A Book Club to Die For304
A Book Club to Die For304
The Cypress Arete Society is one of the town’s oldest and most exclusive clubs. When assistant librarian Trudell Becket is invited to speak to the group about the library, its modernization, and her efforts to bring printed books to the reading public, her friend Flossie tags along. Flossie has been on the book club’s waiting list for five years, and she’s determined to find out why she’s never received an invitation to join.
But not long after Tru and Flossie arrive for the meeting, they’re shocked to find the club’s president, Rebecca White, dead in the kitchen. Rebecca was a former TV actress and local celebrity but was not known for being patient or pleasant. She’d been particularly unkind to the book club’s host for the evening, who also happens to be the mother of Detective Jace Bailey, Tru’s boyfriend. And Rebecca had made it clear that she didn’t think Flossie was book club material.
With her boyfriend and one of her best friends wrapped up in a murder, Tru has to work fast to figure out who cut Rebecca’s story short before the killer takes another victim out of circulation....
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Series:||A Beloved Bookroom Mystery , #3|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Librarians are keepers of knowledge, caretakers of truth, and sowers of wisdom. Many of us rush out to share the world with our communities with the enthusiasm of a child who has suddenly mastered a new skill. We want people to know, to know . . . well, everything.
This is our mission. This is our passion.
We are the bringers.
We are the beacons cutting through the darkest of nights.
I should be thrilled to be able to provide this service to the Arete Society, the town's most influential book club. So why did I have this sudden desire to turn around, march back to my car, and drive home as fast as my old Camry would take me?
I'd been asked to give a presentation. I'd been tasked with sharing my knowledge of books and my experiences working at the library with a group of ladies who love books as much as I do. I lived for moments like this.
"Trudell Becket, what's got you dragging your feet like this?" Flossie Finnegan-Baker turned her wheelchair toward me. "I do believe a cornucopia of slugs just passed us."
"Cornucopia? Of slugs?" I asked. That couldn't be right. But before she could explain that a group of slugs was indeed called a cornucopia, I said, "Never mind." Flossie was rarely wrong when it came to grammar and etymology. Besides, slugs weren't important. "This," I said. "This is a mistake." I felt the truth of it like a stone in my gut. I stood in the middle of the long, winding sidewalk leading up to Hazel Bailey's front porch and scrunched my eyes closed. "I shouldn't be here."
"You're suffering from a case of the jitters." My friend touched my hand. I looked at her, and she smiled encouragingly at me. Flossie had dressed for the book club meeting in muted shades of turquoise and tan. The colors spiraled together on her long, homemade tie-dyed dress, but it was quite a shift from the bright (and often) clashing colors she usually wore. She'd attached a large golden pin in the shape of Edgar Allan Poe's face to the collar of the thick white button-up sweater she'd worn over her dress. "Honey, even I get the jitters every time I do something new. Everyone does. That's why you brought me. To have your back. And I do. I've got your back. And you've got this. Let's go."
Our host lived at the edge of town in the middle of a forest of cypress trees that gave the town its name. The cypresses' silvery trunks stood tall and straight, like the spines of books on a shelf, gleaming in the fading embers of the sunset.
Books were the reason I'd been asked to speak to the Arete Society. And those same books were the reason I couldn't go through with it.
Sure, I'd been excited at the opportunity to share my experiences working as an assistant librarian. Nearly as excited as Flossie was now. My friend started spinning pirouettes with her wheelchair on the sidewalk in front of me.
This invitation meant that finally the town was taking me and my work at the library seriously. Finally, the townspeople saw me. And most of them even knew my name.
"Tonight! Tonight!" Flossie sang happily. "Tru, you do know what an honor it is to be here tonight, don't you?"
The Arete Society wasn't simply a book club. It was known throughout the state as the best and most prestigious book club. They rarely invited anyone outside their membership to speak at their meetings. Being asked to make a presentation was like being invited to dine at the governor's mansion. No, this was better. The current governor was rather unpopular.
It wasn't until we were walking up to the house that it had hit me.
"Rebecca invited me to talk about my work with the books at the library," I said, still unwilling to move any closer to Hazel's house.
