James "Professor Puff" Henry may as well have "loser" stamped on his forehead. Divorced, overweight, shy, and living at home, he relies on books and his favorite snack -- cheese puffs -- for sweet relief from his problems. A former English lit professor at William and Mary, he moves back to Quincy's Gap, a small Virginia town in the Shenandoah Valley, to take care of his recently-widowed father. To improve his social life and waistline, he joins a supper club for dieters who lovingly call themselves the "Flab Five." Avoiding carbs is nearly impossible in this deep-fried potato-loving land, so a mysterious death in their small burg provides an effective, if disturbing, distraction. While dodging delectable temptations, Professor Henry and his fellow dieters work together to shed pounds and find the killer who has struck fear in this tight-knit community.
Click here to download Book Club Questions for Carbs and Cadavers, prepared by author J.B. Stanley!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
James Henry wrapped a towel around his formidable stomach and stepped onto the bathroom scale. He hesitated before looking down. He hadn't weighed himself in over a year, but his new pants were growing tighter and tighter and several of his belts no longer fit at all. Finally, he steeled himself for the results and peered down, but he couldn't see the numbers as the rotund, protruding flesh of his belly completely blocked them from view. This is what it must feel like to be eight months pregnant, James thought glumly.
He leaned forward, trying to read the scale without making the numbers on the dial jump around too much as he shifted his weight. When he was actually able to make out the results, James leapt backward off the scale as if it had suddenly caught fire. He frantically dried the bottoms of his wet feet and the sides of his calves, assuming that an extra thousand ounces of water must have been clinging to his body in order to produce such a number. Exhaling heavily, James stepped back onto the scale and once again examined the truth laid out in bold black-and-white digits: 275 pounds. He was more than fifty pounds overweight.
James sat down on the toilet and put his face in his hands. Over the last few months, he felt like he had been laid out at the bottom of an open grave while shovelfuls of dirt were thrown on top of him. First, his wife filed for divorce after a three-year separation so that she could marry a hotshot lawyer, then James's mother died, forcing him to move back home to care for his sour, reclusive father, and now, on top of everything else, James was fat. The two things he had loved most–his job teaching English literature at the College of William and Mary and his wife, Jane–were both gone. Now he was an overweight, divorced, thirty-five-year-old loser living with his father.
"I've got to do something about myself," he moaned aloud. "I've got to go on a diet."
After weighing himself, James Henry finally got dressed and trudged wearily downstairs to make breakfast. He cracked three eggs into a bowl and mixed them vigorously with milk. The sound of the liquid slapping about in his mother's tin mixing bowl gave him a small measure of comfort. Next, he poured the pale yellow mixture into a sizzling frying pan and then sprinkled the cooking eggs with parsley and a dash of garlic salt. He popped two bagels in the toaster and poured two glasses of orange juice while keeping an eye on the frying pan. When the surface of the eggs began to look crinkled, like a piece of plastic wrap, James expertly flipped the omelet and then covered its surface with a thick coating of shredded cheddar cheese. The toaster oven beeped. James pulled out the bagels, spread a generous layer of cream cheese over each crisp half, and then slid them neatly onto two chipped plates. He divided the omelet in half with the spatula, pushed a half onto each plate, and then called his father.
Jackson Henry shuffled into the room wearing his usual attire: a faded plaid bathrobe over a pair of denim overalls. He glowered at the food laid out on the counter and then raised a pair of furry eyebrows as he bent over to examine his bagel more closely, a frown creasing his wrinkled face into deeper furrows.
"What kind are these?" he growled as he carried his plate over to the table.
"Cinnamon raisin," James replied, spearing a forkful of egg. "Why?"
Jackson sat down at the kitchen table and scraped his chair loudly across the linoleum floor as he moved his thin frame closer to his plate. He began to pick raisins out of his bagel like a petulant child.
"I told you, I like sesame seed," he grumbled, tucking a paper napkin into the neck of his shirt.
James sighed. "The store was out of those, Pop. I'll get them next time." He inhaled the pleasant aroma coming from his own bagel as he lifted it to his mouth. He loved the smell of cinnamon.
When James was a boy, his mother would have made homemade cinnamon rolls on a dreary October day like today. They would be waiting, perfectly warm and fresh from the oven, with rivulets of icing cascading down their steep, savory brown sides. When James came home from band practice and Jackson arrived home from a long, satisfying day's work at Henry's Hardware & Supply Company, the scent of cinnamon would fill the entire house.
It was the small things, like the aroma of cinnamon or the gleam on the tin mixing bowls, that made James miss his mother's presence the most. She had died in August, just two short months ago. Physically, Jackson was perfectly healthy, but over the last decade, he had become more and more reclusive. After his hardware store was bought out by one of the big chain stores, something in Jackson seemed to wither up and die. He began to leave all of the errands into town to his wife, tinkering about in the back shed for most of the day. James's mother complained that her husband barely talked anymore. He came inside for meals, which he didn't finish, and to watch TV in the evenings. The only shows he watched were the game shows. He no longer read the paper or seemed to have any hobbies.
James had always assumed his mother would live to a ripe old age. She was vivacious and full of life, constantly working on some charitable venture or volunteering at the local elementary school. She walked three miles every morning and had never smoked a day in her life, so when she had a sudden heart attack in her sleep, James was completely stunned and devastated. He knew her death marked the end of his life as a professor in Williamsburg. He could not leave his father to fend for himself, nor did he feel right putting him in a nursing home. James was their only child and his mother would have wanted him to move back to Quincy's Gap in order to care for his father, so he did.
