Baseball may be America's official favorite pastime, but for Martha Rose and her friends, quilting is far more fun. . .and a lot less dangerous.
A diamond brocade pattern is more quilter Martha Rose's style than a baseball diamondespecially when it comes to the new eyesore of a stadium ruining her lovely San Fernando Valley neighborhood. Martha doesn't know a bunt from a bundt cake, but when she stumbles upon the battered body of baseball coach Dax Martin, she doesn't need a scorecard to know it's foul play. LAPD homicide detective Arlo Beavers is convinced one of her neighbors is responsible. But Martha and her fellow quilters Lucy and Birdie soon discover a whole field of suspects who might have wanted to take the coach out of the game permanently. . .
"What's knot to love? Mary Marks has crafted another winner stitched together with humor and heartMartha Rose is one gutsy lady." Rochelle Staab, author of the Mind for Murder mysteries
About the Author
Mary Marks is the author of the award-winning Quilting Mysteries featuring Martha Rose, a zaftig, Jewish divorcee of a certain age living in the San Fernando Valley. The first book in the series was published in 2014 when Marks was 70, proving that anything can happen with persistence and a little bit of luck. The author lives in Camarillo, California with her dog Ginger and her orange cat Louie.
Read an Excerpt
Knot In My Backyard
By Mary Marks
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Mary Marks
All rights reserved.
Yesterday I joined Weight Watchers for the eighth time. The lecturer, Charlissa, told me to get rid of all the bad food in my house and take a walk every day. So I did what she said, confident this time I'd work the program successfully.
After a breakfast of egg whites scrambled in one teaspoon of olive oil, I bent over to put on my new white athletic shoes. The top of my size-sixteen Liz Claiborne stretch denim jeans dug into my waistline. No doubt about it. At the age of fifty-five, I, Martha Rose, was outgrowing the largest clothes in my closet. I didn't think I could feel any worse today, but I was dead wrong.
I lived with my orange cat, Bumper, in a friendly residential area of the San Fernando Valley. Directly behind my house stood a fenced-off baseball field. A ritzy private school, whose nearby campus ran out of room, had muscled their way in and built a large new stadium on park land right behind our quiet street.
On the far side of the field, less than two hundred yards away, the Los Angeles River flowed east through the San Fernando Valley, crossing Glendale to Downtown LA, and out to sea at Long Beach. I planned to walk around the perimeter of the field to the bank of the river and back again. What a mistake.
In the summertime, the air can sizzle by noon. At eight this morning in late August, the temperature had already reached seventy-nine degrees. Gravel crunched under the rubber soles of my new shoes as I ambled along a dry path just outside the tall chain-link fence around the baseball field and onto the riverbank. No bushes were allowed to grow on the near side, the private-school side of the river. Only small weeds and grasses parched in the heat. Thick coyote brush, deer weed, and cottonwood trees topped the far side of the riverbank.
Concrete covered the bottom of the river, and the slopes were sprayed with stucco, courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers. In the wintertime, rainwater from the mountains transformed the LA River into a raging, swift-water death trap. Someone managed to drown in it every year. After the rainy season ended, the river dried to just a trickle. This day in late August, only a thin thread of brown water inched downstream.
Something scuttled through the dense brush on the far side of the river. The fluffy brindled tail of a coyote appeared just before he disappeared into the landscape. I also made out bits of color hidden beneath the larger bushes, flashes of metal and plastic. I could barely identify a couple of sleeping bags and what looked like a cooking pot. Those bushes sheltered the homeless almost year round. I just couldn't detect anyone there at the moment. The homeless knew how to become invisible.
As I walked on, I saw a large heap of clothing come into view about ten yards ahead. At first, I thought some people had used this isolated spot to dump their trash. When I walked closer, I made out the body of a man lying tangled inside the dark jeans and maroon-and-gold baseball jersey. The dark red ground underneath his battered head crawled with ants and flies. His jaw hung open at an unnatural angle, and I didn't need to check his pulse to know he didn't have one.
The shaking started somewhere in my knees, and my stomach pushed up toward my throat. This was the second time in four months I'd discovered a dead body. My head started to float away—déjà vu all over again.
The first time I'd been with my quilting friends, Lucy Mondello and Birdie Watson, when we discovered the murdered body of another quilter. I was the one who eventually figured out the identity of the killer. The guy who worked the case was Arlo Beavers, a tall, hunky LAPD homicide detective, with a white mustache.
Beavers and I have been dating since then, which is kind of surprising since we started off on the wrong foot. He kept warning me to stop poking around the investigation. In the end, he was right. Because I refused to stop searching for answers on my own, I was thrown in jail and almost killed. After that, I promised myself and my friends I'd just quilt like a normal person and leave the policing to the pros.
