Bingo, bridge-and a dead body in the church sanctuary?
Life in this small Southern town just got ugly . . . and exciting!
No one in Bradley, North Carolina, is exactly crying into their sweet tea over the murder of Parke Stockard. Certainly not retired schoolteacher Myrtle Clover. Upon discovering the corpse, Myrtle is struck-not with grief, but a brilliant idea! Solving the crime would prove to everyone (especially her son Red, the police chief) that this eighty-something-year-old is not ready to be put out to pasture just yet.
The victim, a pretty but pushy town developer, had deep pockets and few friends. Myrtle can't throw one of her gaudy garden gnomes without hitting a potential suspect. Even when another murder takes place, proud Myrtle forges on, armed only with a heavy cane, a venomous tongue, and a widower sidekick.
About the Author
Elizabeth Spann Craig has spoken at the Cape Fear Crime Festival on the topics of Amateur Sleuths and Humorous Mysteries, and she appears with the Carolina Conspiracy mystery writing group in panels and conferences.She enjoys blogging about mystery writing and life. Like her characters, her roots are in a small, Southern town. The author grew up in Anderson, S.C., and resides in Matthews, N.C.
Read an Excerpt
Pretty Is as Pretty DiesA Myrtle Clover Mystery
By Elizabeth Spann Craig
Midnight InkCopyright © 2009 Elizabeth Spann Craig
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSEVERAL DAYS EARLIER
It was a warm, but not yet muggy, seven a.m. on what would become a blistering summer day. Sensible, elderly citizens of Bradley, North Carolina, were contentedly puttering about before the heat took a turn into truly oppressive territory. They plucked tomatoes off their backyard vines for lunch, refilled feeders for cardinals and bluebirds, wrestled with the complexities of the daily crossword, or leisurely munched bowls of Grape Nuts under humming screened-porch fans. Myrtle Clover could not be included among this placid part of the populace. An early-morning phone call had fired her up into a froth. That blasted Parke Stockard.
An unwelcome glimpse of herself in a shiny, copper kitchen pot revealed an Einstein-like image scowling back at her. She patted down her wispy poof of hair into a semblance of order and squinted at the rooster clock hanging on her kitchen wall. No, it wasn't too early to call Elaine. Myrtle's toddler grandson functioned admirably as Elaine's alarm clock. What did it matter that he preferred watching the Teletubbies at five-thirty a.m.? In his baby head, everyone should be eager to watch Laa-Laa wrangle her big, yellow ball from Dipsy's clutches.
Elaine answered the phone with a weary hello. The early mornings must be hitting her pretty hard. Her voice was gravelly, like she'd swallowed half of Jack's sandbox.
"Parke Stockard is bad news, Elaine. Bad news. The whole town is riled up about her. And let me tell you what she's done to me."
Elaine was, really, trying to listen to her mother-in-law. Nine years younger than Myrtle's forty-five-year-old son, Red, Elaine thought of Myrtle more as a surrogate grandmother. This meant Myrtle didn't get on Elaine's nerves as much as she did on Red's.
Ordinarily, multi-tasking was Elaine's forte, but with the cordless phone crunched between her ear and her shoulder as she cleaned up Cheerios her son had cheerfully tossed onto the linoleum, she couldn't fully focus on the phone call. "Um. Really?" Elaine stretched to reach the crumbs on the other side of the chair and felt much older than thirty-six.
Myrtle paused for effect. This effect would have been more imposing if Elaine had been able to see Myrtle draw her octogenarian but sturdy frame to its full six feet. "She just finagled more space for her Bradley Bugle column."
Elaine pulled the pepper shaker out of Jack's chubby two-year-old fist, prompting a howl of protest. She winced at the noise. "Why is that a problem for you?"
"Because now my helpful hints column is being cut by half! Sloan Jones, the editor, called me this morning first thing to let me know. That coward! Probably hoped I'd still be snoozing in bed and he'd get my answering machine. This town needs my helpful hints a lot more than that crud Parke Stockard spews on paper. That pointless Posing Prettily with Parke column. Wretched woman." She paused as Jack's howling reached her ears. "Are you besieged? Is Jack making that racket? What are you doing to my darling grandson?"
