The Witch of Agnesi (Bonnie Pinkwater Series #1)by Robert Spiller
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A coven of witches, a teenage comic book magnate, a skinhead Neanderthal with violent propensities, an abusive father, an amorous science teacher, and a mistranslated medieval mathematics manuscript figure prominently in this new mystery set in modern-day Colorado.
"The Witch of Agnesi is an excellent read. I will be watching for more from this skilled writer." —NovelSpot
Read an ExcerptThe Witch of Agnesi
By Robert Spiller Medallion Press, Inc. Copyright © 2006 Robert Spiller
All right reserved.
Chapter One Thursday was shaping up into one of those days that made Bonnie Pinkwater wish for a dart gun, the kind used to put rhinos, or in this case teenagers, to sleep. She brushed a gray tendril of hair from her forehead and held up her hands, palms toward her twenty-six student class, the signal for quiet. "One at a time."
Stephanie Templeton shook back her Barbie-doll tresses. "Just explaining to Morticia Addams here that The Witch of Agnesi doesn't have anything to do with witches."
The headache excavating the inside of Bonnie's cranium ratcheted to six on the Richter scale. Her finger twitched at the trigger of her fantasy pistol.
The other girl, Ali Griffith, opened her mouth to speak.
Stephanie cut her off. "It probably got its name because the curves look like witch's hats."
"Play nice, Stephanie. No name calling." Bonnie pointed with her chin toward the other girl. "Your turn."
Straight, jet-black, shoulder-length hair, black eye shadow, nail polish and lipstick, Ali-short for Alexandria-bristled better than most. Her dark eyes flashed, and she looked every centimeter the witch she claimed to be. It was easy to believe she might turn a sneering debutant into a spotted salamander.
Ali's ebony lips curled in disgust. "I never claimed The Witch of Agnesi had anything to do with the craft. I just said it seemed a weird name for a curve. Then this, this ..." Her mouth formed around a B-word.
Bonnie was sure the word in question had nothing to do with Beelzebub. Though she agreed with Ali's unspoken assessment, she gave the girl a warning look nonetheless.
I'm getting too old for this shit.
Red-faced, Ali waved her hand at Stephanie and drew a long breath. "When I told Stephanie, she pulled a Cruella DeVille on me."
Ali shot her a threatening glare.
Time to take a nap, ladies.
A pair of well-aimed darts from Bonnie's fantasy pistol sent the two arguing girls into the arms of Orpheus. They slumped across their desks, hands dangling each to a side, a look of angelic peace glowing on their unlined faces.
From the hip, no less.
Unfortunately, the real Ali and Stephanie remained painfully awake.
The wall clock showed ten minutes until the end of first period.
Not likely to get more done anyway. "All right, I meant to work with some of the actual math of the curve today and save the story until tomorrow, but what the heck."
Several students settled themselves into their seats, giving Bonnie the vague fear that in her impending senility she'd become one of those teachers who could be distracted into wasting time. To quell a guilty conscience, she wrote both the Cartesian and parametric representations of the Witch of Agnesi equation on the board then drew the corresponding graph.
"As a matter of fact, you two, each of your points is well taken." She pointed to the Cartesian representation. "This implicitly defined equation and its corresponding curve have nothing to do with witchcraft, per se. However, how The Witch of Agnesi got its name makes an interesting tale."
The door to her classroom burst open. Edmund Sheridan, a tall oriental boy with blond-tinted spiked hair lurched into the room. "Missus P, Jesse Poole's beating the crap out of Peyton Newlin."
The roar of hallway commotion echoed into the classroom. Bonnie fixed a hand on Edmund's shoulder. "Go get Principal Whittaker."
"He's not in the school."
"Check the Ad-building." She let go of Edmund's shoulder then turned to her class. "Ali, you're in charge until I get back. Call down to the office on the intercom. Tell them what's happening."
When Bonnie saw Edmund still standing in the doorway she shoved him. "Get going. Take the back hallway."
