Spring has sprung a major leak in far-from-serene Serenity, as the Mississippi River drops in for an extended stay. With homes and businesses flooded, how better to help the town recover than by staging a church bazaar?
Brandy Borne knows her mother Vivian's plan, however, is more likely to lean toward bizarre, especially when she hears Mother wheedle a reclusive Russian heiress into donating the last Faberge egg ever created! When the winning bidder turns up mortally scrambled, Brandy and Mother cook up a plan to crack the case of this killer. . .who is one seriously bad egg!
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Praise for Barbara Allan and the Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery Series. . .
"Top pick! . . .thrills, laugh-out-loud moments and amazingly real relationships." --Romantic Times Book Reviews
"Engaging and utterly believable." --Sara Paretsky
"This is surely one of the funniest cozy series going." --Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
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ANTIQUES BIZARREA Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery
By Barbara Allan
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEgged On by Mother
After a long and arduous winter, spring had finally deigned to show itself in Serenity, a small Midwestern town nestled on the Mississippi River like a quaint reminder of simpler times-particularly as viewed from the air. Trees were budding, tulips were blooming, and lawns were greening. People had begun to come out of their houses, squinting at the sun like moles venturing from their holes, and you could feel the collective happiness in the air.
This elation had proved even shorter-lived than the tulips. Because along with the warmer weather came the melting of ice and snow, and a particularly heavy accumulation up north came flooding down, sending the river over its banks and into our fair city, Nature taking her revenge on Serenity's idyllic pretensions-hundreds of families forced to flee their homes, dozens of downtown businesses suffering, as the muddy Mississippi sent cold, dirty water rushing into their domains.
According to Mother-who knew everything and everybody in town-this was the worst catastrophe in Serenity since the Great Flood of 1965 ... which was before my time, I'll have you know.
I was sensitive to the travails of my fellow Serenity-ites; many were facing much worse problems than yourstruly, although I did have my own concerns and the burgeoning Mississippi River had not had a drop to do with it.
At the moment, I-Brandy Borne, a thirty-one-year-old, blue-eyed bottle-blond divorcée, who had come running home last year to Mother-was looking directly into turbulent waters. Not the river, no-I had my head over the toilet bowl, paused between rounds of barfing.
Standing by, listening to my assured, if-less-than-eloquent, oratory, was Sushi, my blind, diabetic shih tzu, and Mother, a.k.a. Vivian Borne, mid-seventies, antiques lover, Red Hat Society member, director of community theater, and would-be amateur sleuth with a bipolar disorder.
And now for our first aside (and there will be others; deal with it): Mother's real age is unknown, thanks to a small fire in the 1970s that broke out in the Hall of Records, destroying all birth certificates under "J." But I'm sure Mother had nothing to do with it, even though, a) she was born Vivian Erma Jensen, b) had long since started lying about her age so she could still play younger roles, c) was the only clerk working at the time of the strangely selective fire, and d) had quit her courthouse job shortly thereafter.
When I next came up for air, Mother raised her chin to advise me, "Buck up, dear ... it's all in your head."
And here I thought it was all in my stomach. Or used to be.
I glowered at her over my shoulder. "Do you think I enjoy doing this?"
Mother, wearing her favorite emerald-green pants suit, her silver hair pulled back in a bun, eyes looming large behind her oversized glasses, sniffed, "I never had such trouble when I was pregnant. And I was married!"
Now, before you start thinking that I was a wanton woman, let me explain. My best friend, Tina, and her husband, Kevin, couldn't have children because of Tina's cervical cancer, so I had offered to be a surrogate mother for them. Aren't you ashamed of yourself for thinking ill of me? (We won't go into the reasons for my divorce right now.)
I shot back, "I was never sick with Jake!"
Jacob was my one and only, now twelve, and living with his father in an upscale Chicago suburb.
Mother sniffed. "You most certainly were! Why, for two whole months, you prayed at the porcelain altar on a regular basis. You'd call me every afternoon, whining, 'Why me?' And I'd say, 'Why not you? What makes you so special? Join the Morning Sickness Brigade and serve proudly!' And you'd reply-"
"All right, all right," I managed, the hinges of my jaw feeling loose, "maybe I was sick for a few days."