"Yes, dear." Flossie tilted her head and gave me a searching look. "I know why we're here. That's one reason why it's so exciting."
"Yes, but Rebecca wants me to talk about my work with the books at the library." I shivered in the cool January air. Even though Cypress was in the middle of balmy South Carolina, it still experienced occasional winter cold snaps. A sharp northern breeze rattled the branches in the trees above us. "I shouldn't have agreed to come."
"Oh, go on with you. I'm sure you can steer the conversation," Flossie said, now grinning like a teen going out on her first date. This was really a big night for her.
But could I pull it off? Most of my work at the library was a secret. While half of the book club members were in on the secret, the other half had no idea I'd set up an unauthorized bookroom in the library's basement.
"Just talk about why you carry around that tote bag of yours and dodge any questions about where the books came from," Flossie suggested.
"That's not going to work. I shouldn't have even brought the tote bag. What is wrong with me? I'd been so dazzled by the invitation that I completely ignored the problem with my being here." I held up the tote bag as if it were filled with explosives.
I'd filled the canvas tote with books I thought the ladies attending tonight would enjoy.
"I don't understand. You're a modern-day book-hauling Robin Hood," Flossie said. "That's something you should be proud of. That's something to be celebrated."
"I can't be here because of Lida Farnsworth." My boss. My intimidating boss, who was possibly the cleverest woman in town. Cypress's head librarian had been a member of the Arete Society for longer than anyone could remember. "I'd forgotten that she would be here. Well, I knew she would be here, but I didn't stop to consider what her listening to my talk might mean."
"So? She should be just as proud of you as I am." Flossie still didn't get it.
"When I start to hand out the books from my tote bag, Mrs. Farnsworth will recognize them as library books. You know, the same library books that were supposed to have been removed from the library? If she ever discovers I converted her library's basement into a secret bookroom without her consent, I will be out of a job before you can say 'Bob's your uncle.'"
"That's a funny phrase, 'Bob's your uncle.' Not awfully common in the United States. It's Irish in origin, so I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising we say it here in Cypress. After all, several of our town's founders arrived here from Ireland. According to my research, the phrase arose in the late 1880s, when British Prime Minister Robert Cecil appointed his nephew to the post of chief secretary for Ireland. The Irish were quite unhappy with this act of nepotism. And that's how people started saying 'Bob's your uncle' whenever anything was sure to happen. The man had literally been given the post because Bob was his uncle."
I usually enjoyed Flossie's impromptu etymological musings. But right now, I was in full panic mode. I didn't want to lose my job. Working at Cypress's public library was my life. I considered taking the tote bag back to the car. But that wouldn't work. I already had a reputation for carrying that tote bag everywhere. Not bringing it to the book club would invite more questions, not fewer. And when I stood up in front of the book club and someone asked me about the books I lent out, what in the world was I going to say?
I needed to get out of there.
My friends and I had started the secret bookroom a year ago, after Cypress's town leaders had hatched what they'd called a "brilliant" idea. It was, in truth, the worst idea ever. They had decided to modernize the library and create a bookless technological center to impress the kind of high-tech industries the town manager had wanted to woo.
Yes, the town desperately needed higher-paying jobs, but the idea of getting rid of our books still rankled. How could anyone want to transform our beautiful library into a place that had no books? None. Zip. Zero. Apparently, the town manager at the time had read articles about libraries that had gone all-electronic. He had fallen in love with the idea.
With the town manager leading the way, the mayor and council members ordered all the hold-in-your-hands printed books removed and replaced with ebooks. It broke my heart to see it happen.
Books provide escape, comfort, and knowledge. Sure, ebooks could do the same thing. But there was something magical about wandering through a library and stumbling upon the perfect book without ever realizing you were looking for it in the first place.
I had no choice but to do something to save the books that had been boxed up as if they were worthless tchotchkes collected by a distant relative who'd recently passed.
Before the boxes and boxes of books could be carted off, my friends and I moved as many as we could handle into the library's basement, where we set up an unofficial (and super-secret) bookroom. Only residents who could be trusted to keep their grandmother's best secret recipes were invited.
Upstairs, the library became a shining example of cutting-edge services.