Elaine jogged toward the back of the house, the darling grandson in hot pursuit. Taking refuge in the master bedroom, she yanked the door shut, locking it quickly, and brushed her black bob out of her eyes with a yellow latex-gloved hand. Elaine hoped Jack, now flinging his small body angrily against the door, would soon discover that the Teletubbies perma-played on the den TV. Looking down, she discovered she still clutched the pepper shaker. She set it down on a dresser and plucked off the latex gloves. "Nothing. He ... it's time for his nap as soon as I get off the phone with you. He got up at four-thirty for some reason today and so it's already naptime." She cut off her own hysterical laugh. Elaine was a morning person, but in no way interpreted four-thirty as qualifying as morning.
"Uh ..." Elaine rounded up her scattered thoughts. "I think her column is called Lovely Living with Parke, Myrtle. Why would Sloan cut your articles? Everyone raves about them."
Myrtle plopped down at her living room desk and opened a computer file, glaring at the copy. "So my column has been kind of wacky the last couple of weeks. But you wouldn't believe the tips people mailed in to me. I made do with that tip about Ivory soap under fitted sheets relieving leg cramps." Myrtle snorted.
"And the tip about stopping nosebleeds," Elaine helpfully reminded Myrtle. She noticed with relief that the screaming had trailed off and prayed his little feet were plodding off to the den.
"Oh right. That old wives' tale about dropping a set of cold keys down the neck of the afflicted." Myrtle morosely read the offending article off the computer screen.
"Sloan thinks I'm dabbling in the occult. But they weren't my tips, after all."
Elaine cautiously opened the bedroom door and peeked down the hall. No demented toddlers lurking there, only their sullen, teenaged French exchange student, stumbling sleepily out of the guest bedroom. Elaine apologized in rusty French for Jack's eruption during Jean-Marc's quality sleep time. Unfortunately for Elaine, her French apology translated as, "I'm happy Jack is a sunny goat." Her foreign guest's inexplicable eye-roll mystified Elaine.
Myrtle added some more sugar to her coffee cup. "Sloan has a crush on Parke, too."
"Well, she's a beautiful woman."
"With hard eyes. Hard, beady little eyes. And that face that just screams WASP. Her nose is pointy enough to pop a balloon. Parke is pushy, bossy, and hateful to everybody."
"Bony," answered Myrtle.
"And she's in great shape. She must exercise every day."
"She power walks. She pumps her arms way up and down like a chicken."
"It's supposed to be a great alternative to jogging, Myrtle."
"Well, she looks like she's trying to hightail it to the nearest bathroom."
"Silly or not, it obviously works for her. She's very fit," said Elaine wistfully.
"And I'm not sure I'm buying this portrayal of Parke Stockard as evil incarnate. For one thing, she spends a heck of a lot of money to renovate the church. Word is she's funding a new education wing for the Sunday School."
Myrtle snorted. "A desperate and ultimately futile plot to save her immortal soul. Take it from someone who's vastly old and immensely wise, that Parke Stockard qualifies as truly wicked. She enjoys getting people's goats."
The hurricane of howling and thumping against the bedroom door resumed. Elaine wasn't following Myrtle's sudden livestock references and was trying to determine if Parke Stockard was still the subject of the conversation without revealing that she'd not been listening attentively the last few sentences.
Myrtle obsessed over minutiae in her life. But so did Elaine, whose ponderous problem for the week was Jack's sudden ability to remove lids from sippy cups. Elaine thought it safest to pick up on the last thread of the conversation that she could remember. "Sloan wouldn't cut your column because of a crush, Myrtle."
"And Parke's become the Bugle's biggest advertiser, which apparently obligates Sloan to be her slave for life. Some free press. Just because she's an all-powerful developer and Realtor. He thinks she's a big-shot since she used to write a society column in New York. Who cares?" Myrtle's gusty sigh cannoned through the phone line, making Elaine cringe and pull the receiver off her ear. "That column kept me busy."
Elaine said hastily, "Well, now you'll have your church work keeping you busy, won't you?" All Red needed was his octogenarian mother getting bored again. As police chief of Bradley, he took his law and order very seriously.
Myrtle's voice was steely. "What church work is that?"
"The Altar Guild and United Methodist Women. Red mentioned it this morning."
There was a pregnant pause before Myrtle said, "I didn't sign up for Altar Guild. And certainly not for United Methodist Women. Bunch of old biddies. Did Red sign me up?"