After painfully handing in his resignation to the English Department chair, James packed his old Bronco full with his belongings–mostly books–and gave the key to his cozy brick townhouse back to the rental agency. He took a final walk through the streets of historic Williamsburg, early in the morning before the crowds arrived, and marveled at how beautiful the trees looked lining the gravel road stretching toward the campus of William and Mary. The morning sun set the autumn leaves ablaze as if bidding James a fiery farewell.
He took the hint, filled up a thermos of Sumatra Blend at the coffee house, and then drove four hours west, to the hometown he only visited during Christmas and summer breaks. Boasting one main street and a population of two thousand Virginians, Quincy's Gap was a picturesque burg nestled in the Shenandoah Valley. Settled beneath the impressive shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was a pastoral, tranquil place where farms formed an emerald-and-saffron checkerboard when viewed from the air and horses roamed over hilly pastures.
In the middle of these farms, the town arose as a neat square of historic wood and brick buildings. Beyond the town proper were two strip malls. One was comprised of Home Doctor, the mammoth hardware store, and a Dollar General. The second housed the Winn-Dixie, the video rental store, a nail salon, pet groomers, and an Italian restaurant. Other than Dolly's Diner and the drive-in movie theater, which only operated during the spring and summer months, all of the town's shops and eateries were on Main Street. The tiny side streets housed the municipal buildings, lawyers and medical offices, and the three homes listed on the National Register that were open to the public for a small charge.
James Henry had returned to Quincy's Gap just in time to fill the vacancy of head librarian for the county's main library branch. His salary was sharply reduced from what he had earned at William and Mary, but his living expenses were, too. James moved into his old room, lovingly maintained by his late mother as a shrine to her only child. Every toy soldier, comic book, baseball glove, and even the tattered posters of various rock 'n' roll icons were still scotch-taped to the walls as if James were planning to bring a son of his own home to play in his childhood room. But James had no children. What he had instead was a lot of heavy baggage–both emotional and physical.
His life-altering move had taken place almost two months ago, and James had come to believe that returning to Quincy's Gap signaled the end of any chance of happiness. He would grow old in a place where he had spent torturous years as an awkward boy, followed by four more years as a solitary, unpopular teenager, and finally, as an unmemorable college student returning home during semester breaks.
Staring at his half-eaten bagel, James snapped out of his self-pitying reverie and shifted his weight on the uncomfortable metal chair with the cracked seat cushion and tried to read a newly released piece of historical fiction about a boy growing up in Afghanistan. He had a few minutes to spare before heading to work, and he desperately wanted to know if the boy would win the coveted kite contest so exhilaratingly described by the author. As James read, Jackson scraped his chair noisily away from the table and shuffled back to the den, leaving half of his egg uneaten and a completely pulverized bagel on his plate.
It began to rain just as James finished his breakfast, licking globs of cream cheese from his fingers. He peered out at the gray skies, checked his watch, and then fixed himself a tuna sandwich for lunch, wrapping it gingerly in tinfoil along with two dill pickle spears. He grabbed an apple and a snack-sized bag of cheese puffs and packed them all into his leather tote bag. Hesitating, he took a second bag of cheese puffs from the pantry and added those to the tote as well.
James loved cheese puffs. They had been his favorite snack for as long as he could remember. As a boy, he ate them at the movies, in front of the TV, and while doing homework. At the library, he now ate cheese puffs with his right hand so that his left would be clean enough to turn the pages of whatever library book he was reading during his lunch break. Even when he was a professor, he had often gotten the orange dust on his student's papers, for he liked to enjoy a treat while grading essays. James was well aware that he had earned the nickname of Professor Puff, and though he hated the idea that the moniker had a double meaning, the satisfaction he received from the cheesy, crispy crunchiness of cheese puffs far outweighed what his students called him behind his back.
"Pop!" James called over the sounds of contestants screaming on The Price Is Right. "There are some cold cuts in the fridge for you to make a sandwich for lunch. And there's some canned beef and barley soup in the pantry."
Jackson didn't reply, but James knew there was nothing wrong with his father's hearing. In fact, he had grown accustomed to his father's silence. Jackson hadn't had much to say since he sold the hardware store, and when he did speak, his words were usually critical or strung together to form a complaint. James preferred it when his father was in one of his quiet moods. He wondered how his mother had put up with such morose company, but then again, she had had a way of bringing out the best in everyone.
Heading out to his Bronco, James ignored his reflection in the glass of the storm door. His handsome face looked swollen and weighed down by a rapidly enlarging double chin. He carried his extra weight well–it was evenly distributed over a big-boned, six-foot frame, but his stomach bulged far out over his waistline and his jowls were becoming a distraction. People no longer noticed his intelligent, golden-brown eyes, sincere smile, aquiline nose, or soft waves of nutmeg-colored hair. They became hypnotized by the shaking flesh on his cheeks, sliding their library books across the desk to be checked out in a bit of a stupor.
"Good Morning, Professor Henry," was the chorused greeting that James received ten minutes later at the library's front door. It was the same one he had heard every day since he had taken the job a month ago. Francis and Scott Fitzgerald, the twins who formed the library's only other staff members, aside from a retired schoolteacher who worked part-time, were always waiting to be let in by the time James arrived at eight forty-five.
The twins were long-limbed, brainy bibliophiles who were given up for adoption at birth and spent most of their lives living in a series of foster homes. Luckily, they had never been separated, and the last of their foster homes, which was the one they lived in throughout high school, was a unique place. Their foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sloane, owned a bookstore and were die-hard fans of early American literature. The Sloanes believed that fate had brought them together with the brilliant young men named after one of their favorite writers.