Down in the basement, we turned back time and started using old-fashioned card catalogs and hand-stamped due dates on paper book slips for checked-out material.
I hated that we couldn't invite everyone into the basement bookroom's stacks. That was why I had started carrying around the tote bag filled with books I thought people needed. My plan had been working out quite well . . . until Rebecca White, former TV soap star and current president of the Arete Society, invited me to give a presentation to the book club. Silly me had immediately agreed.
"You've got this, Tru." Flossie patted my arm. "Just keep the facts vague, and everyone will leave happy."
"Keep the facts vague, even when someone asks me a direct question, like where all these books are coming from?" I shivered again. This was not going to work.
"If things get sticky, I'll cause a distraction. I promise."
"Is that why you invited yourself along? To create a scene when someone wants me to talk about our secret bookroom?"
She beamed a wide smile that showed off her straight, white teeth. "Friends lend each other courage. That's why girlfriend weekends always turn wild . . . from all that courage being passed around." She patted my arm more forcefully. "Now, let's get in there. I can already smell something savory and wonderful coming from the house. I've heard that the hostesses at these meetings always try to outdo themselves with the dinners they serve." She smacked her lips. "I aim to discover if that's true."
Remember that time Flossie and I broke into the library in the dead of night? My adventurous friend wasn't nearly as excited then as she was now.
Don't get me wrong. I understood why she was bubbling over like a washing machine with too much soap. Flossie had been on the waiting list for membership in the Arete Society for five years now. Three ladies' applications had been accepted ahead of hers. One of them had only moved to town last year, which had hurt Flossie worse than if someone had stabbed her in the heart. Although she refused to come out and say it, I knew she had wanted to accompany me tonight so she could quiz Rebecca about what she could do to win the group over.
"'Arete' is a term the founders back in the 1930s adopted from the ancient Greeks," Flossie said, speaking as if in a rush to get all the words out at once. "It means 'knowledge is the highest virtue.' I've always thought that was a clever name for a book club. Don't you agree, Tru? Isn't it clever?"
"Um . . . yes, clever." I knew the meaning of the word from an Intro to Latin class in high school, but really, I was more concerned about the tote bag (or should I say albatross) hanging from my arm. Even if arriving without it did cause people to ask questions, I needed to get it back to the car. I couldn't give Mrs. Farnsworth the opportunity to look at those books too closely. "I need to get rid of these library books. I'll be right back."
"Be a dear and grab an umbrella while you're at the car. I think I just felt a raindrop," she called after me.
The Baileys' sprawling ranch home with its oversized stone porch columns was one of Cypress's most talked-about residences. It also had one of the longest twisty sidewalks I had ever encountered. It took forever to jog to where we'd parked at the curb and then to jog back to where Flossie was waiting. Even though the air had a chill, a bead of sweat had trickled down my back by the time I was done with that little footrace of mine.
I fanned myself with my hand and hoped my cheeks weren't as red as they felt. The silvery Spanish moss weighing down the tree limbs above my head seemed to wave back.
"Flossie, I don't know if I can pull this off. Deception isn't something-"
"Pshaw! You've been practicing your speech for days now. And besides, you do these all the time."
Was Flossie serious? "I never-"
"Your programs at the library are super popular!" she practically shouted.
"This isn't the same thing. I'm in charge of children's programming. My audience is rarely older than five. These women"-I pointed toward Hazel's door in the distance-"they scare me."
"They're simply children who grew up. Heck, most of them still act like spoiled tots," Flossie scoffed. "And they asked you to come and speak to them, I might add. They've never asked me."
Flossie, who was forty years older than my thirty-eight, explored mountains, pushed her way through exotic jungles, and wrote best-selling novels under a pseudonym she refused to divulge. And she'd done all this while using a wheelchair. Just last week she bought a speedboat with the royalty check she'd received from her publisher. The year before, she'd used her royalty check to purchase and customize a cherry-red Corvette so she could speed around town using hand controls.
No one could deny that Flossie had stories to tell. Plus, she had an electric personality that made whatever she said sound exciting. The more I thought about it, the more I had to agree with her that her exclusion from the Arete Society seemed suspect.
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