Thanksgiving with her fault-finding mother has Odelia Grey stewing in her own juices. But her husband's cousin Inawho shows up to dinner alone with ugly bruisesclearly has it worse. Things quickly go downhill after Odelia's mother decides to extend her visit a few extra days to attend a storage auction with Ina, who owns a consignment shop. The day of the auction, the thrill of bargain hunting gives way to tragedy when Ina's husband is found inside a storage lockerdead.
"Witty and well-plotted."Publishers Weekly
"Ina's goods may be secondhand, but Jaffarian's are first-class."Kirkus Reviews
"Odelia and her colorful family and colleagues are as quirky and appealing as those found in Sharon Fiffer's Jane Wheel series."Booklist
"[A] clever, winning tale with lots of laughs along the way."Suspense Magazine
About the Author
Sue Ann Jaffarian is a full-time paralegal who lives and works in Los Angeles. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters In Crime, Sue Ann is the author of three mystery seriesOdelia Grey, Ghost of Granny Apples, and Madison Roseand also writes general fiction and short stories. She is widely sought after as a motivational and humorous speaker.
For the most up-to-date list of all Sue Ann's activities, visit the calendar page at www.sueannjaffarian.com.
Murder in Vein , starring friendly, and not-so-friendly, neighborhood vampires." Joanne Fluke, New York Times bestselling author of the Hannah Swensen Mysteries
Read an Excerpt
An Odelia Grey Mystery
By Sue Ann Jaffarian
Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Sue Ann Jaffarian
All rights reserved.
"Harpy bitch!" the woman with the bad bleach job shouted.
"Excuse me?" Horrified, I leaned away from her, a hand cupped over my fast-beating heart. The words had come with heat, like a furnace blast with extra garlic.
It wasn't uncommon for me to piss people off, but usually they got to know me first. Without getting too close, I peered at the woman, wondering if we had met before. I took in her low-slung jeans and a no-longer-white tank top that showed off buffed arms and shoulders along with a plethora of tattoos. I scanned her face, more than once. She could have been in her late twenties or her forties; the hardness of her face made it difficult to tell. No bells of familiarity went off, though I was sorely tempted to give her some laundry tips and a breath mint.
Ina Bruce put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me aside a few inches. "Relax, Odelia. The nasty skank is talking to me."
Ina stepped forward, going almost boob to boob with Ms. Skank.
My mother and mother-in-law moved up behind me. "What's going on, Odelia?" Renee Stevens asked.
"Some sort of Neanderthal welcome wagon, I think."
"Humph," my mother, Grace Littlejohn, snorted. "Ina's no debutante, but next to that one, she's a Catholic schoolgirl."
"Mom," I scolded. "Ina's family."
"Grace is right," added Renee. "Ina's a tough cookie—always has been—but that other one looks like she just escaped from prison."
While the three of us watched, Ina and the other woman glared at each other, slowly circling, both looking ready to throw a punch should the other blink an insult.
We were standing in the parking lot of Elite Storage in Long Beach, which looked anything but elite. Not that it was a dump, but when I think of the word elite, rows of utilitarian storage lockers painted the color of dry clay do not pop into my mind. The four of us were on a field trip of sorts. Really, the three of us—Mom, Renee, and I—were on an excursion; Ina was working. Ina and her husband, Tom, owned a secondhand and consignment shop in Culver City and attended storage auctions regularly, on the hunt for merchandise to fill their store.
And that's why our little posse was here today. Not that Ina needed help doing her job, but when my mother found out that Ina went to storage auctions, wild horses couldn't keep her from begging Ina to take her along. It had been embarrassing to watch my eighty-something mom act like a kid hoping to win a ticket to Disneyland, and even more embarrassing watching her nearly wet herself with glee when Ina agreed to let Mom accompany her to an auction being held in Long Beach the Monday after Thanksgiving.
"That's very nice of you," I'd said to Ina as we were all gathered around Renee's holiday table, "but Mom's going home on Monday."
My mother looked at me like I'd just farted. "No, I'm not," she corrected. She turned to my half brother, who was sitting to my left. He continued chewing a mouthful of turkey and oyster dressing, pretending not to hear the exchange. "Isn't that what you said, Clark?" my mother asked. "That I'm staying longer?"
Clark ignored Mom and started shoveling food into his mouth like a starving orphan. I half expected him to start stuffing it into his ears so he could block out Mom's question entirely.