Francis and Scott were encouraged to attend the local community college, and the Sloanes helped them acquire scholarships. The boys were so thorough in applying for grants and scholarships that they were able to graduate without any debt. Immediately after graduation, they searched for a job in libraries across Virginia in which they could both be hired together. Only Quincy's Gap offered them both identical jobs.
Francis raised a lanky arm to hold the door open for James and then for his brother, who issued a forceful head bob in gratitude that shook his wild curls of unkempt hair. The young men had attractive faces well hidden behind thick glasses, and when they were not re-shelving books or helping patrons, both would be peering intently at a computer screen or rifling through the pages of a book. James immediately liked their quirkiness as well as their proficiency and punctuality. So far, things had run smoothly at the King Street Branch.
Perhaps living in Quincy's Gap wouldn't be all that bad, James thought hopefully as he tried to put the morning's negativity behind him. The presence of the tidy stacks of books and the Fitzgerald brothers' quirky optimism always seemed to lend him solace when he was feeling down.
"More cheese puffs, Professor?" Francis asked him as James emptied his lunch from his tote bag in order to store his sandwich in the staff fridge.
James nodded, slightly embarrassed.
"I'm a sour cream and onion chip man, myself."
"Poor choice, F. Salt and vinegar is clearly the superior chip," Scott quipped.
"Oh! Customer!" Francis exclaimed, hurling his lunch onto the rectangular table where the three men took turns eating lunch and reading. He strode out to the circulation desk while Scott carefully arranged everyone's sandwiches in a neat row within the fridge. James could hear Francis whispering to someone even though there were no other patrons in the library. Once the clock struck nine, the twins would whisper until their shift was over at five.
Francis poked his head back in the staff room. "There's a lady out there, Professor. She says she needs to ask you about hanging a notice on the lobby bulletin board."
"Certainly," James said, almost repeating a reminder to the twins that they could call him by his first name, but he had told them several times and they seemed determined to call him "Professor." Truthfully, James liked the title. It made him feel dignified and more significant than a small-town librarian each time one of the brothers uttered the word.
Out at the circulation desk a woman was leafing through the latest edition of People magazine. When she saw James, she smiled in a friendly fashion and extended a hand bearing small, delicate fingers. "I'm Rosalind, the art teacher up at Skyline High."
James returned the handshake, staring at the young woman's round face as he introduced himself. In fact, all of her was round. She had saucerlike brown eyes, large breasts, a thick waist, and wide hips that only tapered slightly down to short, plump legs. Her hair was a shiny black that reflected a pleasant sheen from the overhead lights and was constricted into a twist held by two lacquered spikes resembling a pair of chopsticks. Her skin was a very light tan, as if made out of café au lait. James looked back down at her petite hands, one of which held a neon pink flyer.
"I was wondering if I could hang this in the lobby," she said loudly and then covered her mouth with her hand. Whispering, she continued, "The old librarian, Mrs. Kramer, was such a witch. She wouldn't hang anything that wasn't related to ‘the literary interests of Quincy's Gap,' which basically meant the personal interests of Mrs. Kramer. She wouldn't even let the Girl Scouts hang up their signs for cookie sales. I'm glad you're here now." Rosalind smiled, revealing a mouthful of perfect teeth. "You already seem nicer than old Mrs. Kramer."
"Thank you," James returned her smile warmly. "Well, let's see what you've got there, Rosalind."
"Rosalind is what my Brazilian mother calls me, but you should call me Lindy. All of my friends do."
At that moment, James would have hung a flyer calling for a book burning. No one had even approached James as a possible friend since he had moved home, and the word itself burned pleasantly through James's memory of once having a social life that included parties, dinners, and conversations mixed with great doses of laughter. He took the pink flyer and immediately tacked it up on the bulletin board, reading it as he pressed pushpins through the soft flesh of cork.
Are You Feeling Out of Shape?
Not So Pleasantly Plump?
Downright Miserably Fat?
Join Our New Supper Club!
We Plan to Get Fit Together!
We Meet Every Sunday Night!
Call Lindy at 555-2846
"What do you think?" Lindy asked.
James creased his brows. "I'm afraid I don't know what a supper club is."
"Oh, it's when a bunch of people get together to cook a meal and talk and form friendships. Some clubs have a theme, like cooking light or cooking different exotic foods. My sister lives in Atlanta and she's in a supper club that focuses on pairing wine and food. I came up with the idea that Quincy's Gap should have one where people can lose some weight. Like a dieter's club but more fun. I know I'll never get into shape on my own." She cast her eyes on the ground and mumbled, "And Lord knows I have to stop making excuses."
"So you're just starting to recruit people?" James asked quickly. He didn't like the way in which Lindy had so suddenly become deflated.
"Oh no!" Lindy perked back up. "We have four members already. Actually, we tried to meet last week to decide what kind of food we were going to eat–you know, like what our theme would be, but two of us wanted to count calories like Weight Watchers and the other two wanted to follow a low-carb diet like Atkins or the South Beach Diet. So, we need a tiebreaker."
"Hmm," James responded, nodding his head sympathetically. He disliked indecisiveness as a rule, but he also didn't relish the thought of being a tiebreaker.
"Wait!" Lindy grabbed onto his arm, her wide eyes gleaming. "Why don't you join our club? You're new to town and," she picked up his left hand and pointed at his ring finger,"it looks like you're not married. This would be a great way for you to make some friends!"
Reeling from Lindy's enthusiasm, James hesitated. It would be nice to make a few friends, but he was also a bit offended that Lindy so clearly viewed him as someone who needed to diet. Glancing down at his protruding belly, he knew she was right, but it still made him cross to think about his weight.
