Fatal Deduction

Fatal Deduction

by Gayle Roper


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Fatal Deduction by Gayle Roper

One across… Three down… The answer is in the puzzle. The danger is in not solving it before time’s up.

Libby Burton longs to be close to her twin sister, Tori, but their lives have taken them in different directions. Forced to share Aunt Stella’s old Philadelphia home in order to receive their inheritance, Libby hopes for a change, but it isn’t looking good so far.

First, Tori tries to steal the affection and allegiance of Libby’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Chloe. Then when a crossword puzzle with a hidden warning shows up on their doorstep, Tori refuses to take it seriously–in spite of the dead man who delivers it.

Libby finds comfort in neighbor Drew Canfield, but he hesitates to trust her after his disastrous marriage. As Libby struggles to act faithfully in the midst of these confusing relationships, she must also deal with a stolen diamond and a botched kidnapping. The answer to her problems lies in the riddles of the crosswords, if only she can solve the puzzle before it’s too late.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781601420138
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/20/2008
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Gayle Roper has been writing mystery and romantic suspense novels for more than thirty years and is the author of over forty-five books. She is a three-time Christy Award finalist, the winner of three Holt Medallions, and the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times magazine. Her novel Autumn Dreams won Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance. She and her husband, Chuck, divide their time between Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada.

Read an Excerpt

I opened the door at 5 a.m. on a July Thursday and stepped into murder.

Not that I recognized it as such right off.

And actually I tripped into murder, catching my foot on the body lying on the front stoop of my late great-aunt Stella’s Colonialera row house in Philadelphia. I went flying, all grace and beauty, landing on my hands and knees in the narrow lane. What was Aunt Stella thinking, making me live where drunks slept off their hangovers on innocent people’s doorsteps?

I pushed myself to my feet and checked the extent of the damage to my knees and palms in the light of the lamp beside the front door. There were slight brush burns on the pads of my palms, the kind that sting like crazy but don’t actually bleed much, and a tiny trickle of blood rolled slowly down my left leg.
I would have to go back inside and wash up, apply Bactine—did Aunt Stella have any? I didn’t think I’d brought any with me in spite of dragging along everything but the kitchen sink—and put a Band-Aid on my leg. Then I needed a pitcher of cold water to throw on the man to waken him and get him to move.

The last thing I wanted was for Chloe to come out and find him. She’d have a thirteen-year-old hissy fit. Then again, she might find him fascinating, local color and all. I could never predict my daughter anymore, and I found it very disconcerting.

I raised a foot to step over the drunk when I noticed three things. No smell of booze and body odor wafted off the man like you’d expect with a street person in summer. A neat white rectangle lay on the dark of his shirt with TORI, my twin’s name, written on it.

And the man did not appear to be breathing.

Chapter One

One day prior
I turned into the alley and slammed on the brakes. My van quivered to a stop with the front bumper nose to nose with a row of concrete stanchions. Princess tumbled off the backseat and hit the floor with an indignant doggy humph!

I stared in amazement at the narrow lane ahead of me. The alley had proved to be about two car lengths before it narrowed dramatically into the passage ahead, which was too constricted for a small car, let alone my van.

“Wow, Mom,” Chloe said with a definite lack of approval. “Those houses are little!”

I stared at the eight attached row homes lining each side of the cobbled lane. They were little, as in narrow. Olde as in authentic Colonial era. And they were probably dark and depressing inside, a far cry from our suburban New Jersey bungalow on its, by comparison, huge third-of-an-acre lot. And we had to live in the fifth house on the left for the next six months.

With Tori.

Aunt Stella, what were you thinking?

Chloe opened the passenger door and stepped into the alley. She stared at the four cement posts just beyond the nose of the van. They had obviously been placed to prevent anyone from trying to drive where no car would fit.

“How do we get our stuff to the house, Mom?”

“We carry it, sweetheart.” For a smart kid, the girl could ask the dumbest questions.

“I told you we should have gotten movers.” She slid open the side door and pulled out her duffel and backpack.

Yeah, yeah. And who would have paid the bill? Besides, we weren’t moving furniture, just ourselves. But I wasn’t having that discussion again.