And now, I had to tell him I just stumbled on what was obviously another murder. How would he react? Still staring at the dead man, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket with badly shaking hands. Thank goodness Beavers was on speed dial.
"Arlo, it's me. I just found a dead body."
He laughed. There was a long silence. "You're kidding, right?"
I looked over at the body again. "I'm on the far side of the baseball field behind my house. He's lying on the banks of the wash. There's so much blood. I feel sick."
Then I moaned as I felt my stomach rising.
Beavers shouted through the phone, "Martha? Martha!"
I doubled over and threw up all over my new white Skechers.
I just realized I knew the dead man.CHAPTER 2
I shuffled backward, dust forming a crust on my soiled shoes, until I hit the chain-link fence separating the well-manicured green outfield from the semi-wilderness of the watershed. I collapsed against the fence and slid down to the ground, waiting for the police to show up. So much for my walking career!
Moments later, sirens sounded. A young patrolman squatted next to me and his nose twitched when he glanced at my soiled shoes. "You all right, ma'am?"
"My pants are too tight."
He frowned with concern, looked over his shoulder, and waved a paramedic toward me. "She's in shock."
Beavers got there just as the guy removed the blood pressure cuff from my arm.
"Really, I'm fine!" I struggled to get up. The snap on my waistband popped open. Then two strong men lifted me by my arms to a standing position.
In contrast to my short plumpness, Beavers stood a lean six feet tall. His Native American eyes searched mine for reassurance I was all right. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and gently led me toward my house. "I'm going to walk you home, Martha. What were you doing back here?"
I pushed my glasses back on my nose. "Just taking a little stroll." I wasn't going to admit I needed to lose weight, just in case he hadn't yet noticed the extra pounds. "I came across the body and called you. Then I kind of got sick when I realized I knew the guy."
Beavers stopped walking and stared at me. "Good God, Martha. Not again."
I just looked down and continued to walk. "His name is Dax Martin. He's the head baseball coach for the Joshua Beaumont School. This is their baseball field."
"How do you know a baseball coach?" Beavers knew my idea of extreme sports was a one-hour stroll through a quilt show.
"We've had run-ins with him before."
"Me and my neighbors. Long story. "
When we got to my front door, I had to fish the keys out of my pocket with my fingertips. There wasn't room for my whole hand. Once inside, I turned on the air-conditioning, put my dirty shoes in the laundry room, and poured two glasses of water. We sat in my newly renovated kitchen, with its apricot-colored marble countertops and largely unused stainless-steel appliances. He leaned forward. "So, what exactly do you know about this guy?"
I closed my eyes. A migraine began to pound on the right side of my head. "He's an arrogant jock who works for a fancy private school. Their new school year started last week. During baseball season, they invade our community with lights, noise, and traffic. When they're done, they leave tons of trash on our streets. We complained to him many times, but he just ignored us."
He squinted at me. "Did you ever try going over his head? Contacting whoever runs the school?"
"Yeah. Several times. But what you saw back there isn't just a high-school baseball field. It's a million-dollar stadium. Those parents are rich and powerful. They expect the full Monty when they watch their boys play baseball. Do you think they care how their monstrosity impacts us?"
My Encino community was a well-defined and closely knit one. When our midcentury homes were built, the surrounding parks and river ensured an almost rural ambiance. Horseback riders from nearby farms used to amble where the private baseball stadium now stood.
"The new stadium with the two-story building and the two-story scoreboard has destroyed our view of the neighboring parks and mountains. Their loudspeakers prevent us from enjoying our own backyards. Our properties have been devalued by at least thirty percent because of them."
"Dax Martin was responsible for all of this?"
"Well, he certainly liked to take credit. He served as the public face of the Beaumont School during construction. Once I saw him give a television interview and I wanted to kill him myself."
"Can you think of anyone who could have done this?"
"You mean like everyone living in all of the four hundred houses here?" The muscles in my neck tightened. I got up from the sofa. "I'm going to have to take something for this headache."
"I've got to get back to the crime scene. We'll talk later." He stood and kissed me on the forehead.
I closed the front door behind him and headed for the medicine cabinet. I actually did know someone who might have a special reason to kill Dax Martin, but I didn't want to tell Beavers just yet. I didn't want to bring my friend more tsuris than he already had.CHAPTER 3
After about twenty minutes, the meds kicked in and my headache receded. I picked up the phone and called my best friend, Lucy.
"I found someone murdered in the wash behind my house this morning."
"Oh, for heaven's sake! This can't be happening again. What in the world were you doing in the wash?"
