Victoria Trumbull, the ninety-two-year-old poet/sleuth, discovers a neighbor’s body in the home of one of the three town assessors. The assessors have been skimming off tax money from wealthy landowners and stashing it in their own special retirement funds. Then the private pilot of the not-so-holy clergyman husband of one of these landowners is found dead, floating in his employer’s pond, his face gnawed by snapping turtles. Finally, searching for old documents in the attic of Town Hall, Victoria discovers a third body, that of the long-missing assessors clerk. In order to tie all the threads together and solve the murders, Cynthia again teams up with her old friend and rival, Emery Meyer, now working as the landowner’s chauffeur.
It’s another entertaining mystery, as only Riggs can spin it, infused with the flora and fauna of Martha’s Vineyard.
About the Author
Cynthia Riggs, a thirteenth-generation Islander, lives on Martha's Vineyard in her family homestead, which she runs as a bed-and-breakfast catering to poets and writers. She has a degree in geology from Antioch College and an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College, and she holds a U.S. Coast Guard Masters License (100-ton).
Read an Excerpt
Death and Honesty
The fickle Island weather turned raw and chilly, and a cold April rain slashed against the west windows of Victoria Trumbull's house. Her granddaughter, Elizabeth, lighted an oak fire in the parlor, and Victoria settled into her mouse-colored wing chair with a book of Robert Frost's poetry for a comfortable evening of reading.
When the phone rang, Elizabeth answered. "For you, Gram. The chief."
"Am I getting you at a bad time, Victoria?"
"What can I do for you, Casey?"
The call was from Mary Kathleen O'Neill, also known as Casey, the town's police chief. She had appointed Victoria her deputy after realizing how much the ninety-two-year-old poet knew about the Island and its inhabitants. In fact, Victoria was related to most of them.
"Have you seen Ellen Meadows lately?" Casey asked.
Victoria marked her place with a slip of paper and set her book aside. "Not for several days. Why?"
"How long has she been missing?"
"She didn't show up this noon for a lunch date with Selena and Ocypete, the other assessors. How do you pronounce her name, anyway?"
"She pronounces it 'Oh-SIP-i-tee,"' said Victoria.
Casey paused. "Wait a sec, Victoria. Someone's on the other line."
Victoria heard a slight click as Casey put her on hold. While she waited, she held up her glass in a toast to her granddaughter.
Elizabeth lifted hers, too. "To you, Gram. Thanks!"
It seemed only a short time ago that Elizabeth, going through a divorce, had invited herself for a couple of weeks. Now, Victoria couldn't imagine life without her sunny granddaughter.
Casey came back on the line. "Sorry, Victoria. Thought it might be news of Ellen, but it was Jordan Rivers complaining about Lambert Willoughby's rooster. Where was I?"
"You were saying Ellen didn't show up for luncheon with the other two assessors."
"Right. They went to Ellen's house earlier this evening, before it started to rain. She wasn't there. At least they didn't see her. Adolph hadn't been fed or let out, so the animal control officer took him home with her. I don't know that anyone's cleaned up the mess."
"Is Ellen's car in her driveway?"
"The two said it wasn't."
"I don't know Ellen well," said Victoria. "In fact, I don't know any of the three assessors well. I have no idea where Ellen is likely to be."
"It's not a police matter yet, but if she's fallen or had a stroke or something ... She's in her seventies. At her age, you know ..."
"No, I don't know," Victoria said firmly.
"I asked Junior Norton to stop by while he was making his police rounds. No one answered his knock."
"I'm sure her door's not locked."
"We police ..." Casey paused. "I can't enter her house without her invitation." She emphasized the word "I."
Casey said, "The woman who bought the old Hammond place had an argument with Ellen about her assessment."
"She's not the only person in town to have argued with Ellen. I've had some heated discussions with her myself," said Victoria.
"You know I can't authorize you to enter her house on official business. However, as a friend and neighbor. Or at least, neighbor ..."
"All right," said Victoria, getting out of her comfortable chair. "I'll ask Howland to take me there." She disconnected and immediately dialed Howland Atherton, her friend and a semiretired drug enforcement agent.
"I know Ellen only by sight," Howland said after Victoria explained about the missing assessor. "Enough to keep out of her way What's on your mind, Victoria?"
"I need to check her house."
"Now? I'll be glad to take you, but it's pouring."
"The sooner the better. Casey is worried about her."
"Okay. I'll be there in ten minutes."
"I can take you, Gram," Elizabeth said.
"Keep the fire going. I won't be long."
When Howland showed up, rain was pouring off the main roof of Victoria's old house, overflowing the wooden gutters and gurgling through the metal drainpipes. Howland parked as close as he could to the west steps, but even in his short dash to the entry, his yellow slicker was drenched. He tossed back his hood, exposing silver hair that curled artistically around his forehead and ears.
"I'm wet," he said. "I'll wait out here in the entry."