She put a hand on my shoulder, and said softly, "Do not assume, my precious, that a mother upon the arrival of her little bundle of joy forgets all of the hardships that preceded the blessing event."
"Don't call me 'my precious,'" I said. "I'm not a troll."
"Of course you aren't, dear."
I grunted a nonresponse as I rose. Sushi, at my feet, whimpered, and I picked her up and snuggled her against my face, to let her know Mommy was okay.
Mother clapped her hands twice, then said singsongy, as if I were still her little Brandy, "Now, wash your face, and get dressed, darling-we have places to go, things to do, and people to see."
"And miles to go before we sleep," I muttered, knowing already that I was in for a trying day with Mother.
Upstairs in my bedroom I climbed unsteadily into a pair of old jeans, which fit somehow, even though I was three months gone-I'd lost a little weight from the morning sickness. Then I slipped on a warm sweater because it was still nippy outside. What was up with God's latest little joke on me? That bringing life into the world made me feel like death warmed over?
Downstairs, Mother was waiting impatiently.
"We should take my car," she said solemnly. "It hasn't been driven for a while."
Mother had an old pea-green Audi stored in our standalone garage. The reason it hadn't been driven for a while was that Mother had lost her license-and I don't mean misplaced it.
"We can't," I said.
Mother frowned. "Why ever not?"
"Because I had the tires removed when you were at your Red Hat meeting the other day."
"What!" she shrieked. "Whatever for?"
I put both hands on my hips. "Because you keep driving it when your license has been revoked."
Mother, guilty as charged, was uncharacteristically speechless.
"And not just once ... but three times!" I waggled a finger in her face. "I did it for your own good. And for the public's good-poor unsuspecting souls."
So far, Mother had racked up citations for cutting across a cornfield in order to make curtain time for one of her plays; causing a three-car fender-bender on the bypass after braking for a garage sale sign; and flattening a mailbox shaped in the form of a big fish because "it didn't look like a mailbox," which apparently she felt granted her permission to run it over.
Mother's lower lip protruded. "Now you're just being mean."
"Think of it as tough love. Now can we go?"
Leaving Sushi behind with plenty of water (diabetic dogs drink a lot), Mother and I headed outside into the crisp spring air, where the sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky. You could smell lilacs in the gentle breeze, or anyway I could.
Suddenly I felt better.
My (very) used burgundy Buick was parked in the drive, and as I climbed in behind the wheel, I asked, "Where are we going, anyway?"
Mother, next to me, smiled like the cat that ate the canary. Two canaries. Three. "Never you mind, my precious ... just go where I tell you."
"Mother-if you call me 'my precious' one more time, I will clobber you with your Collected Tolkien."
"Point well taken, dear."
I sighed and fired up the engine. This was, indeed, going to be a long, trying day....
We headed along Elm Street, passing homes similar to ours, mostly three-story dwellings built in the 1920s. Quite a few folks were out tending their lawns, raking dead thatch, and clearing debris bestowed by the winter. Some were even planting a few annual flowers.
At a stop sign, Mother powered down her window and addressed one such person, a man in a plaid flannel shirt, who was putting red geraniums in the ground around his front porch.
She shouted, "You're jumping the gun!"
Startled, he popped up like a jack-in-the-box and ran around the side of his house.
Mother said, "Now, wasn't that a strange reaction?"
"Really?" I smirked. "People often act like that when you yell at them."
A car behind me honked and I moved through the intersection.
"I merely meant," Mother said defensively, "that it's too early to plant geraniums. Not too late to have a frost, you know."
I said, "Well, maybe all he heard was 'you,' 'jump,' and 'gun.'"
Mother twisted in her seat to look at me. "Now why would I have a gun?"
Out of the corner of an eye, I could see Mother studying me.
Her voice was arch, her words measured. "I'm not sure I like you off your Prozac."
I didn't figure I'd get away with my earlier, caustic remark. And I, too, had noticed that my once-censored thoughts were flying straight out of my mouth, since I'd stopped taking my daily Prozac dosage, and my what-the-heck attitude had been replaced with-dare I say it?-sensibility.
Mother went on. "I know you want to protect the baby, and that's a noble goal ... but, honestly, dear, it's difficult living with someone who really should be on her medication."