All day I had been waiting for the turkey to hit the fan, giblet gravy and all. Not literally, of course, but figuratively—though literally might be amusing and would certainly liven up this annual clambake or, more to the point, rather tense Thanksgiving gathering. I had expected my mother to be the perpetrator of the chaos, but not in this way.
My husband accuses me of being a glass-half-empty kind of gal. I prefer to think of myself as a realist and a firm believer in whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. You'd think, after all the dead bodies I've found—through no effort on my own part, I can assure you—my husband would have the same jaded eye, but he doesn't. Bodies keep turning up, and he keeps hoping they won't and that the last one was just that—the last one. Like my being a corpse magnet, a nickname given to me by our friend Seth Washington, is just some pesky wart that shows up suddenly on the top of your foot, then disappears a few years later with no warning or goodbye.
On this Thanksgiving I not only saw the glass half empty, I saw it full of cracks and ready to explode into sharp, deadly shards. All it needed was a little misguided pressure in the wrong spot by the wrong person.
Every Thanksgiving since I married Greg, I have spent the holiday at my in-laws' beautiful home in Pacific Palisades. Usually it's just the Stevens family and me, with the occasional friend or stray family member tossed in. Earlier this year, Greg's sister and her husband and their two boys had moved to Northern California. Greg's brother and his wife had flown to Florida to visit her parents for the holidays. This would be the first Thanksgiving in years without them, and I could see that my mother-in-law was grieving. Many of the chairs around the large dining table would have been empty if not for three of the seats being filled by guests—one from Greg's family and two from mine. Enter the candidates most likely to shatter the half-empty glass.
Looking around the table, I wasn't sure which family add-on would receive the Turkey of the Year award. The candidates were Ina Bruce, Greg's second cousin, and my mother, Grace Littlejohn, who was visiting us from New Hampshire. The third family stray was Clark Littlejohn, my half brother. He was keeping a tight rein on our mother and looked like he could use a stiff drink, even though he'd stopped drinking years ago.
Having Mom and Clark visit us over Thanksgiving had been my bright idea, so I have no one else to blame, except that Greg could have raised concerns. But he didn't, and Mom had been hinting that she'd like to come for a visit "before I croak." When I suggested the Littlejohns travel to California for the holiday, Greg had been behind the idea with full-throttle enthusiasm, even though he knew my mother could be a pill. His family had already met Clark on several occasions and seemed to like him a great deal, but Grace Littlejohn was a different drumstick on the same bird.
What can I say about my mother that doesn't come off as snarky or ungrateful or bitter? Not much, I can tell you that, though I have been making progress in sorting out my feelings ever since I located her a couple of years ago. Greg thought having her as a guest in our home might help me along in that endeavor. Maybe, maybe not; it could also end up with me drowning her in the whirlpool tub in the guest bathroom. The installation of the large, multi-jetted tub had been a gift to me from Greg last Christmas, and it was certainly big enough to be a convenient murder scene. Since I outweighed my elderly mother by at least seventy pounds, the odds were in my favor.
When I was sixteen, my mother disappeared—poof!—like magic. One day I came home from high school to find that her personal things had been cleared out of our apartment. There was no note or explanation of any kind, nor had she given any indication that this might happen. One day she was there; the next day she was G-ON- E. I had to go live with my father, who is now deceased, and his crazy-ass wife, Gigi. I'm still not sure which I resented more, Mom leaving in general or that her disappearance forced me to live with Gigi until I turned eighteen. When I finally located my mother over thirty years later, she was living in Massachusetts. I also discovered she had two other children. Clark was older than me by a few years. Grady, our half brother, was younger than me by sixteen years. All of us were fathered by different men. Grady is now dead. Soon after Grady's death, Mom moved to a retirement home in New Hampshire. Clark divides his time between his childhood home in Massachusetts and Phoenix, where he is head of security for a company belonging to our friend Willie Proctor. Well, publicly the company doesn't belong to Willie, who is wanted by the feds, but we all know who's behind it.
See? Life is complicated. It's giblet gravy ready to go airborne.
As if Renee's depression and my mother's crotchety attitude weren't enough to make the day memorable, there was always Ina to spice things up. She is the only grandchild of Renee Stevens's brother, Stuart, who passed away about the time Greg and I got engaged. Stu was Greg's favorite uncle and his sudden death had hit the family hard. Ina's father had died when she was not much more than a baby. Her mother had remarried a few years later and had more children, making Ina the odd child out, whether by her mother's hand or by her own emotions. According to Greg, Ina was a troubled teen who eventually went to live with Stu and his wife until she hooked up with Tom Bruce, a slick-talking low-life, right out of high school. Shortly after Stu's death and against her family's wishes, she and Tom had married and moved to California. She'd been only nineteen at the time. We've seen Ina and Tom a dozen times at most since they moved here, usually at family functions or the occasional holiday. Renee tries to keep in touch with Ina as much as possible and has helped her out financially from time to time. When they first arrived, Greg offered Tom a job in his graphic arts and print shop, Ocean Breeze Graphics. Tom was a surly, lazy worker who quit after a month, claiming he had bigger fish to fry. Greg was relieved, since it saved him the trouble of firing the guy.