"Walking. I was beside it, not in it. Charlissa from Weight Watchers told me to walk every day. "
"Since when are you going to Weight Watchers?"
"Since yesterday." Even though Lucy gave birth to five sons, she looked like a beanpole. I should be so lucky.
"The baseball coach at the Joshua Beaumont School. Dax Martin. Looked to me like he was bludgeoned to death. I called Arlo, and he brought me home."
"Are you okay? Do you need me to come over?"
"Well, I do have a little dilemma. Since we've had such trouble with that school, Arlo asked me if I knew of anyone in the neighborhood who might have wanted the man dead."
"You've told me over the years about the conflicts with the Beaumont School. I'm guessing almost nobody in your neighborhood will be sad the coach is gone."
"Actually, I thought of someone who's bound to become a suspect, but I didn't want to tell Arlo."
I shifted the phone to my other ear. "Ed Pappas. You know him from my Hanukkah parties."
After my back surgery a few years ago, my young neighbor Ed Pappas watered my yard and took care of my trash barrels. I invited him to my Hanukkah party that year, where he met all my family and friends. From then on, he became like a son. He still took out my trash barrels every week and did odd repair jobs when I needed them done.
"Of course. He's always seemed like a nice young man. Doesn't he have motorcycles parked in his driveway sometimes? If he hangs around with a biker crowd, he might have a darker side."
"Not all bikers are outlaws. A lot of regular working guys belong to biker clubs. They're not gang members. They just ride for recreation. And, anyway, he can't have a dark side. Ed does yoga."
"Well, why would he be a suspect, then?"
"Ed's place is directly across from the Beaumont School loudspeakers. The noise they blast goes right into his house. He stormed over there one day and got into a fistfight with Dax Martin. Ed threatened to kill him if he didn't turn the volume down. The police were called and arrested Ed for assault. Since then, the noise has been even louder. Ed's life is hell on the days Beaumont uses the field."
"You're right. This doesn't look good for Ed. What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to talk to him before I say anything to Arlo, and I need to talk to him soon. It's just a matter of time before the police figure out the connection."
"Now listen, girlfriend. I think you should back away from this. You're going to upset Arlo. Just let him do his job."
"Look, poor Ed's in enough trouble for hitting Martin. I couldn't live with myself if I sat by and did nothing while he became a suspect in Martin's murder."
"How do you know he'll be home? Doesn't he work?"
"He's a computer guy. Works from home."
"Then wait for me and I'll go with you."
Fifteen minutes later, Lucy arrived; she was wearing rose-colored capris and a pink blouse. My friend always dressed with a theme. Without exception, including today, everything always matched perfectly. A pink-sapphire-and-diamond bracelet her husband recently gave her hung from her wrist.
We wasted no time and started down the street toward Ed's house. Lucy walked like a sixty-year-old runway model going to war. Her very short, bright orange hair shone in the sunlight atop her five-foot-eleven-inch frame. I wasn't so graceful. I really worked my shorter legs to keep up with her, while my salt-and-pepper curls bounced around my face.
"Martha! Wait up!" shouted a female voice behind me.
Sonia Spiegelman rushed across the street toward Lucy and me. The last thing I wanted was a conversation with Sonia, the neighborhood yenta. If she knew what we were up to, our entire Encino neighborhood would also know in thirty seconds.
Sonia panted slightly as she caught up to us. A dozen delicate Indian bangle bracelets tinkled on her arm, a remnant of her flower child days with Mick Jagger. "Did you hear what happened? They found a murdered body behind the baseball fields. I saw your cop boyfriend's car in front of your house earlier, so I figured he must have told you. What did he say?"
"Hello, Sonia. This is my friend Lucy."
"Oh, sorry." Sonia glanced at Lucy. She held out her hand and smiled. "Nice to meet you."
Then she turned to me again, with eyebrows raised. "So, do you know what happened? Who died?" Sonia probed without shame and was more than willing to share what she knew. And she usually knew a lot.
I glanced at Lucy, who briefly rolled her eyes.
"Um, the police aren't sure. Sorry, but I don't know more." I shrugged.
"So, are you guys going for a walk, or what?"
She seemed to be waiting for an invitation to join us, but I wasn't going to give her one. Sonia was harmless but annoying.
After a rather long minute of disappointed silence, Sonia shrugged. "Well, I guess I'll be going."
Lucy smiled. "Bye, Sonia. Nice to meet you."
We turned away and walked slowly down the street, waiting for Sonia to disappear inside her house. As soon as she walked out of sight, we doubled back to Ed's front door. I knocked, but nobody answered. We were about to turn away, when I heard someone moving inside.