This time I just thought, Tell me about it!
We were approaching the downtown, a small grid of four streets, containing just about every kind of business a modest community like ours might need. The main thoroughfare was (natch) Main Street, five blocks of regentrified Victorian buildings, with little bistros, specialty shops, and antiques stores.
As we drove by the courthouse-a study in Grecian architecture-Mother blurted, "Shit!"
If you are easily offended, you need to know right now that Mother rarely swears, but when she does, the "s" word is her curse of choice. Her father used it and so did her mother and her grandfather and even her grandmother, if rarely (thumb hit by hammer, for example), so this was a family tradition of sorts. I have been known to carry on the tradition myself.
Why this little scatological outburst?
Up ahead was a detour that rerouted us from the downtown.
"River must be high," I said.
Mother sat forward in her seat, instructing, "Go around the barricade, dear."
"If the river's high, I want to see."
"Mother, there's a reason they want us to stay away-it's not safe."
Straining her seat belt, Mother bounced in her seat like a child denied a cookie. "That car just went in there!"
"They probably live downtown. Local traffic is allowed."
"Well, we're local."
"Who's to say we don't live downtown?"
I turned right, complying with the detour. "But we don't, do we?"
Mother sighed dejectedly and sat back in her seat. "I decidedly don't like you off your Prozac. You used to be more ... adventurous."
"You mean, compliant," I said. "By the way, where are we headed?"
Leaving the downtown behind, I continued driving parallel to Main Street, then up a gradual, tree-lined incline, passing grand old homes, some large enough to be called mansions, once belonging to the early barons of Serenity-Germans and Scandinavians and Eastern European industrialists who had made their fortunes opening lumber mills and pearl button factories, and had even started their own banks.
I asked, "Where to now?"
Mother smiled deviously. "Turn left on Cherry Street, my ... pet."
I slowed to a stop, and looked at her through hooded eyes. "Not the Petrova house?" It was the only mansion in all of Serenity that Mother had never dared try to wheedle her way into.
"That's right, dear."
Aghast, I asked, "We're not just dropping in?"
She pursed her lips in irritation. "Honestly, Brandy, what kind of pushy old broad do you take me for?"
"I'll plead the Fifth on that one."
She nodded crisply. "I have an appointment, dear. With Madam Petrova herself."
Nastasya Petrova was said to be nearly as old as her mansion, and the huge, dark edifice, which she rarely set foot out of, had been built in the late 1920s and perched precariously on the edge of the bluff. Any reported sightings of this Russian grandam over the years had easily been outnumbered by UFOs.
Impressed that Mother had been granted a visit, I asked, "How in heaven's name did you manage that?"
Nose high, Mother said, "You will find out when I talk to Madam Petrova. I must conserve my energy, however, for the task at hand.... Pull into the circular drive, dear, right up to the portico, so we can arrive in style."
In a dirty, battered old Buick, we were to arrive in style? I shrugged, and did as I was told.
When I'd turned off the car, I asked, "Should we wait for the footman?"
Mother frowned. "Don't be facetious, dear-it's unbecoming. If you're not going to behave, I'll leave you behind in the car."
"I'll behave," I promised.
I simply had to find out what Mother was up to....
With Mother in the lead, we walked up wide steps to a massive front door bookended by large, scrolled columns.
Mother stepped forward and grasped the tarnished brass knocker on the thick, weathered wood, and gave it a few whacks.
Going on, thirty long seconds had passed before Mother reached to give the knocker another clank, only to hear a click of a lock. The door began to open slowly, creaking in protestation, haunted-house-style.
There, framed in the doorway, stood a small, frail-looking woman, coarse gray hair piled high on her head, her face as weathered as the door. Still, she was nicely attired in a navy wool dress with a sparkling brooch pinned on one shoulder, and beige pumps. In the 1940s, this outfit had been high fashion-she even wore white gloves, with diamond bracelets on the outside of each wrist. I'd seen the same from Bette Davis in old movies.
Mother drew in a quick, excited breath, then, ridiculously, curtseyed as if the woman were Russian royalty.
Maybe I did want to stay in the car, at that.