She legged it out of the classroom. At the far end of the gymnasium/library hallway, past yellow lockers lining both sides, a raucous crowd screamed derision and encouragement.
What the hell, don't their teachers wonder where they are?
Opening and closing her mouth like an oxygen-starved goldfish, the new librarian, a twenty-something blonde who looked maybe fifteen, gazed out of her wire-glass window at the chaos in the hall.
Bonnie shook her head and strode toward the uproar. I'm definitely too old for this. Grappling shoulders and pulling herself through, she worked her way into the deafening crowd. "All right!" she bellowed. "Step aside."
Jesse Poole, a bull-necked, teenaged Neanderthal with a glistening bald head sat astride the chest of a bloodied Peyton Newlin.
Bonnie grabbed Jesse's arm.
His meaty paw shoved her back.
She lost her footing and fell into the crowd, her beige wool skirt flying high across her chest. A bolt of pain lanced between her eyes as her headache notched to Richter seven. She rejected assistance and struggled to her feet. Smoothing down her skirt, she shouted, "Mister Poole, stand up immediately!"
A silence fell over the crowd. All right, that's more like it.
Jesse stood. Chest heaving, fists balled at his sides, he faced her. Tears poured from his red and swollen eyes. Rivulets of sweat streamed down his shaved head. He locked eyes with Bonnie for an eternal moment then advanced, stopping an arm's length in front of her.
Not liking this much.
"You don't know shit." He brushed past her and pushed through the crowd
"None of you know shit!" he screamed. Waving his hands as if fending off a swarm of gnats only he could see, he lumbered, hunched over for a few more steps. Then with a loping gait, he ran toward the back door and slammed through it.
No way did Bonnie consider challenging him. The satisfaction of control she'd felt moments before gave way to numbed shock. Jesse Poole was a force of nature when angered.
"Back off, people. Let me through." Principal Lloyd Whittaker's nasal voice rose above the crowd murmurs. A white handkerchief in his hand, he knelt and wiped at the blood pouring from Peyton's nose.
As Bonnie approached, Lloyd looked up.
"I was over at Admin speaking with the superintendent. What happened?"
She spread wide her hands. "Jesse Poole-at it again." With a tilt of her head she pointed back the way Jesse had run.
"What did happen, Peyton?" Lloyd helped the boy to his feet.
"I didn't fight back." Peyton took Lloyd's kerchief and held it under a still bleeding nose. He peered at Bonnie over the cloth's reddening folds.
At four-foot-ten, his blond crew-cut rose only to the height of her chin.
"We'll talk about this in my office." Lloyd took him by the elbow. "Ladies and gentlemen," he shouted. "This is over. Anyone still in the hall when the late bell rings better have a pass."
He hurried the boy toward his office. "What was he doing out of class?"
I'm thinking he spent a portion of his time getting his tiny ass kicked.
Bonnie scurried to catch up. "Peyton and Edmund Sheridan do Calculus independent study in the Library." She followed Lloyd and the boy through the main office and into the principal's smaller one.
Peyton gave his nose a last swipe and set the handkerchief onto Lloyd's desk. He fell into a burgundy overstuffed chair and looked up at Bonnie. "Don't let him keep me out of Knowledge Bowl." He thrust out a defiant and split lower lip. "That would be just bunk. I didn't do anything."
Despite his posturing, she saw the pleading in his eyes. But what could she do? If he participated in a fight, a suspension wouldn't be long behind, which in turn would wipe out any possibility of his competing that night. She tried to ignore the selfish voice that whispered-without Peyton your Knowledge Bowl team will fare pretty much the same as Peyton did a minute ago with Jesse.
"I'm afraid that's up to Principal Whittaker."
Peyton's face turned red to his hair line. "It wasn't really a fight. I didn't hit back, Mister Whittaker. Jesse, he just pounds on me for no good reason whenever he feels like it."
Lloyd gave the boy a hard stare and poked his head out the office door. "Doris, get the school nurse down here."