“Shut your door, Chlo, before Princess escapes.”

With a put-upon sigh, she slammed the slider hard enough to make the van shudder. I turned off the ignition, pulled the keys free, and clutched them in my hand as I climbed out into the heavy, humid air of July first.

I slid the keys into my shorts pocket, feeling like I should glance around to see if anyone had seen where I’d stashed them. Foolish. No one was going to rush me, grab the keys, and make off with the van. It wasn’t a matter of crime not happening in broad daylight. It was more that no self-respecting car thief would be caught dead taking our dinged and scabrous van. The only positive thing that could be said for the vehicle was that it ran, most of the time. And it was big enough to lug all my flea market, estate sale, and auction acquisitions.

“I am so not a city person,” I muttered as I walked to the rear of the van and lifted the hatch. “The size alone scares me.”

“I’m not scared. I think coming to Philadelphia is cool.”

“Yeah, cool.” I stared at my daughter, the joy of my life. Thirteen was so scary. And so were the bad guys lurking around every city corner, ready to prey on the girl’s innocence.

Maybe if I hadn’t dealt with so many bad guys myself, I wouldn’t worry as much. But I had, way more than my share, and I didn’t want Chloe to face the same horrors.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” The Scripture eased my tension somewhat as I reached for Princess, who sat on the cooler and stared at me while doing her miniature poodle version of Snoopy’s vulture. Poor Princess. It’s hard to look threatening or reproachful when your topknot has a pink bow in it, courtesy of Chloe.

I snapped on the dog’s lead and determined not to think about all the daunting possibilities lying in wait for Chloe and me. No sense in looking for trouble before it came. And it would come. I knew it as certainly as I knew Princess’s shrill bark would alienate all the neighbors. If Tori didn’t accomplish that feat first.

“Come on, baby.” I set Princess on the ground and eyed the cluster of row homes set so close together that one’s right wall was the next’s left wall. I desperately missed my yard and my flower garden, and I’d only left home an hour ago.

Growing up, I’d always compared our suburban homes on their little plots with Philadelphia’s row houses and felt blessed to have a yard and space between houses. On this lane I didn’t even have a driveway. Or fresh air. Would six months smelling the city’s fumes shorten our lives appreciably?

Not that I had a choice. Aunt Stella had made sure of that. She wasn’t really my aunt but my great-aunt, Pop Keating’s sister. She was the one who moved away and sought her fortune and became head buyer for Wanamaker’s, retiring just before the giant department store closed its doors. She was also the only one in the family who actually had an estate to leave, but sadly no one to leave it to, as she’d never married. So she’d reached into the bottom of the familial barrel and picked Tori and me.

It was sad, really. We saw her about once a year, and those visits were always laden with tension because Mom and Nan resented her so much. Aunt Stella had money, and they struggled to make ends meet. She could come and go as she pleased, taking exotic vacations in fascinating locales around the world, while they were tied down in Haydn. She had an ordered and genteel life in a lovely, historic house while they lived in a Depression-era home that was slowly falling apart around them.

The resentment had been simmering for a long time. Both Dad and Pop treated Aunt Stella like the Queen of the World whenever she showed up, which only fueled Mom’s and Nan’s antipathy. She was Pop’s only living relative, and as his older sister, she had raised him after their parents died, their father in 1945 in the South Pacific and their mother eight years later of pneumonia when Stella was eighteen and Pop fifteen. Since Mom and Nan were always and already mad at the men in the family for what they considered Dad and Pop’s cheerful and unapologetic disregard, adding Aunt Stella to their hate list didn’t take any effort at all.

I shook off the malaise that thoughts of family frequently brought and turned my attention to Chloe, who I was determined wouldn’t suffer as I had.

With a sigh at the imposition of carrying her own luggage, she started down the narrow lane, dragging her duffel. Princess pulled on her lead, choking herself in her desire to follow Chloe. I made sure the van was locked, then grabbed the suitcases I’d tugged out, pulled up their handles, and followed, trying not to step on Princess, who zigzagged in front of me like a drunk driver on New Year’s Eve.