Lindy dropped her hand from James's arm and softly said, "I didn't mean to insult you. I just thought you'd like to join us."
Her tone was so gentle that James relented. "I'll give it a try. I've gotten to be a decent cook over the last few years, but I don't know much about diets."
Lindy's face filled with delight. "Don't worry about that! We'll figure something out together. Let's see, today's Friday. It feels weird not to be in school, but we've got parent-teacher conferences and no one ever wants to meet with the art teacher." Lindy shook her head as if to shake off her annoyance and returned to the subject at hand. "The supper club is meeting Sunday at my place. We're having a lunch meeting this time since we haven't worked out any of the food details yet. Let me write directions down for you."
"Thanks." James smiled and then wondered aloud, "Who else is in the supper club?"
"There's me, of course, and then Lucy Hanover, who works for the Sheriff's Department, Bennett Marshall–he's a mailman– and Gillian O'Malley. She owns the Yuppie Puppy."
James chewed on the name. "Is she a pet groomer?"
"You got it!" Lindy handed him the sheet of directions. "You must know Lucy. You guys both grew up here. Did you go to Skyline High?"
James squirmed. "I did, but I wasn't much of a socializer. I was pretty quiet back then. I did play in the band," he added with a mix of pride and embarrassment. "French horn. I might know her if she had been in the band, too. Otherwise, I pretty much went straight home after school . . ." He trailed off, feeling like an idiot for babbling about his lack of teenage social activities.
Lindy seemed to grow pensive for a moment. "I don't think Lucy was in the band. But that's okay! Even if you didn't know each other in high school, you can get to know each other now. In fact, we'll all be getting to know one another. That's part of the beauty of a supper club."
"Uh, should I bring anything?" he asked, relieved that the subject of his lack of friends from the "good old days" was over.
"No need. We're just going to have sandwiches while we decide what kind of food we'll be cooking for the next meeting. See you Sunday at noon. It was nice to meet you, James Henry."
"Nice to meet you, too, Lindy." James stole another glance at the pink flyer and then returned to his duties at the circulation desk. Without realizing it, he was humming softly under his breath. The Fitzgerald twins looked at each other over a rolling cart filled with books that needed reshelving and smiled. They had never heard their boss hum before. It was a pleasant sound.
It was a crisp, sunny weekend morning and Homecoming Saturday to boot. The counter at Dolly's Diner was empty, but Dolly laid out silverware at every place. James could see that she expected to do a booming business before closing shop early in order to see the Skyline Red-Tailed Hawks "put a whupping to those braggarts from Jefferson High," as Dolly so aptly phrased it during lunchtime a few days ago. According to Dolly, the Jefferson Cougars had pummeled the Hawks last year, and the football fans from Quincy's Gap were looking for a little revenge. Dolly counted herself among the most loyal of all Hawks fans.
After casting her eyes in a satisfactory manner over the countertop, Dolly put her cloud of white hair into a tight bun on the top of her head and peered into the horizontal mirror behind the gleaming rows of clean glasses. James shared the same belief as most of the townsfolk that Dolly looked like a cross between a sumo wrestler and Mrs. Claus. Nobody cared, though. Dolly was beloved by all. She was the mistress of her own domain and treasured three things most in this world: her business, her husband, and gossip.
James could feel Dolly's eyes boring into his back as she brewed a fresh pot of coffee behind the counter. Dolly had clearly decided it was high time she learned a bit more about the town's newcomer. She questioned him relentlessly whenever he came in for a meal, which was often because the food was delicious, but James Henry had so far skillfully avoided her most personal questions. He was friendly and polite, of course, but close-lipped when it came to answering any queries outside the realm of work or food. Dolly was not so easily put off, however, and James steeled himself for another round of bluster and evade.
Dolly ambled over to the booth where James sat, appearing to be deeply engrossed in a novel. "You want some more coffee, hon?" she asked, holding the steaming pot up in front of her ample bosom.
James looked up, blinking, like someone who has just driven out of a dark tunnel into the bright daylight. "Huh? Oh, yes please. Sorry, Dolly. I was completely absorbed in this book." His act didn't fool the all-seeing eyes of the mistress of the diner for a second.
"So," Dolly began, preparing to squeeze new tidbits out of the librarian before he could escape. "I thought I heard your mama tell me about you getting married a few years back." She waited, withholding the coffee until James responded. "How come your wife isn't here with you?"
"I was married," James muttered, absently turning a page of his book. "We just got divorced this summer."
Dolly clucked in sympathy and then filled his cup while giving him the once-over with her eyes. "Well, then, you ought to be socializing with folks, not sitting here reading," she said in a teasing tone, even though she meant every word. "How you ever gonna meet someone with your nose stuck in a book?"
James shrugged, recognizing that Dolly was one of those women who liked to make a project out of matching up all the single people she knew. "It's a good book," he said lamely, wishing she would drop the subject.
Dolly waved off his answer and made a dismissive noise by pushing air out through her closed lips. "Pffah. There are plenty of nice women your age that would love to get to know you better. Why, I know . . ." Dolly trailed off, her attention suddenly caught by some movement out the front window. "Sakes alive! Here comes the parade! They're all gonna want to eat here and I don't have all the pies out yet. Clint!" she bustled off, calling for her husband, who was safely out of range in the kitchen.
"You got lucky that time," laughed the young waitress who came over in Dolly's wake to clear James's empty plates. She was tall and fair with freckled skin and had thick, ash-blonde hair pulled up into a high ponytail.
"That was the best stack of strawberry pancakes I have ever tasted," James exhaled, feeling his belt groaning across his bulging waist. "I'm eating all the junk I can before starting a new diet," he told the girl just to make conversation. He had made a terrific mess with the syrup and felt guilty watching her scrub the sticky droplets from the tabletop while he sat there reading.