He shut the office door and sat behind his battered oak desk.
Bonnie pulled a gray-cushioned folding chair up next to Peyton.
Lloyd leaned toward the boy. "Whether you compete tonight depends on how much I like your answer to my next question. And don't even think of lying to me, son. What did you do to provoke Jesse Poole?"
Peyton folded his pipe-cleaner arms across his chest and slumped back into the deep chair. A storm of emotions played across his freckled face. "He'd been picking on me, taking my books, pushing me in the hall, calling me names. He's a stupid jerk, just jealous because he knows I've got more smarts than he'll ever have." His voice rose with every justification until the final words broke into a squeak.
Lloyd's expression never changed. "You haven't answered my question."
And you're beginning to annoy me, Bonnie thought. "I was getting a drink from the fountain when Jesse kicked my feet out from under me. I fell into the fountain, hit my head." He touched a bump on his forehead. "I had water in my face, down the front of my pants. Jesse said I pissed myself."
"How did you respond?" Lloyd asked, not even trying to hide his impatience.
Peyton's glance darted from Lloyd up to Bonnie. "I was mad."
She'd just about had enough of this boy's equivocating. She laid a hand on his thin shoulder. "Stop stalling, Peyton. Tell Principal Whittaker what he wants to know."
"I said I bet his mother would be real proud of him, picking on a thirteen-year old."
Bonnie drew in a long breath.
Lloyd sat back in his chair, tapping the pads of his fingers together.
A knock sounded on the door and Marcie Englehart, the school nurse entered. A gaunt woman with grey-blond hair, she wore a flowered apron over a blue denim jumper. She glanced about the room, nodded to Bonnie and Lloyd and bent over Peyton. After prodding his nose and the bump on his forehead, she pulled a cotton swab from an apron pocket and dabbed at the split lip.
Peyton winced and squirmed beneath her ministrations.
Marcie unclipped a tiny flashlight from a belt loop. She steadied Peyton's head with a heavily veined hand and trained the flashlight first into one eye then the other. "I don't think he has a concussion, but that lip's going to need a stitch or two."
Peyton shook his head. "No stitches."
She shrugged bony shoulders. "Suit yourself."
Looking past the boy to Lloyd, she said, "Stitches are what I'd recommend, but I can rig a butterfly for the lip."
Lloyd stood and stared down at Peyton. "Young man, this is your third altercation in the last month. I'm inclined to pull you from the team just to catch your attention."
Bonnie sat up to speak.
Lloyd quieted her with an upraised hand. "However, unless I find out you lied about your part in this, you can compete tonight. You know I'll have to call your parents?" Peyton's eyes went momentarily wide and he nodded. "I suppose."
"You suppose right. I know you were angry, but that was an unwise thing you said to Poole. Now go with Nurse Englehart while I talk to Missus Pinkwater."
In an expression which lasted no longer than a second, Marcie articulated the demand that Bonnie fill her in later. Then with a hand to his back, Marcie ushered the boy through the door and shut it behind her.
Lloyd waited until the door clicked shut. Leaning forward, he whispered, "Truth is, Bon, I don't much care for our resident genius. He's sneaky and manipulative. My gut tells me there's a lot more to this business between Poole and him than he's telling."
Bonnie eyed her long-time friend, unsure how she should reply.
On the one hand, she agreed with Lloyd's assessment of Peyton Newlin. The boy was easy to dislike. Aware of his intelligence, he rubbed people's noses in it. On more than one occasion she'd wanted to wipe the smirk from his face and let him know she was unimpressed with his cleverness.
Lately however, she'd developed a grudging affection for the little schmuck. Behind the arrogant posturing she saw an anxious kid hungry for approval.
"I hear you," she said. "And you're probably right. I've never seen Jesse Poole cry before, but he did today. No doubt, Peyton said more than he's admitting to."
Lloyd ran a callused hand down his face. "If I were Jesse I'd have beat the daylights out of Newlin myself. My mother's dying, and this arrogant pipsqueak used the situation to-"
"He's just thirteen, Lloyd."