Elaine would have recognized the danger signs in her mother-in-law's tone if Jack hadn't continued his noisy vigil outside her bedroom door. "Hmm."
Myrtle fumed. "Parke Stockard was the best candidate for Bradley, North Carolina's 'Most Likely to be Murdered.' But Red may have beaten her out."
* * *
Josh Tucker watched as his boss at the Bradley Bugle, Sloan Jones, slammed his telephone down. "Good God," groaned Sloan, clutching his head. "Deliver me from conversations with Myrtle Clover."
"Still griping about her column getting cut?"
"Well, it's not like I cut it out. I just reduced it. It was getting damn weird, anyway, with all the nosebleed tips lately."
"What's behind cutting my piece in the last edition? It wasn't weird at all," said Josh.
"Sorry about that," Sloan said. "Fine writing, as usual. Had to squeeze in Parke's column, though. Her full-page weekly ad took our bookkeeping out of the red. Thank God she pays in advance."
Josh's perfunctory smile disappeared in the deep lines in his face. Sloan went on, "And she's not a bad writer, either. Imagine-two former New York writers on the Bugle staff!"
Josh lifted a beefy hand and smoothed it over his high forehead. There were times he missed New York. He'd expected his hometown to change while he was gone, but hadn't noticed any changes at all. Chili dogs were still 99 cents at Bo's Diner. The Bradley Library hadn't circulated any new titles since 1985 and Miss Hudgins still shushed the patrons. The Bradley Bugle still considered bridge games and golden anniversaries major local news stories. His mother still fussed over him and brought him watery chicken noodle soup whenever he sniffled. Thomas Wolfe had obviously never visited Bradley, North Carolina, if he thought you could never go home again.
"Parke sure gives the Bugle some pizzazz." Sloan dreamily reflected on Parke Stockard's finer qualities, basking again in the radiant smile she'd blindsided him with early that morning. Sloan had carefully combed over his wispy hair today. This task involved locating his comb-a major undertaking, considering it had been misplaced for weeks.
Josh flushed. Parke's expensive floral perfume still cloyingly invaded the newsroom, lingering in his nostrils and firing up his migraines. The scent conjured up Parke's condescending smiles. "Just as long as the copy cutting stops there. We've made an award-winning newspaper, Sloan. The Bradley Bugle is starting to get some real attention from the public ... and not just the town of Bradley. We don't need her interference."
Sloan smiled fondly at the large, pedestalled trophy of an oversized plumed pen that sat in a place of honor on his paper-congested desk. "Yes, we've done well, haven't we?" Sloan beamed at Josh. His jowly face fell when Josh remained grim. Sloan pulled at his shirt collar. "Space is at a premium, you know. Parke's ad revenue is helping us out a lot, but we're not on a New York Times budget. Or even a Charlotte Observer budget. Or even a-"
"Point taken. But there's got to be something else you can cut back on. Rita's recipes?"
"I'd get reader hate mail."
"The horoscopes Maisy Perry makes up?"
"Josh, there're people who plan their whole day around those things. There'll be pandemonium in the streets if Maisy doesn't give them some guidance."
"Well then, the Good Neighbors column. If somebody wants to trade their grandma's punch bowl for a few heirloom tomato plants, the Bugle doesn't have to get in the middle of it, does it?"
Sloan stared blankly at him. He'd no idea Josh Tucker had gotten so completely out of touch with Bradley reality during his time in New York. "Now you're just talking crazy. If I don't broker deals between folks trying to trade their National Geographic collection for a collection of Reader's Digest condensed books, I'll be strung up in the streets. My seventy-five-year-old neighbor, Miss Sissy? She'd be out there booing my butt every time I took my trash out. She's the number one fan of Good Neighbors."
"We're back to Parke then."
Sloan missed the dark undertone in Josh's voice. "And like I told you, Parke is single-handedly financing the dinky amount of copy we do have. No, it's got to be your articles and Miss Myrtle's tips. You're winning us awards," added Sloan hastily, "but you can be edited down a little. Miss Myrtle's column is new enough that her readers aren't totally rabid fans yet."
Josh crouched back over his article to signal the end of the conversation. He wasn't going to play second fiddle to Parke Stockard in the newsroom-he didn't care how much ad copy she bought.