"Don't want to get your book stuck," she said kindly. Her name tag read Whitney and was pinned on the simple white apron she wore over her jeans.
"Did you go to Skyline High?" James asked.
"Yep. Go Hawks!" she said with false enthusiasm.
James put his crumpled napkins on her tray. "Homecoming parade not your thing?"
"Nah. Plus, I could use the hours. I'm attending James Madison U part-time. I'll need all the cash I can get my hands on just to pay for two classes."
"Good for you," James nodded in admiration. "What's a parade when compared to a college education? Do you know what you're planning to major in?"
"Business." Whitney handed James his bill. "I can't wait to get out of this hick town, and I figure a business degree is my ticket to a better life," she added with a surprising amount of vehemence. "If I can ever afford to complete my degree, that is."
"Whitney!" Dolly called. "Can you help Clint slice all the meatloaf? I think we are about to be as packed as feathers on a rooster in a few minutes."
James looked around the diner. Aside from him, there were only two other clients enjoying a late breakfast at Dolly's. The midday sun was making its way into the restaurant, glinting off of some of the exotic souvenirs Dolly and Clint had brought home from their travels around the world. Dolly's husband, Clint, had been in the Coast Guard for almost twenty years. He had been stationed in Guam, Honolulu, the Philippines, Alaska, and up and down both coasts of the United States. Each time Clint was given personal leave, Dolly got to choose a new country for them to visit. Now the evidence of their global wanderings was forever preserved on the walls and in the rafters of the diner.
From his booth, James could reach out and touch an enormous sequined sombrero, a porcelain Mardi Gras mask, an African walking stick with a carved snake curling up the handle, a rusty tin sign reading Banheiro (meaning "bathroom" in Portuguese), a cricket bat, a beautiful black silk kimono spread out in order to show off its embroidered green dragon with the forked tongue, and a corkboard covered with the labels from French wine bottles. James tried to sit in a different booth each time he visited in order to admire a fresh collection of treasures before he began reading.
As he scanned the room, James noticed one of Lindy's neon pink flyers posted on the bulletin board by the front door. A young man in a rather ragged-looking letter jacket was examining it. As James watched, the man yanked the flyer off the board and held it out to Dolly, who was wiping an already gleaming countertop.
"What's this?" he yelled across the quiet diner. "An ad for the Fat Loser Club?"
"You hush up, Brinkley Myers," Dolly scolded without looking up from her scrubbing. "Some folks need a little help gettin' into shape. There's no need for you to be puttin' them down."
"Well, I hope you don't join in. We all love you just the way you are," the young man named Brinkley oozed with false charm while eyeing Dolly's chest.
Dolly flashed him an amused grin. "Now you hang that back up on the board like a good boy," she gently ordered and then disappeared into the kitchen.
Ignoring her, Brinkley shoved the paper into his jacket pocket and then plunked himself down into a nearby booth. James studied the young man from behind his coffee cup. He was tall and muscular, except for the first hints of a promising beer gut, and looked like he was in his mid-twenties. James was unsure why he was still wearing a high school letter jacket, but assumed that he was a former high school jock who wanted to show his support for the football team. He had a square jaw covered with blonde stubble and a full head of curly, reddish-blonde hair. The unkempt hair combined with deep-set dark eyes gave him a roguish Hollywood look.
Draining his tepid coffee, James wondered if Brinkley had kept the flyer because he was planning to join. He hoped not. The young man seemed to wear a cocksure and slightly malicious aura. Turning away from Brinkley, James took a twenty out of his wallet and laid it on the table. Neither Whitney nor Dolly was anywhere to be seen, so he decided to finish the chapter he was reading while waiting for his change.
Outside, the hum of a large group of people intensified as the front door of the diner burst open and the noise of the crowd erupted into the calm room. Dozens of people came streaming into the restaurant, laughing and cheering. All were wearing red and black hats, scarves, or sweatshirts. James recognized the two shades as the school colors of Skyline High.
A group of boys wearing letter jackets crowded into the booth next to him, elbowing one another and yelling loudly at another group of boys sitting at the largest table across the aisle. They all seemed to pay homage to Brinkley before settling down in their seats. A great deal of backslapping and high-fives were exchanged between the high school boys and the lone adult wearing one of their jackets.
Dolly bustled over to the posse of boys with an enormous smile and proudly eyed the rambunctious group. "Well, gentlemen. I've made a special meatloaf to get y'all good and ready for tonight's game. What's needed today is meat and mashed potatoes and a bit of tail whuppin'. What do ya say to that?"
The boys let out a communal holler and banged their fists on the tabletops.
"Just lemme have your drink orders and then I'll be back with your food. I think y'all should have milk–good for your bones– especially when you've got to stand up to some of those Jefferson linebackers, but I know some of you are addicted to ole Dr. Pepper, so I'll let you decide."
Dolly flipped open her pad and began scribbling down drink orders. James tried to catch her eye but she was fussing over the football players like a mother hen, so he looked around for Whitney instead. However, Whitney clearly had her hands full taking care of the group at the counter, so James grabbed the bill and his money and maneuvered around the posse of excited boys clotting the aisles between the booths.
As he struggled to pass the three booths where the football players milled about, a middle-aged woman with hair bleached beyond blonde into white knocked into him with her elbow.
"Sorry," he said. The woman said nothing, but stepped aside to let him pass. At the counter, Whitney was busy serving drinks.
"I'd better pay up," he said, handing her the money. "I think you're going to need my booth. Looks like you've got some football players here."