I studied the block of Olde Philadelphia as I walked toward Aunt Stella’s house, the bags bumping and complaining their way over the uneven surface. I should be happy to be living here, being in the antiques and collectibles business as I was, but I guess no one likes having her life rearranged without her permission. At least I didn’t. I’m not very adaptable.

This little block of Colonial-era homes was removed from the tourist area, a mere five blocks from Broad Street—or the Avenue of the Arts, as they were calling this section of it now. How had it survived when so many of the old places were gone? And how had Aunt Stella ended up living in what had to be a very expensive home? Being head buyer undoubtedly paid a nice wage, and she’d had only herself to support, but still…

All the brick-fronted homes were impeccably kept, their brass door handles, knockers, lamps, and locks shining in the sun, the paint on the doors and matching shutters gleaming, the window boxes full and flourishing. I stopped at the fifth unit, the one with the glossy black door and shutters, the window boxes stuffed with deep red geraniums, white petunias, and brilliant blue lobelia, with bright green and crimson sweet potato vines trailing to the ground.

Aunt Stella’s home. Now Chloe’s and my home for six months. And Tori’s.

Taking a deep breath, I inserted the key in the front door. “Are you Libby or Tori?”

Jumping slightly, I turned to find a woman with beautiful white hair and a warm smile standing in the lane in front of the house directly across from ours. Her midnight blue window box, visible over her shoulder, was crammed with bright pink geraniums, miniature snapdragons in light pink and white, and light blue lobelia. English ivy trailed over the edges.

“I’m Libby Keating.” I held out my hand. “And this is Chloe.”

“I’m Tinksie Mowery.” She looked at Chloe curiously. “I didn’t realize a child was coming. Stella never mentioned her.”

I bit back a smile at the expression on Chloe’s face at being called a child. As far as Chloe was concerned, the only thing keeping her from leaving home to manage on her own was lack of a driver’s license. And money. At least Aunt Stella hadn’t made the mistake of providing that.

“Mrs. Mowery,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Oh no, dear. Tinksie.”

Oh no, dear was right. How could I ever call a woman older than my grandmotherTinksie?

“I know, dear. Terrible name for an old lady, isn’t it? Why don’t people think about the fact that you’re not always going to be a three-year-old when they give you nicknames?”

“A very good question,” I agreed.

“My husband’s name is James.” Tinksie twinkled at the mention of his name. “Everyone calls him that. Not Jim or Jimmy or, heaven forbid, Jamie. James. We both loved Stella.” Tinksie blinked rapidly, and I realized that just mentioning Aunt Stella had made her teary.

“I’m happy to meet one of Aunt Stella’s friends.” I smiled warmly.

Tinksie nodded. “She was my dearest friend. We lived across from each other for, oh my, I don’t know how many years. But James will know.” She pulled a tissue from the outside pocket of the large bag hanging over her shoulder and brushed it across the end of her nose. “He knows everything.”

“Are there any kids in this block?” Chloe asked, either missing or ignoring the tears for more pressing matters.

“Just one, dear. For a few months. Drew Canfield’s girl.”

“How old is she?”

“I don’t know exactly, but she might be about your age.” Tinksie tucked her tissue back in her bag’s pocket. “James will know.”

James was going to be a very interesting person to meet.

“Well, I must go.” Tinksie adjusted the pearls at her neck, the huge rock on her ring finger flashing in the sun. “Today is my day at the Kimmel Center. But welcome to the neighborhood.” With a cheery wave she walked past the van and turned left.

“Well, she was nice.” I wondered what Tinksie did at the Kimmel Center, the city’s replacement for the old Academy of Music.

“A chi-uld.” Chloe’s voice dripped with disgust.

I bit back a smile. Tinksie would have to go a long way to recover from that inadvertent insult.

“Is she gone?” The whisper emanated from the minuscule crack in our now-open front door. “She’s so cheery she drives me nuts.”

“Tori?” I peered into the shadowed interior.