Ina had arrived for Thanksgiving dinner alone.
"Where's Tom?" Greg had asked his cousin, not at all unhappy by her single status at dinner.
"Not sure. Don't care," Ina had replied as she shrugged off her leather jacket.
Ina was of average height and thin. The last time we'd seen her, her mousy, straight brown hair had been halfway down her back. Now it was dyed dark purple and worn close to her head. The severity of her hair made her look waifish and cute in a wood nymph-gone-goth sort of way. It brought out her high cheekbones and highlighted her brown eyes, which were heavy with black eyeliner and mascara. Her Aunt Renee took one disapproving look at Ina's raggedy jeans and snug long-sleeved tee shirt and went back into the kitchen. Renee Stevens didn't care for sloppiness at her holiday tables. She didn't require jackets, ties, hose, or high heels, but jeans were definitely a no-no. We all knew that, including Ina. Something told me any lumps in the gravy didn't stand a chance.
My own mother took one look at Ina and sized her up, her lips pursed in disapproval, which didn't surprise me since my mother disapproves of everything and everyone except Greg. She adores my husband. She probably loves him more than me and Clark combined, something I once brought up to Clark when we were alone.
"Be glad, sis," my big bro had said upon hearing my complaint. "In the long run, the more attention Mom gives Greg, the less fault she can find with us." It was an excellent point.
After making introductions, Greg's father asked Ina, "You and Tom have a fight?" Without waiting for a reply, Ronald Stevens went to the wet bar in the corner of the family's den and lifted a bottle of white wine from an ice bucket. "White or red, Ina? Or something else?"
"Red, please, Uncle Ron." In spite of her surliness and sloppy appearance, at least Ina hadn't forgotten her manners. Ron put down the white wine, picked up an open bottle of red wine, and poured her a glass. Ina casually pushed the sleeves of her shirt up, revealing a tattoo of a decaying rose on her right forearm. "As for Tom," she answered with a shrug, "we had a difference of opinion about the business, and he's off sulking somewhere."
"What kind of business are you in?" Clark asked before taking a sip of his sparkling water.
"Resale," Ina answered, viewing Clark through narrowed eyes. In spite of Clark's frequent visits, it was the first time he and Ina had met. "And I'll bet you're a cop."
"Retired," Clark responded.
Ina offered him a tight-lipped smile. "I can always tell a cop—or should I say, smell one."
My brother didn't seem to take offense, but he did study Ina closer. "Just like I can smell a girl in trouble." He indicated her tattoo. I leaned forward for a closer look and noticed for the first time that near the rose, just above Ina's wrist, her skin appeared bruised. Not fresh black and blue, but the pukey green-yellow color of healing. There were marks on her other arm, too. "Is that why your husband isn't here?" Clark persisted.
"None of your freaking business," Ina shot back, pulling the sleeves of her shirt down to cover her wrists. "I was moving something in the store a few days ago, and it fell across my arms. Hurt like a bitch. Or is being clumsy against the law?"
"Behave yourself, Ina," Ron admonished, handing her the wine. "Clark's a guest, and your Aunt Renee has gone to a lot of trouble today. She's kind of blue because the other kids aren't here. Let's make the day as nice as possible for her, shall we?"
At that point, I thought about going into the kitchen to see if I could help Renee but didn't for two reasons: one, I'd offered earlier and had been gently rebuffed, which didn't bother me since I knew my mother-in-law was a control freak in the kitchen. And two, I didn't want to miss anything. Ina had a particularly big and nervous chip on her shoulder today and was just itching for someone to knock it off. I only hoped it wouldn't be someone in my family who took the swing, so I was relieved to see Clark back down on the subject of the bruises.
"What do you mean by resale?" my mother asked, moving the chat along. She still wore a veil of disapproval, as if she were spotless in the sin department.
Ina swallowed a mouthful of the expensive wine like it was lemonade on a hot day. "We buy stuff at auctions, clean it up, and sell it in our store."
Mom perked up. "You mean like on those shows on TV where they buy abandoned stuff without knowing what they're getting?"