"Damn right!" exclaimed a man at the countertop as he butted into the conversation. "Those boys are going to play their hearts out tonight. Yes sir. There's nothing better than a night game in October. Nothing better." He thumped the countertop with his palm in order to emphasize his point. James thought he detected a hint of whiskey in the air.
Other patrons at the counter nodded their agreement and then began discussing which game over the course of the last several years had been the coldest. As Whitney handed James his change, Brinkley Myers suddenly appeared behind his right shoulder.
"Hey, Whit," he casually greeted the pretty waitress as James laid down a five-dollar bill out of his pile of change.
Ignoring the speaker completely, Whitney politely thanked James for her tip and then pointedly turned away from Brinkley. She poured glasses of ice water and served them to two men at the other end of the counter without raising her eyes. Brinkley shrugged his shoulders and turned away.
At that moment, James noticed Whitney throw Brinkley a menacing look as the younger man leaned over to chat with one of the customers at the counter. Her eyes blazed with anger for just a flash before she marched off toward the kitchen, her ponytail whipping back and forth like a rapid pendulum.
"You gonna watch the rookies throw some touchdowns tonight, Brinkley?" one of the men asked the boy. "Think anyone's gonna break your record?"
Brinkley puffed out his chest. "For most touchdown passes thrown? No way. No one's going to do that, but hopefully some Cougar necks will get broken!"
The men at the countertop applauded. The one sitting in front of James reached around and enthusiastically clapped him on the back, pinning him in place. James was contentedly stuck in the midst of the townsfolk's camaraderie and anticipation. Normally, he would be uncomfortable being in the middle of the crowd, but everyone seemed to accept his presence as natural. James smiled shyly at the men and women seated around him. Then Whitney returned, bearing plates of meatloaf with sides of mashed potatoes swimming in brown gravy for all. Brinkley once again tried to get her attention, but she continued to ignore him.
"So you think we might win tonight?" a woman asked Brinkley as she waited for her meal to cool.
"Yes ma'am," Brinkley nodded and then smiled and raised his voice, his eyes boring into Whitney's turned back. "I've been looking forward to this game all season. I think we're due this game. Sometimes it's just time to pay the piper, know what I mean?"
The woman beamed at him. "So you think our boys are going to get lucky?"
"Sure." Brinkley shrugged. "I plan to get lucky pretty soon. Right, Whit?" He laughed.
The sexual implication was lost on the woman, but several of the men at the counter guffawed heartily and exchanged high-fives with one another. The pleasant spell James had been under was instantly broken by the men's coarse response. He felt embarrassed for Whitney and gave Brinkley his most disapproving stare. The young man turned and returned James's look with a flippant grin.
As Brinkley passed James, he leaned over and spoke so that only James could hear. "I bet you've never had a girl like that. Maybe it's because you look like you swallowed a few watermelons." Then he gave James a patronizing pat on the belly and moved back toward the booth where the football players and his meatloaf waited.
Trembling with anger, James watched as the boys held out a playbook for Brinkley to examine. They had obviously asked the former player to join them in order to review their plays for the night, and anyone could see that the boys viewed Brinkley as a living legend.
More and more people crammed themselves into the diner. James had had enough of both the crowd and of the gross display of hero worship for such an obnoxious young man. By the time James could finally squeeze himself out the door, with people pushing past him to get in, every seat had been taken. He suddenly noticed that there were no children present at Dolly's, but once he stepped outside he realized why. All of the children and their parents were continuing to march down Main Street. Curious as to their destination and seeking something to buoy his spirits after Brinkley's disparaging remarks, James followed alongside them.
At the edge of town, one of the side streets had been blocked off and a miniature amusement park had been erected. James spotted a petting zoo, pony rides, popcorn and cotton candy machines, as well as several thrill rides, including a tiny roller coaster and a spinning ride that was guaranteed to make the kids who overindulged on cotton candy good and sick. There was also a row of carnival games where parents could spend inordinate amounts of money in order for their child to win a stuffed animal worth a fraction of the cost of the game.
James watched a little girl run up to a female clown wearing an enormous blue and white polka-dotted bow tie and floppy pink shoes and politely ask for a balloon animal. The clown smiled silently, nodding in agreement, and then made a grand show of blowing up and twisting a yellow balloon into the shape of a poodle. The little girl was thrilled and James watched her run back into her parents' arms with a tinge of envy. He wondered if he would ever have the opportunity to experience fatherhood.
James lingered around the children a bit longer, not wanting to return to the quiet of his house and the grumblings of his father. Finally, he strolled back down Main Street toward the parking lot where he had left his car. The street was littered with a variety of small trash from bubble gum wrappers to cigarette butts, but James knew that the town's maintenance crew would restore cleanliness and order before the day was out. After all, weekends meant the arrival of horse people and tourists, the main economic infusion for Quincy's Gap. The horse people would compete in local shows or purchase animals from one of the Quincy's Gap horse farms while the tourists would visit the Civil War sites, historic homes, and apple orchards, or simply drive through the countryside in order to view the vibrant foliage. With the golden sunlight streaming through the pear trees and the carnival atmosphere pulsing in the air, James was feeling more at peace with his hometown than at any other time since his return.
Back at home, Jackson had locked himself in his shed as usual and had closed all the shades so that James had no idea what he was up to. James didn't even bother telling his father that he was home. He doubted the old man would even notice until dinnertime. He fixed himself some decaf, settled on the davenport to read, and then briefly considered attending the football game. James wasn't very interested in sports, but it might be a topic of conversation at tomorrow night's supper club and James didn't want to appear uninvolved in one of the autumn's biggest events. Then again, he decided that since he was almost done reading his book and that it was sure to be cold at the game, he might as well stay put.