“Yep, it’s me!” The door flew open, and I blinked at the vision before me. Tori’s blond hair was pulled into a curly topknot with tendrils falling coquettishly against her nape and over her ears. Her eyes were a vivid blue, the color accented by artfully applied shadow, mascara, and liner. She wore a tight pink camisole with a built-in bra—at least I hoped there was a built-in bra—and a short denim skirt. Her long tanned legs were bare, as were her feet. She looked beautiful. As always.

I thought of my own blond hair scraped back in a haphazard ponytail, any strands breaking free not tendrils but springs of frizz.

My cheap navy T-shirt had side seams so skewed that they ended up in the centers of my stomach and back, and my khaki shorts were more wrinkled than a dozen Tinksies.

I could feel myself begin to shrink. Thirty seconds with Tori and I was back in Wonderland. I didn’t need the contents of Alice’s little bottle with the Drink Me label to dwindle to nothing. I just needed my sister, my twin, my other half. My nemesis.

“Aunt Tori!” Chloe threw herself at Tori as I stepped inside.

“Hey, kiddo!” Tori hugged her, then held her away, looking amazed. “Good grief ! You’re as tall as I am.”

She sighed. “Your mother simply has to bring you to visit me more often. I can’t take shocks like finding my niece a grown woman, you know.”

Chloe smiled happily. “That’s what I keep telling Mom.”

Which? That I need to take you to visit more often or that you’re a grown woman? Neither option made me happy.

“And you, little lady.” Tori bent to pet Princess, who was jumping against her shins, barking for attention. She scooped the little dog in her arms, unhooked her lead, and planted a kiss on her nose. Princess returned the favor with an enthusiastic lick and settled against Tori.

Traitor. I retracted the leash and put it and my purse on a living room chair, carefully tucking the door key in the purse’s inner pocket. Tori, Chloe, and Princess disappeared into the house, talking and laughing.

“Chloe, there’s more to carry in!”

But Chloe was struck with selective deafness, an affliction common to teens, its cure unknown to modern science.

I looked at Chloe’s duffel, abandoned on the stoop beside the suitcases, and sighed as I dragged the luggage inside. It was going to be a long six months.