She shrugged into her faded tan raincoat and tugged her rubber gardening boots over her stocking feet, wincing as the boot rubbed against her sore toe. The wind blew rain into the open entry door and whistled through the cracked pane in the kitchen window.
As she was buttoning the raincoat, Victoria said, "Casey won't go into Ellen's house without a warrant. She wants me to check, as long as it's unofficial."
Howland nodded. "An adult missing for less than twenty-four hours doesn't give the police probable cause."
Elizabeth appeared, holding a musty black silk umbrella. "I found this in the attic, Gram. It'll help keep some of the rain off." She escorted Victoria to the car, then dashed back into the shelter of the entry.
Ellen's house was only a half mile from Victoria's, but the rain made it seem farther. The windshield wipers slashed back and forth, moving curtains of water without making much difference in visibility.
Ellen's house was dark. Howland parked close to the side entrance. Across the road, Alley's General Store was closed for the night, the porch regulars long gone.
As they went up the steps to the kitchen door, lilac branches heavy with tight buds slapped them wetly. Victoria knocked, waited, then cupped her hands against the glass pane and peered in. When there was no answer, she pushed the door open and they stepped inside. Howland switched on the lights and sniffed. "Something smells bad."
Victoria agreed. "No one let her dog out."
Nothing seemed out of order in the kitchen. Victoria noticed several cardboard file boxes on the dining room table and stopped to look.
"Forget those for now," Howland said.
They checked the front hall. The parlor seemed almost too neat. Obviously not used regularly. Nothing was out of order in the two upstairs bedrooms or the bath, so they returned to the kitchen, where the smell was strongest.
Victoria looked around. "Someone cleaned up whatever dog mess there was. We haven't checked the pantry."
The pantry door was partly hidden by the refrigerator. Howland lifted the latch and tugged the door open.
Victoria's first impression was the stench. The second was the buzzing of flies. Only then did she focus on the woman lying on the floor, a chubby woman, her eyes open, her face a purplish color, a scarf knotted so tightly around her throat that it sank into her flabby flesh. In her death throes, she had soiled herself.
Victoria backed out of the pantry. "Call Casey, will you, Howland? It's not Ellen."
DEATH AND HONESTY. Copyright © 2009 by Cynthia Riggs.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Terrible things are happening on Martha¿s Vineyard ¿ and 92-year-old amateur sleuth (and occasional police deputy) Victoria Trumbull is in the thick of it. First, she discovers the body of an Island woman in the home of one of the town¿s three property assessors. Then our heroine is asked for help by a local landowner who believes her property is being vastly over-assessed AND is being blackmailed by someone from the assessor¿s office. Stir in a neighborly dispute over a too-loud rooster, a not-too-reverent reverend, some fainting goats, three poisonings and two more bodies ¿ and you have a typical spring in West Tisbury. These Martha¿s Vineyard murders are classic cozies and Victoria Trumbull is, in my mind a very believable amateur sleuth. I have nonagenarian lady friends who live in small towns. Knowing how wise they are and how amazingly active they remain in mind and body, it¿s not difficult for me to believe a 92-year-old can get into ¿ and out of -- the situations Victoria does. Because these books are such gentle mysteries, I was surprised and disappointed when the author chose to drop an f-bomb into the story. That single profanity adds nothing to the narrative, nothing to our knowledge of the character who uttered it; it is utterly gratuitous. It seems especially curious that the author used coarse language when she must know that many avid cozy readers want nothing to do with that kind of language. I found Miss Riggs¿s f-bomb in sharp contrast to a recent book I read with a real tough-guy hero in a much grittier story. That author managed to convey what he needed to about the hero¿s and criminals¿ characters without using the f-word even once. Other than that one complaint, I found the plot nicely complex, the characters well drawn, the writing smooth. I¿m still a fan. By Diana. First published in Mystery News, August-September 2009 issue. Review based on publisher- or author-provided review copy.
Nonagenarian Martha Vineyard deputy police officer Victoria Trumbull finds the corpse of widow Lucy Pease in the home of assessor Ellen Meadows, who is away. Victoria also finds property cards containing tax information that should never have been removed from city hall.------------- She makes a few inquiries and soon begins to find circumstantial evidence that the three town assessors and their clerk are pulling a scam to skim money from property tax payments by placing a "personal surcharge" on many owners. She also learns that the clerk Oliver Ashpine is planning to extort money through a usury property tax from TV star Delilah Sampson, who owns island property and has a scandalous past long buried. Two more corpses are found as Victoria with the help of Emery Meyer continues her investigation.------------ The latest Martha's Vineyard police procedural mystery (see SHOOTING STAR) is a strong entry that combines the solid investigative wok of ninety-two year old Victoria with a wonderful look at the islanders. Victoria is at her best as she begins to unravel a tax fraud that has led to murder. Series fans will enjoy DEATH AND HONESTY as the feisty heroine follows the clues while escorting the awed audience around Martha's Vineyard.--------------- Harriet Klausner