Madam Petrova smiled, bemused. "Mrs. Borne," she said, without a hint of an accent, "please do come in. And who do you have with you?"
As Mother and I passed over the threshold, I said, "I'm her daughter-Brandy."
In the large foyer of the mansion, Nastasya Petrova paused to appraise me with intense, dark, intelligent eyes. "Ah. And such a pretty daughter, too," she said. "Are you just visiting, or do you live here in Serenity?"
I engaged the elderly woman in polite conversation, covering for Mother's bad manners ... because Mother was staring openmouthed at the interior's grandeur, her bug eyes flitting up the exquisitely carved staircase to the full-length stained-glass windows on the landing, then down again and over to a huge, ornately carved grandfather clock, and up once more to an Art Nouveau chandelier.
I said, "Mother...."
Mother gaped. She had the expression of a bird-watcher who'd just spotted a rare one.
She whirled. "Yes, dear?"
"Madam Petrova would like to attend to us in her parlor."
As I took Mother's arm, I whispered, "Don't drool," and Mother wiped her chin with the back of a hand, taking me literally.
We followed the tiny woman through the large entryway to sliding, wooden double doors, which she opened for us to step into a room whose decor hadn't changed since the 1920s.
The parlor was dark, having lost the morning sun, its furnishings somber, an eclectic combination of Victorian, Art Nouveau, and Mediterranean. But here and there were clues as to Madam Petrova's heritage: religious crosses and small statues representing the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as a framed photo on the wall of Tsar Alexander and his family, all smiling, the poor brood not having an inkling of what was to come.
In front of a fireplace (unlit) with a large mirror, gleaming mantel, and an iridescent tile hearth, Mother plopped herself down on a horsehair couch, which gave forth a poof! of ancient dust. I followed her example, my poof being much smaller if no more dignified.
Madam Petrova lit like a dainty firefly on the edge of an ornately carved, red velvet-cushioned chair. Then she leaned forward to reach for an exquisite silver tea set, polished to a shine, which rested on a round table. "Tea?"
I was dehydrated after my bout with morning sickness, and gladly said, "Yes, please."
Mother also responded in the affirmative, and Nastasya Petrova poured, then handed us both identical floral cups and saucers, whose colors were so rich, the blossoms looked real.
After pouring herself a cup, the woman sat back, balancing the saucer on her fragile knees.
"Now," Madam Petrova began, "what can I do for you, Vivian?"
Excerpted from ANTIQUES BIZARRE by Barbara Allan Copyright © 2010 by Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I throughly enjoyed the entire series. Didn't want it to end!
Dont bother with rest of series as samples say the same
Warning! This is the worst book I have ever read. The plot line is thin and far fetched. The main characters are not likeable.
After a horrible winter, the residents of the Midwest town of Serenity are rejoicing that spring has arrived. Unfortunately though the temperatures rises, the warmer weather leads to melting of ice and snow further north and the Mississippi is overflowing its banks. Serenity is flooded and as the river overflows its' banks and certain streets remain under water. Help the flood victims are septuagenarian Vivian Bourne and her thirtyish daughter Brandy who will host an auction at the Catholic Church. They visit wealthy Madam Petrova to ask her to donate a Faberge egg although they expect a no from her. Instead she agrees to give them the last one commissioned by the Czar. Art expert Louis Martinette authenticated it decades ago and apparently wins the bidding with a million dollar offer. However, before the gavel comes down to end the bid, people fall to the floor ill. Both Madam Petrova and Louis Martinette are dead and the egg is missing. The cause of the sickness is the Mulligan stew made by Mrs. Mulligan, who commits suicide while Father O'Brien is stabbed to death. Vivian feels responsible as the deaths are related to her auction so with Brandy at her side; she investigates who the serial killing thief is The latest Trash 'N' Treasures mystery (see Antiques Flee Market) is an amusing whodunit with less of the cute asides than the previous tales as the mother and daughter team get down to investigative business almost from the onset. Off her Prozac, surrogate pregnant Brandy struggles to keep her bi-polar mom in line during their inquiry, which Brandy's boyfriend the police chief objects to their investigation for safety reasons.. Vivian is over the top with her interrogation methods while Brandy deals with morning sickness and her madcap mother's mayhem. Harriet Klausner