* * *
Tanner Hayes spluttered wordlessly, perspiration standing in beads on his high forehead. The fact that his usually ruddy face was ashen and that he dramatically clutched his chest would have alerted insightful observers to his sudden, vicious heart attack. But Parke Stockard, for all her beauty, money, and shrewdness, wasn't particularly perceptive. Or compassionate. She thought only that his round, balding head, buggy eyes, and strangled utterances reminded her of a toad.
She lazily batted a buzzing fly his way with a manicured hand, curious to see if a long tongue would slurp it up. When it didn't, she was bored with her flight of fancy and returned to the business at hand.
"Your house," she repeated loudly. Was the old man deaf or just stupid? "You need to sell it to me. Let me know when you're ready to sign on. You'll be amazed how much your property will be worth when we level your house and build three in its place. And really-your home is completely outdated." She waved her slender arm dismissively toward the old Colonial. "You won't have a hope in hell of selling it when you or your wife go to a nursing home. Which," she pointed out, "could be any day now." She gave him a hard look, spun on her heel, and walked briskly to her car.
As Parke zipped down the road in her sporty car, she angled the rearview mirror down to apply more red lipstick. This explains why she never saw Tanner Hayes lying on his cement driveway, still clutching his chest, or his wife, Althea, hurrying down the long drive to her husband's side.
It was a short drive to her own home; it had been an old farmhouse with a wraparound porch. At least, it was until she'd razed it. Now it was a fabulous Mediterranean-style villa named Shangri- La, with real stucco, a tiled roof, and an in-law suite in the basement. The in-law suite was sort of a dungeon, but it hardly mattered since Parke had divorced the pesky husband and equally irritating in-laws.
She began to wonder, however, if she should put her son Cecil in the dungeon suite. Perhaps under lock and key. She wasn't sure where all the money she funneled him was going, but if the unsavory tattooed friend with the odd piercings was any indication, Cecil was once again heading down the wrong road. It would be nice to avoid rehab this time. Parke wondered if they even had rehab centers in the South.
She was just pulling the massive wooden front door shut behind her when she heard Cecil's voice echoing through the granite-floored foyer from the balcony above. She whipped off her Chanel sunglasses, ready for battle. What would it be this time? $25,000? $40,000? Bracing herself, she put a tanned hand where she imagined her heart might be. Her son thought she looked as if she was about to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
"Yes, Cecil," she asked in a faux faint voice. It was a faded enough tone to give Cecil pause.
"Mother, I need a little money." His mind raced, calculating how little he could get away with asking.
"Yes, Cecil?" She sank dramatically into a Chippendale chair, rummaging in her bag for her checkbook.
"Just ..." he stopped. "Just ... five thousand."
Parke stopped short. Five thousand? Five thousand what? Surely not dollars. There had to be a catch. Five thousand pounds? Five thousand rubies? She wasn't going to give him a chance to revise it. She snatched the checkbook and a pen out of the bag and scribbled out a check, chipping a lacquered nail in the process. She slapped it wordlessly on a marble-topped table in the foyer and swept out of the room. Cecil thoughtfully watched as her high heels tapped out of the foyer. He hoped his free-loading days weren't drawing to a close.
Excerpted from Pretty Is as Pretty Dies by Elizabeth Spann Craig Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Spann Craig. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Retired schoolteacher Myrtle Clover is not ready to be shuffled off to an assisted living home in her small Southern town. Her son Red, who's also the police chief, decides to sign her up for the Altar Guild and United Methodist Women to keep her busy. But, Myrtle wants nothing to do with that. Over night a village of a hundred gnomes mysteriously appear in Myrtle's yard to the horror of Red, who lives across the street. The ceramic gnomes are Myrtle's way of showing her son she disapproves of what he's done. Despite her misgivings, Myrtle stomps off to the church for the United Methodist Women meeting. She's not looking forward to it because of Parke Stockard, who seems to be taking over everything in town. Parke is already at the church. But, she's sprawled on the floor dead. No one seems to be grieving over the deceased. In fact, Myrtle sees Parke's death as a way to prove her independence to Red. She'll solve the murder before he does. Myrtle begins her investigation (snooping) into the life of Parke Stockard. Soon the octogenarian Holmes decides she needs a "Mr. Watson" to help solve the murder or at least to drive her around. She enlist the help of her new neighbor, who has all the local widows swooning. Before long the suspect list is growing and the body count is going up as well. Red's "red herrings" backfires and Myrtle closes in on the killer. Author Elizabeth Spann Craig throws together a cast of zany church members, a frazzled daughter-in-law with a rowdy two-year-old, and a French exchange student for the makings of a laugh-out-loud murder mystery. The antics of the 80-something-year-old Myrtle leaves you holding your breath one minute and shaking your head the next. "Pretty Is As Pretty Dies" is a cozy mystery that will have you guessing "Who dun 'it" until the end. Having never been a gnome person before, they now have a quirky place in my heart. Every time I see one, I'll wonder what mystery Myrtle is solving now. Grab a glass of sweet tea and a copy of "Pretty Is As Pretty Dies" for an enjoyable read and a wonderful, witty new character to love. Myrtle Clover is not your typical grandmother.