After a peaceful afternoon reading and munching on cheese puffs–he easily polished off a jumbo-sized bag–James decided to cook a hearty pot of stew for dinner. As he was peeling carrots his father shuffled wearily in the back door. Ignoring James, Jackson fixed himself a cup of coffee and headed into the den. The sound of the television filled the silence. After some channel surfing, Jackson found a rerun of Family Feud.
James sighed in annoyance. When the stew was ready, he brought a bowl in to his father and placed it on a TV tray. Jackson never turned his face away from the screen. His eyes were red and puffy as if he had not slept well recently.
"What are you doing out there all day, Pop?" James asked in concern.
Instead of answering, Jackson pointed at James's shirt. "You got orange stuff all over you again."
James looked down at the familiar orange dust. "It's from the cheese puffs. It was my last bag. I'm going to start a diet on Sunday."
His father shook his head in disbelief and then focused on the television once more. "Stupid, stupid," he muttered, and James didn't know whether he was referring to the contestants, who couldn't seem to get any of the answers right, or to his son, who couldn't seem to get anything right either.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Welcome to Quincy's Gap, Virginia home of the warmly engaging James Henry. Whoever said going home was easy? It can be a bumpy rode at first but turns out to be the path meant to travel.Former college professor now librarian, James Henry, returns home to care for his irascible father, Jackson, after the untimely death of his mother. Dubbed "Professor Puff" by his former students, James is more than a little overweight. Determined to do something about his expanding waistline and his incessant munching James joins a diet club to trim off the pounds. There he meets some of the most appealing individuals you'll ever meet.The members of the supper club coin themselves the "Flab Five." The four members of the Flab Five are just as charismatic and delightful as James. The bond forms and friendship builds. The love of food isn't the only ingredient holding the gang together. The darling group gets embroiled in a murder in their charming hometown.Resolved to find out who would do such a thing, the Flab Five set out to track a killer.Chockfull of friendship and fun the entertaining bunch warms you heart. J.B. Stanley does a magnificent job setting up this remarkable series! The characters, plot and setting are sensational. Ms. Stanley is simply superb.I was tempted to visit James and the rest of the bunch in Quincy's Gap.This is a must for cozy fans, series connoisseurs, mystery devotees, or one looking for a phenomenal read.Run don't walk to pick up this phenomenal book!!!
This was a fun lighthearted read. The characters are likeable and the story moved along at an easy pace. I enjoyed reading the Nancy Drew mysteries when I was younger, and now have found a similar series but with fun middle aged characters instead of teenagers. I'm looking forward to reading the next book 'Fit to Die'.
James Henry is a former English Lit professor. He has come back home to Quincy¿s Gap, Virginia, to take care of his father after his mother¿s death and his divorce. His father isn¿t a very nice person. James was lucky to get a job as the local librarian, and now he has no social life. He just hides among the books at work and eats cheese puffs. When he hears about the supper club, he figures he can stand to lose fifty pounds and he might make some friends. He jumps at the chance to join. He meets Lucy Hanover who works in the sheriff¿s department and is attractive. She¿d like to be a deputy someday. He also meets Lindy, Gillian, and Bennett. They decide to call themselves the ¿Flab Five.¿ Each of them needs to lose weight, but they all seem to have dreams and aspiration. I think that¿s what made me like them so much. James and his fellow dieters end up in the middle of a murder investigation when someone mysteriously drops dead in the Sweet Tooth Bakery. Soon James finds himself looking forward to the next meeting of the supper club. But can they stick to their diets and find the killer without putting themselves in danger? And what is James¿ father doing in the shed all the time? I really enjoyed this book. I read it in two days. The characters are so much fun. You might think that a mystery set around dieting would be boring. Not in this case. You will laugh out loud at their antics. The supper club is such a fun idea. I just wanted to keep reading. Can¿t wait until the next one is out! I highly recommend this book. I hope she writes fast!
I found this book to be very entertaining and a very good read - the pages fly by. I eagerly look forward to the next installment, for the book has a mix of mystery and humor with lively characters that are well thought out and are a pleasure to follow as they go about their adventures. I look forward to seeing how they handle the next mystery in 'Fit to Die.'
My wife and I both enjoyed this book. Unlike one of the other reviewers, I wasn't looking for Shakespeare but a light and amusing mystery to read on the plane. I found the characters funny and real. My wife and I have recently started the South Beach diet, so we could really relate to the struggle these characters were going through as they tried to lose weight. We cooked the low-carb pumpkin pie recipe from this book and loved it. I had an inkling who the killer was before I reached the end, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of this book. I was already a fan of J.B. Stanley's antiques mystery, and now I'm a fan of the Flab Five. Keep 'Em Comin'!