He waved away her excuse as if it lent a foul smell to the room.
"Bon, this is a bad situation. Poole's going to come after Newlin. You be careful tonight. Everybody in the school knows Knowledge Bowl is at the Interfaith Academy. Jesse Poole's no exception."
* * *
Bonnie squeezed past Peyton on her way into the school infirmary. A white bandage-mustache made the boy's face seem lopsided, like Adolph Hitler after an unfortunate session with a barber.
Looking good, Peyton. "How's the lip?" She worked to keep her expression blank.
Peyton eyed her sullenly and shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Look, I got to get to class. See you tonight." He didn't wait for a reply. In a dozen quick steps, he reached a cross hall and turned out of sight.
Marcie took Bonnie's hand and pulled her into the tiny infirmary, then shut the door with a slam. "Give me the dirt."
Bonnie eyed the door wistfully. Trapped, trapped like a rat. "You know as much as I do. Peyton and Jesse exchanged words. Jesse took offense. He beat up Peyton. Pretty much end of story."
Marcie narrowed her eyes. "What did our fearless leader have to say?"
Bonnie glanced up at the infirmary clock. Thank God, I have only a few minutes left in my planning period. "He'll talk to other students, try to get the skinny on what really happened. If I were him I'd find out what became of Jesse Poole."
"I guess you heard?"
Bonnie kept her expression blank. "Heard what?"
"Jesse's mother has worsened. How long she lasts is anyone's guess. Jesse spent a sleepless night at the hospital."
How do you learn these things?
She pictured Marcie with her own version of the Baker Street Irregulars. The bell ending planning period rang. "Gotta go. Lots to do before Knowledge Bowl tonight."
Marcie laid a hand on Bonnie's shoulder. "I need to tell you, Bon. I know the boy is a big asset to your team. But for my money, Peyton Newlin, for all his genius, is one oily little creep. The only person likely to give a crap that Peyton got his porch shellacked is Edmund Sheridan."
* * *
Turning off Highway Eighty-four, Bonnie stole glimpses of her Knowledge Bowl team in the rearview mirror. Ali Griffith and Stephanie Templeton sat in the seat directly behind her. Heads together conspiratorially, they whispered as if they hadn't been at each other's throats that very morning.
Bonnie smiled. Just another example of why she preferred the company of teenagers. They lived for the moment. And regardless of what most people over twenty-one believed, they rarely held grudges.
On the long seat at the rear of the van, Edmund Sheridan and Peyton Newlin bent over an electronic game. The bandage-mustache on Peyton's lip glowed pale green in the light from the display.
Moments like these were why she refused to even consider retirement-riding to Knowledge Bowl with four of East Plains' brightest students.
Then there was the competition itself. She loved its simplicity; answer the most school-related questions correctly, one point per question, you win. Obviously, a game invented by Mathematicians.
She swung the van into the Interfaith Academy's parking lot. School busses and vans filled almost every available space. Most of their competitors had already arrived. Then again very few of them had to come from as far away as East Plains.
Amid excited chatter her team poised at the van's sliding door like eager soldiers ready for battle. All they needed was a bugle and an American flag.
That's right, cutie pies. You're good. Especially when Peyton's having a killer night.
Inside the combination school and church, she waved to the other coaches but stuck close to her team.
Ali, who had added a silver cobra necklace to her black gothic regalia, strode unselfconsciously through the crowded vestibule. More than a few heads turned in her direction.
When the team reached the tally boards, Bonnie tapped the one titled "East Plains." "Why have we been in first place all season?"
Edmund cocked his spiky blond head. "Our exceptional good looks?"
Ali shoved him. "If that was right, then looking at you I'd say we should be in last place."
He feigned a hurt expression. "You know you love me. Don't hide your feelings behind this pointless hostile façade."
"In your dreams, Samurai."