The door opened a crack and Ed gave me a warm grin. Handsome, early thirties, light brown hair, and stubble on his jaw, he looked more like a movie star than an outlaw biker with a dark side. He wore his summer uniform of khaki shorts, flip-flops, and a blue striped tank top showing off a tattoo of the Greek flag on his left shoulder.
"Hey, Martha, 'sup?"
"Hi, Ed. My friend Lucy and I were taking a walk and I decided to see if you were home. There's something you really need to know."
"Is this about all the police activity out back by the river?"
"Yes. Can we come in?"
Ed opened the door wider and moved aside. We stepped into a dark, north-facing living room with sliding glass doors opening to the backyard. Beyond the back fence, several patrol cars were parked on the street.
In the ball field directly behind the squad cars stood a two-story structure the size of a small apartment building made of corrugated metal painted maroon and gold, completely blocking Ed's view of the San Gabriel Mountains beyond.
Ed stared bitterly at the eyesore. "That's what I have to look at every minute of every day."
When the Joshua Beaumont School began renovating the existing Little League field two years ago, no one in the neighborhood suspected that they were actually planning to build a million-dollar baseball stadium. Nor did we ever suspect they could get away with erecting an ugly two-story building obliterating the view of several homes on our street. By the time the neighbors found out, the project was a fait accompli. The houses nearest the field suffered the most, especially Ed's.
Excerpted from Knot In My Backyard by Mary Marks. Copyright © 2014 Mary Marks. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 STARS This is book two in A Quilting Mystery. The issues in this cozy mystery dealing with the homeless was sad but also shows a way too that anyone can do something and if you get a group together can help. She also shows us how greed and corruption can do a lot of damage. I did not put the book down till I finished and look forward to the next book. It is very relatable to me. I really like Martha and her friends. I could not decide who I wanted Martha to choose. Arlo really let her down in so many ways. Crusher I liked but she really does not know a lot about him. Martha has been dating Arlo for four months since she met him. Martha loves quilting, is feisty, curious and loyal. She also has issues of trusting men. I share some of the same health issues and close to the same age but I don't try to solve murders or find dead bodies. Martha finds a dead body while out for a walk. She calls her boyfriend LAPD homicide detective Arlo Beavers. She knows that the easy suspect is her neighbor but she believes he is innocent and she wants to help him. She can get people to talk to her because of she is no threat. I like that we see more than just Martha finding suspects and trying to help her neighbor. We see a lot of everyday life around Martha and feel with her about the trouble she is facing. The setting in this book is San Fernando Valley, CA. It is a regular neighborhood with a rich private school who rushed into hurry and build a big ball park in the neighborhood. I felt like I was their with them. I was given this ebook to read and in return I agreed to give honest review of Knot In My Backyard and be part of its book tour.
Another really good mystery. I love that there are bits about quilting throughout the author’s stories, although not as much in this one. Martha Rose has gotten herself involved in another murder investigation, this time because her neighbor, Ed, has been falsely accused. It’s just full of surprises and you won’t believe who turns out to be the killer! I can’t wait to read the next book.
A who dunit with humor.
Keeps you guessing
Quirky characters more ordinary, and plot less interesting than the first effort.
Dollycas’s Thoughts I liked Martha Rose the minute I met her in Forget Me Knot, the first book in this series. I can relate because I am 50ish, overweight, love food, hate to cook and a horrible failure when it comes to dieting. This time she gets herself in trouble just by taking a walk. She knows she needs to be more active but finding a dead body just a few minutes from her house may make her reconsider the whole exercise thing. The police of course determine that Martha’s neighbor is the killer because he had an argument with the victim over a monstrosity of a baseball diamond that was built behind their houses. None of the neighbors is happy about all the extra traffic or the noise but Martha knows none of them would commit murder because of it. With a little help from her friends Lucy and Birdie they come up with enough suspects to fill a baseball roster. Martha Rose is on a mission and detective Beavers is not going to stop her from finding who really hit Dax Martin out of the park – permanently! I started reading this book and couldn’t put it down. Mary Marks has hit a home run with this one. She pitched us a slew of suspects and we followed the clues together striking out one of them at a time until we are totally surprised by who is left on deck. Can you tell I like baseball too? :) The book was so much fun to read. Martha, Lucy and Birdie have their weekly quilting sessions where they talk about everything from quilt squares to politics to the homeless population in their neighborhood. They come up with a fantastic plan to not only help people but a way to hopefully flush out the killer and they get all kinds of attention. Martha even makes a new friend that sort of turns her life upside down in a really good way. Fabulous characters, excellent plot and subplots, some romance, the perfect amount of humor and a setting that is so easy to picture all add up to a grand slam of a mystery. I absolutely loved it!