You have to love Myrtle
Everything about Elizabeth's books are wonderful. Unfortunately, this one has a missing chapter and it's an important one. Chapter #17 is a duplicate of #16, so some critical clues are missing and you jump right to the end in chapter #18 without knowing how you got there. This needs to be updated to include the missing chapter!! If this is done, I'll change rating to a 5 star. Sandra
You can get this on Kindle but not Nook will change my rating when I can. I will say I love these books, get them all and have fun reading them. All of her books are great
Elizabeth Spann Craig's, Pretty is as Pretty Dies, is.well."pretty" darn terrific. In fact, it's totally terrific. The cozy mystery features an intriguing, puzzling plot, tight, suspenseful writing, a realistic sense of life in a small southern town, and the most memorable, adorable character I've met this year, Myrtle Clover. Myrtle is the octogenarian mother of the town's police chief and she's got a nose for crime fighting.she thinks. Her son isn't so sure. But Myrtle is undeterred. And once you know her, you'll understand why. Think back to your sixth grade English teacher, the high school librarian, and your grandmother. Now toss in an extra dose of spicy spunk, a sharp tongue, a clever mind, and a small touch of hubris. Mix them together, and you've got Myrtle, easily the star of the book. When Myrtle discovers a dead body--in the church no less--the adventure begins. The writing's so good that you become Myrtle as she tries to find the killer. Along the way you'll meet zany neighbors, a grasping politician, a French exchange student, a fallen newspaper reporter, a minister with secrets to keep, Crazy Dan, and, well, you get the idea. Most of these folks qualify as suspects and Myrtle's gotta sort through them before another dead body turns up.which it just might. But, no more plot-teasing. Pretty is as Pretty Dies is a wonderful read by a terrific, experienced writer who convinces you to suspend your sense of reality, then, slips you into Myrtles shoes for a suspenseful adventure that'll keep you guessing to the last page. I changed my mind as to the killer's identity, about, well, more times than I care to admit. My rambling aside, here's what you need to know: It's a great read. Give it a try. You won't regret it. Easily Five Stars.
Elizabeth Spann Craig's brand new cozy mystery series, Pretty Is as Pretty Dies, from Midnight Ink (an imprint of Llewellyn Publications) is a hoot. Octogenarian Myrtle Clover, her son Red (the Chief of Police), and the quirky inhabitants of Bradley, North Carolina, are sure to become some of my favorite literary folks. When beautiful Parke Stockard, a new arrival in town, is found in the sanctuary of the Methodist church with her head bashed, Red not only must investigate but find ways to keep his mother busy so that Myrtle doesn't start nosing around herself. But some of his plans blow up in his face as Myrtle finds ways to ferret out information in ways her son could never do. She infiltrates the local Book Club and enlists the aid (or really the car) of the elderly bachelor who just moved next door and has been warding off a stream of casseroles delivered by all of the mature single women in town. She buttonholes politicians, arm-twists the hot-shot big-city reporter who moved back to town, interrogates the local Methodist Women and Altar Guild, and interviews Crazy Dan, the purveyor of boiled peanuts and hubcabs. Ultimately, Myrtle comes down to the truth of a web of lies and family skeletons. I loved this book. The story is typical of a lot of small towns anywhere in the US, but Elizabeth Spann Craig added a new dimension with Myrtle and her elderly friends. I found the characters funny and endearing, and the plot challenging enough to keep me reading. I can't wait for Myrtle's next adventure.