Excerpted from The Witch of Agnesi by Robert Spiller Copyright © 2006 by Robert Spiller. 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.
Meet the Author
Robert Spiller is a mathematician and writer. He lives in Colorado Springs.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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In Colorado, East Plains middle school teacher Bonnie Pinkwater works with the intelligentsia, but for the first time in a decade, they failed to finish in the top three at the Knowledge Bowl competition. Just after their crushing loss, the team¿s thirteen years old star Peyton Newlin vanishes. Everyone presumes that the teen ran away than have to face his abusive martinet of a father Colonel Ralph. Peyton¿s parents blame the defeat and their son¿s cowardly reaction squarely on Bonnie. --- The next morning someone murders brilliant student Stephanie Templeton. Feeling already a bit culpable but not sure why, Bonnie with the help of science teacher Armen Callahan, who is falling in love with her, begin investigating the disappearance and the homicide, which they believe is linked by a scholarship competition, but how is unclear. Other students die including Peyton while Bonnie and Armen seek the truth leaning towards violent student bully Jesse Poole though a coven of witches remain a prime suspect. --- THE WITCH OF AGNESI is a terrific teenage amateur sleuth starring a likable pairing trying to uncover who is eliminating the geniuses one at a time. The story line is fast-paced yet contains a strong cast though clearly Bonnie is the star. The mystery is cleverly devised and filled with twists and red herrings as Robert Spiller keeps his audience alert at all times as he shrewdly spills clues with multiple possibilities. Young adult readers will enjoy this wonderful middle school mystery --- Harriet Klausner
I liked this book overall. It was a quick read and did keep you guessing as to who the suspect was. The 2 things i did not like were the fact that some minir details of the story were more explained than why the real killer did it. That part was a little unclear. I also found the romance of the main character Bonnie and a fellow teacher to be annoying. When there are kidnapping or murder mysteries the romance should be subtle, but this was in your face nonstop. Two teachers who have just introduced themselves to one another spend 4 days together and in that time they never leave each others sides, sleepover each others homes (no sex though) and are constantly making cute gestures to the other and flirting. All while trying to figure out why some of Bonnies students were kidnapped or killed. I think if i was dealing with those problems i wouldn't have time to flirt half as much as they did. Other than that it did keep me guessing until the end. If you can get past how cheesey the romance part is id reccommend this one.
When I get a mystery book, that's what I expect. I felt this book was more focus on the silly flirting between the teachers. I just hate books that are more focused on making googly eyes at the cute boy when dead bodies of people you know are all around you. Just so unrealistic to me. The book is filled with just Armen and Bonnie's guessing as to whats going on. The reader doesnt really know any facts at all and it ends with their best guess yet, them checking it out and getting a confession. It was just all so weak to me. I won't be picking up any more in this series. Worse of all, I can't say I understood fully why the people who were killed, were killed.
A captivating "whodunit". Bonnie Pinkwater is bright and funny. With the flavor of a "Murder She Wrote" plot, this story keeps you guessing until the very end when all becomes clear. I would recommend for all ages, but then I might be a YA at heart.
A quick witty Young Adult reader, that is sure to entertain mystery lovers. Adults will also find the book enjoyable. Someone is killing Bonnie Pinkwater's top achieving students. Will Bonnie find out who killed her students and who is also trying to kill her in time to avoid being the next victim? Bonnie¿s sharp mind, quick wits and her new friend helps as she tries to piece together the puzzle of slain students.
In this book you follow the adventures of Bonnie Pinkwater, a math teacher, as she tries to figure out who is killing her students. It is a wonderful whodunit with a little bit of a love story mixed into it.
The heroine was truly believable and likable!! Good wit and sarcasm that teachers are known for. Kept me guessing until the truth came out as to who did it. High recommend for a good read.
This book was very well written and a great story. I can typically figure out the end to a mystery quickly, but this story surprised me.
A delightful 300+ page YA novel. The protagonist is a believable, middle-aged math teacher and the suspense holds out to the end. Get it while it's free!