Professor James Henry is not having a good year. First, his wife divorces him after a three year separation to marry a rich lawyer, then his mother dies of a heart attack. He has to quit teaching at William and Mary University to move back to his hometown to take care of his reclusive and belligerent father and the only job he can find is that of a librarian. He also is over fifty pounds overweight. So when the opportunity arrives to join a diet supper club, he leaps at the chance, hoping to meet new friends. --- When the body of a former high school football hero and local bully is found murdered in the local bakery, Lucy Hanover wants to investigate the case because she yearns to be a deputy so she convinces the other members of the supper clan to help her find the killer. They question various people when they are not meeting to discuss diets and the group learns that the victim was blackmailing his former classmates. James with the help of the other four members of the group, think he knows who the killer is but when they go to confront the suspect, they find themselves at the mercy of a stone cold killer. --- Between the investigation and the dieting, the ¿Flab Five¿ as they call themselves develop a camaraderie that develops into a friendship. James is happy because he now has friends and a social life and learns how to be part of a group and at times their leader. J.B. Stanley has written a clever and exciting amateur sleuth mystery that has many suspects with realistic motives that lead to readers eagerly awaiting the next supper club mystery because the first book in the series is delicious. --- Harriet Klausner
James Henry has been recently divorced, and left the job he loved to move back home with his widowed father. He has no social life, and thanks to his addiction to cheese puffs, he's 50 pounds overweight. Life sucks. Then James happens to see a flyer for a supper club for dieters. Hoping to expand his social circle and find support for his weight loss plan, he signs up. One of the supper club members works in the sheriff's office, and what with one thing and another, they all become involved in a murder investigation. Ok, so the premise is a little improbable, but it sounded like it might have good characters and I thought it would at least be entertaining. Unfortunately this was not the case. While all the elements for a good story were in place, I had to drag myself through this book. The characters had potential, the crime storyline was as good as your average Janet Evanovich novel, but it just didn't come together for me. The dialogue was stilted, and the writing in general was too much telling, not enough showing... if that makes sense. Final word: 2, as in 2 delicious but fattening chocolate chip cookies out of 5. I'm tempted to scan the next book in the series to see if the writing improves, but I doubt I will get around to it.
James Henry was perfectly happy in his quiet life as a college professor. but is comes to an end when his mother dies and he must return home to Quincy Gap to take care of his father. He has to leave the job he loves to care for his disagreeable, uncommunicative parent. He is at least able to get a job as librarian in the local library. But is is still not the future he had planned for himself. Even his wife has left him. So to stave off loneliness and to try to lose the weight he has put on, he decides to join the newly formed dieters' supper club. There he meets people who have the same goal as he- make friends while losing weight. He is especially interested in an employee of the sheriff's department, Lucy Hanover.But the dieters' focus changes when an obnoxious local man is found dead at the bakery. The Supper Club members are drawn into the mystery and quickly find themselves awash in contradictory clues. Lucy has ambitions of becoming a deputy and this may be her lucky break. If she can help solve the murder the chauvinistic sheriff may be forced to take her seriously. James is pleased to help her, both to catch the killer and to spend more time with Lucy. The Supper Club members band together to figure out who killed the football star in the first murder to occur in Quincy Gap since 1913. Among trying to ignore their hungry pains, food cravings and the yearly Halloween parade, the struggling dieters have a lot on their plates.This book is the first in the planned of Supper Club Mysteries. It is a fun addition to the market of food based cozies with endearing characters that will bring readers back for second helpings. The small town setting of Quincy Gap is also able to provide the ambiance and potential for further development. So many of us can relate to the frustration of dieting and will be looking forward to cheering along the efforts of The Supper Club. J.B. Stanley is also the author of the Antique and Collectible Mysteries.
The Supper Club Mysteries starts with this book and is extremely entertaining. The entire premise, and one I find hits too close to home, is a group of "fatties" joining together to support each other as they try to lose weight. They title themselves the FLAB FIVE. James Henry, the main character, is a divorced former professor from Wm & Mary who has an addiction to Cheese puffs and is carrying 50 lbs. of extra weight. He has returned home to Quincy Gap to care for his elderly father after his mother's death. James gets a job as a librarian and settles into what he considers a boring life which only drives him to his addiction more often than not. He feels friendless and alone so when the opportunity to make new friends and lose a few extra pounds is presented to him, he jumps at the chance not knowing what he is getting himself into.At their first meeting, they are all distracted by sirens (one member works for the local sheriff) and plunge themselves into an investigation of the murder. Working together to both solve the mystery and lose weight, the dieters are melded together into close friends and band together to catch the killer.The story is well-written and highly amusing with tales of diet cheating and buttons popping. I was completely engrossed in the story so I didn¿t have to work about a ¿Cheese Puff Attack¿. As a fellow dieter, my interest was held as to their progress and their setbacks along with the mystery. I look forward to a second helping - pun intended.
This book was just ok for me. As I think how to review this book, I find myself struggling what to say. I found the book a little boring. I really liked the idea of the book. Maybe this series isn't for me. I might give book 2 a try.
The debut Supper Club finds this new group of friends investigating a murder in their small town. The pacing was uneven, but the characters were absolutely great.
I liked this first book in the series. Since most cozy mysteries are written around a woman lead, I thought having an overweight man as the main character would be a nice change. There were a few things that didn't quite work for me though. The biggest was hints of a romance between James and Lucy. I get the impression that James is attracted and repulsed by her at the same time. This doesn't make for a hopeful romance in my eyes. The other 3 members of the "Flab Five" were mostly unremarkable to me. My guess is that the author didn't want to do character overload the first book out in the series. Hopefully each of the Five will get some book time in the future books. I also didn't quite feel the "small town" charm here. I would like to see this author let loose a little. Who calls people "fatso" in this day and age? Especially when they are holding a gun to someones head? That is really the strongest insult the killer can come up with? I think a different "f" bomb was the more likely realistic response. However, I realize that cozy mysteries are written with a specific formula and we must not offend anyone with colorful language now shall we? I want to see more of this series, but I'm likely going to skip over books 2-5 for now because I'm not interested in a James & Lucy romance and I have so many other titles to read. I have the 6th installment "Black Beans & Vice" on my Nook and the story line hints to shake things up quite a bit for the "Flab Five"
The entire time i read this, i couldnt figure out whether this was a children's book or not. The writing is very elementary-school, yet the overall plot is not meant for children. It is simplistic and childish. Not really worth the time...