried to drag her away from the man with the chainsaw who was suddenly remade terrifying by his inaction. He laughed in our direction and twisted to greet the gaggle of kids approaching from behind.

In a reaction I still can't explain to this day, I pulled Jenny out of that small room instead of calling for help. It was a primitive animal instinct, wanting to protect her and hide her from the monster, but part of me also wanted to flee from people discovering what had happened. Her parents would be so disappointed in me for allowing her to get hurt. They had told us to take care of each other.

It was the bride of Frankenstein who stopped me at the next station. I was dragging Jenny by her arms, her head lolling toward the floor. The bride appraised the situation quickly and flicked on the lights in the hall, revealing a worn and dingy space that was as impermanent as a stage. She grabbed a phone from behind a panel and called for help, and Jenny was whisked outside and into an ambulance within minutes. It took me longer to find her parents, and then her brother, and the four of us hurried to the hospital. Jenny received ten stitches on her scalp, and I took her and her parent's quiet demeanor during the long ride home as anger at me. They never invited me out again.

Afterward, in a ridiculously exaggerated response to any mention of haunted houses, my feet started to sweat and my intestines went soft and rumbly. It was a crazy reflex, I knew, but one I carried with me through the rest of high school. Even now, almost exactly fifteen years to the day after the event, that fear is as powerful as a sleeping giant inside of me, which was exactly what I was thinking as the lights went out in the Dairy Barn, bringing me precariously close to reliving the terror of that long-ago day in a darkened building crowded with panicking strangers.

True, the Dairy building was bigger than the haunted house and none of the farmers and suburban moms crowded around were going to yank out a chainsaw or tickle me with Freddie Krueger blades, but the sensation was just as I remembered it. Blackness. Strangers. Little sparks of panic flashing like fireflies, igniting waves of fear. The smell of the fair faint but constant inside the building-mini donuts, animals, dust.

I wasn't the only one terrified by the sudden darkness. People in the Dairy Barn pushed like one huge creature toward the entrance. I felt like I was falling but there was nowhere to go. Someone yanked at the camera around my neck, and I clutched it closer. A woman yelled for Isaiah, and then a little boy yelled for his mom. The dairy smell, which before had been faint, was made sour and amplified by the darkness. I thought I heard a growl, a low, primal, dog sound. I was just about to scream when a brilliant sliver of light sliced through the absolute black. Someone had cracked a door. We all sighed. We were in a building, civilized humans. Two more seconds, and every light in the building switched back on, washing the interior in a safe, yellow glow.

At first, none of us in the Dairy building made eye contact. I think we were all embarrassed. No one likes to discover they're two minutes of darkness away from crazy. Around me, people chuckled uneasily and cracked bad jokes. How many cows does it take to change a lightbulb, anyways? I kept my head down and made for the one lighted exit in my line of sight, just a little to the right of the butter-carving booth. The floor of the booth was at shoulder level, and it looked empty except for some blocks of butter that were knocked over. Milkfed Mary and the sculptor must have panicked when the lights went out and started flailing for a door. Oh well. They were no more a coward than the rest of us.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from SEPTEMBER FAIR by jess lourey Copyright © 2009 by Jess Lourey. Excerpted by permission.
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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Awesome book!!!

    This is the first chance I have had to read this series by Jess Lourey but I was really entertained by it and the writing goes from suspense to laugh out loud funny. The style of writing makes you feel as if you re tagging along with Mira as she investigates a murder at the Minnesota State Fair. I loved all the food references and fair food always makes my mouth water. If you want a good mystery and alot of good fun, pick this book up.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2012

    Great read

    I loved them all so fair. These books kepping u guessing. Laugh out loud funny. U can really feel that thry are goung through....
    On to october!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2012

    Excellent read

    I have enjoyed all of Jess Lourey's books in this series. She is an excellent author. Each book is entertaining, making me laugh and keeping me guessing. I love the setting in rural Minnesota!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2011

    Loved it

    I am very young and i still loved this book!!! You might not want a little girl to read it because it is kind of innapropriate but it is still amazing!!!!!!

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  • Posted May 17, 2010

    Great addition to the Mira James series

    The 5th book in the Mira James series is very entertaining and I agree that it is fast paced and hilarious. It is an all around good read. The setting is the Minnesota State Fair where the Milkfed Mary, the Queen of the Dairy, is murdered while having her head sculptured in butter. This would seem like a very silly synopsis to anyone who doesn't live in MN, as I do. Believe me, they do actually carve things in butter in this state. The touches of reality are what make this book so funny to anyone who lives, has lived or has heard of living in the Midwest.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews

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