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Fatal Deduction 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Deborah_K More than 1 year ago
Stories about sisters never seem to grow old especially with twins sisters who the polar opposite with each other. This book features that storyline but with an added twist of a corpse! It's not all happy times for twins Libby and Tori as they are forced to live in the same house in order to receive their inheritance. The two are as different as night and day and the distance throughout the years has made the gap between them almost uncrossable. I felt sorry for Libby throughout the entire book and the way her entire family treated her. I honestly wanted to smack her mother, grandmother and even her sister at times for being so mean to her. The way she took things in stride really amazed me. I was glad that her own daughter did not feel the same way as the rest of her family. I was a bit worried at first that Libby and Drew's relationship would go in the way of the stereotypical Christian story that involves a divorce but was gladly mistaken. In fact Drew's whole relationship with his ex wife was really fairly refreshing. I'm glad that she was portrayed the way she was and that the whole situation was even discussed. Being bi-polar is something that is not mentioned very much in Christian fiction so how it was presented in this book was realistic and a good way for readers to be aware and knowledgeable of the subject. There were two qualms I had with the book. The first was the use of the crossword puzzles themselves. The full unanswered puzzles are displayed in the book as how Libby might have seen them. Maybe I'm just weird or lazy, but I wasn't sure if I was supposed to do the puzzle myself to figure out the clues. As it was, I skipped over them and just kept reading to see if anyone else figured them out. I'm not sure really what the purpose was of having them there. It's a unique concept but I was confused if it was supposed to be more interactive for the reader or just artistic design. The other qualm I had was Tori's character. This is mainly due to the fact that I felt her story is never fully resolved or really developed. The ending with her left me quite unsatisfied and unless there's another book involving her, I felt her character to be incomplete. Other than this, I enjoyed the story. It has a good mystery and for fans of crossword puzzles, it is a unique way to bring about the clues. I've always been a fan of Gayle's other books so it was a delight to see her return to the mystery genre. Hopefully there will be more of these kinds of books in the future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In hopes of healing a broken family bond, Great Aunt Stella left her ¿estate¿ to twin sisters, Tori and Libby. The condition was they would live in the house together for six months. The estate was a small Colonial Row house in Philadelphia. It did not take but moments in Tori¿s presence for Libby to feel drab. Libby¿s thirteen-year-old daughter, Chloe, was overjoyed to see her aunt. Libby was trying to make the best of the circumstances when the unthinkable happened she found a dead man at the front door. A crossword puzzle with Tori¿s name on it was on top of the body. It was evident Tori was hiding something. Libby did not know who to trust. She knew she could not trust Tori she was not sure about Drew. The only one she could depend on was God. She learned she had to find forgiveness in her heart. ¿After all the grace God had shed on me, the least I could do was share some of it¿¿ Fatal Deduction by Gayle Roper is a delightful, suspenseful, romantic, spiritual story. Gayle Roper demonstrates her strong faith in this novel. She has included a reader¿s guide at the back of the book. Libby is a wonderful character. Roper skillfully shows her flaws as well as her growth as a Christian. I found Tori to be a heart-rending person. She was searching for unconditional love and had no idea where to find it. The supporting characters each had distinctive voices and added much to the plot. This is my first Gayle Roper story. It will not be my last. Fans of Christian suspense will not want to miss Fatal Deduction.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Philadelphia great aunt Stella left her estate with specific instructions if her nieces, twin sisters, Libby (accompanied by her teenage daughter Chloe) and Tori Burton are to inherit. To obtain her house, the siblings must both reside there for six months. If either leaves early neither inherits. --- They move in, but Libby is stunned when she trips over a corpse on the front porch and finds valuables stolen. With the dead body is a crossword puzzle. Libby believes she must solve the puzzle to solve the murder and insure neither she, Tori or Chloe become the next victims. She would like to depend on the neighbor Drew Canfield whom she is attracted to, but he does not trust women his age and besides Jenna comes first. --- This is an entertaining inspirational amateur sleuth that uses crossword puzzles to add to the overall fun. The story line is fast-paced from the moment that Libby and Chloe arrive at the Colonial Era house and never slows down until the final confrontation. In between there is plenty of family disputes especially between the twins. Fans will enjoy Gayle Roper¿s strong whodunit as real life issues surface that even with the belief that God is in your corner remain difficult to deal with. --- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
akmom1999 More than 1 year ago
This book was cleverly written, with a crossword puzzle concept for the mystery thread. I felt like some of the characters were a little underdeveloped, but overall, it was entertaining.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As the story opens, we find twin sisters Libby and Tori Burton moving into their Aunt Stella¿s old Philadelphia home. Aunt Stella has required the estranged twins to live together for six months in order to inherit the home and the aunt¿s sizeable estate. Not a problem for most twins who are often in sync with one another, but Tori and Libby have very little in common and frequently find themselves in turmoil, often as a result of Libby's faith and Tori's lack there of. Tori is right at home in the big city but Libby along with her daughter Chloe are more comfortable in the suburbs. Imagine Libby¿s fright when on the first morning in the house, she stumbles across a dead body on their doorstep. A dead body holding a crossword puzzle that implicates her twin in the murder. Though not a fan of her sister or her lifestyle, Libby pockets the clue to protect Tori from a murder accusation. And keeps protecting her as more puzzles arrive in interesting ways. Drew Canfield¿neighbor, Ben Franklin scholar, father to teenager daughter Jenna and the stories love interest¿partners with Libby and the pair works through serious life issues all the while moving forward on solving the interesting crossword puzzle mystery. Not only does a special relationship develop between Drew and Libby but Jenna and Chloe become fast friends, too. Though classified as a suspense book and there is a suspense plot as the main story, I found Fatal Deduction to focus more on interpersonal relationships artfully depicted by Roper. Roper attacks issues like divorce, parenting, family betrayal and underhanded attempts to buy affection of an impressionable teen. A story like this one, filled with dysfunctional families and the problems caused by their behavior, could be overpowered by the issues, but Fatal Deduction doesn¿t bog down in heavy character studies. The story moves along at a fast pace and keeps your interest until the very end, keeping you rooting for the characters as they work through their struggles. This is a well-crafted story that you won¿t want to miss.