"Sometimes we buy storage lockers. Other times we go to estate sales or yard sales."
My mother loved those shows where they auctioned off storage units. Since she'd been in town, she'd been glued to our TV watching reruns. Some episodes she'd seen a few times. She'd even asked if we could visit the store owned by one of the buyers featured on the show. Like a rocket, Ina went from disrespectful slob to rock star in my mother's eyes. By the time we'd started dinner, Mom had wrangled the invitation from Ina and I was questioning Mom's travel schedule.
"What does Mom mean, Clark?" I turned in my chair to face my brother, my body language challenging him to ignore me. "I thought her flight left Monday."
When Clark didn't stop eating, I reached my left hand over and placed it on his right arm, stopping the progression of his fork. The table fell as silent as a box of cotton. Across the table from me, Greg's fork was suspended halfway to his mouth. From it dripped homemade cranberry sauce seasoned with orange peel.
Clark put down his fork and turned to me. "I was going to talk to you and Greg about that after we got home tonight." He glanced over at Greg, who had lowered his fork and was listening—waiting, no doubt, to see if I would start slinging yams. "I got a call earlier today from work," Clark continued. "I have to fly out first thing in the morning directly to a job and won't be back in time to escort Mom home on Monday." His head swung between me and Greg as if on a loose hinge. "I was hoping you two would let her stay until I come back. I don't think it's a good idea for her to travel alone. Do you?"
There it was: the real choice. We could let Mom stay until Clark finished his job or I could fly back with Mom, get her settled in her retirement home, and then fly home myself. Hmm, fly the unfriendly skies after Thanksgiving, the busiest time to hit the air, or have Mom stay a few days longer. For most, it would be an easy choice; for me, it was a tough call.
I looked to my husband, trying to pick up on his vibes. Mom and Clark had already been here for two days, and while Clark was great to have around, Mom's constant presence and negativity had been trying, even for Greg. Even our animals stayed out of her way most of the time. But what could we say? No! Heave her interfering, selfish ass out on the tarmac and let her take her chances. I'd be tempted to say that if we'd been alone, but around a Thanksgiving table with my delightful in-laws, I was compelled to behave.
Excerpted from SECONDHAND STIFF by Sue Ann Jaffarian. Copyright © 2013 Sue Ann Jaffarian. Excerpted by permission of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When Odelia accompanies her husband's cousin to a storage auction, they are surprised to find a dead body in one of the units. This book mixes humor, great characters, and a strong plot perfectly. Will delight fans of the series, and if you aren't already reading it, fix that today.
4 STARS This is my first Odelia Grey Mystery but hopefully not my last. It kept me guessing till the end. Easy to read and follow. Does make me curious to read previous books but definitely not needed. The regular cast of characters are well developed. As a middle age heavyset woman it is fun to see one as a lead. Her husband is in a wheel chair but it does not stop him much at all. The plot was laid out step by step as they found different clues and reasoned out what was going on. That at the end it all fit and made perfect sense. Odelia, her mom Grace, her mother-in-law Renee and her husband's cousin Ina were all at a auction of storage units. Ina invited them but one of the storage units when unlocked they found Ina's husband dead inside sitting in a chair. Ina was arrested because she had in her purse a unregistered handgun and no permit. Ina is not talking to even her lawyer. Greg her cousin wants to help find the real killer and get his cousin out of jail. Ina is a heavyset women who keeps having dead bodies turn up around her. She works for a lawyer and sometimes works from her home. Her mother came to visit for Thanksgiving and is staying longer. Her husband Greg has a shop. He does not like her finding dead bodies all the time. Ina is always curious and sticks her nose into solving the cases. This time Greg likes her to jump into the case. The cops don't like her sticking her nose in them. One of the detectives on the case used to be partners with Odelia's friend. She warns her off when she sees her at the storage unit. But when Odelia calls the police with information she is taken serious but told again to stay out of their business. Unless they want her to do something for them. Odelia has a smart mouth sometimes. She does not like to be told that she and her mom are alike in some ways. Grace finds that she wants to figure out what is going on too and even threatens Odelia if she leaves her home she will call a cab and follow her own leads too. This is a very modern up to date mystery with ipads, storage wars, lunch trucks with fancier food. It has a real modern feel to it. I would love to read more of Sue Ann Jaffarian novels in the future especially Odelia Grey Mystery. I was given this ebook to read and asked in return to give honest review of it when finished by Netgalley and Midnight Ink. 12/08/2013 PUB Midnight Ink