The Broken Spine
The Broken Spine

The Broken Spine

by Dorothy St. James

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Overview

When small-town assistant librarian Tru Beckett sets up a secret book room in her newly modernized library, she discovers that protecting the printed word is harder than she’d ever imagined. In fact, it’s murder.

Trudell Becket, known to her friends as Tru, finds herself in a bind when her library in lovely Cypress, South Carolina, is turned into a state-of-the-art bookless “technological center.” A library with no books breaks Tru’s book-loving heart so she decides to rescue hundreds of beloved tomes slated for the town dump. Under the cover of darkness, Tru, along with her best friends—coffee shop owner Tori Green and mysterious bestselling author Flossie Finnegan-Baker—set up a secret bookroom in the library’s basement and prepare to open it to their most loyal, trustworthy patrons.

But as Tru and her crew are putting the finishing touches on their new book room, the town manager, who was behind the big push for the library’s transformation, is crushed by an overturned shelf of DVDs. Tru becomes the prime suspect as she hadn’t hid the fact that she hated having all of those wonderful books replaced by tablets and computers. But if she gives the police her alibi, she’ll have to explain about the secret book room and risk losing the books.

Tru knows she’s in a heap of trouble, and it doesn’t help that the officer in charge of the case is her old crush from high school, who broke her teenaged heart. To keep herself out of jail and her beloved bookroom up and running, Tru—with the help of Tori, Flossie, and a brown tabby stray cat named Dewey Decimal—decides to investigate. And faster than you can say “Shhhh!” Tru quickly finds herself on the same page with a killer who would love to write her final chapter. . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593098578
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Series: A Beloved Bookroom Mystery , #1
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 79,939
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

A lover of puzzles and perhaps a bit too nosey about other people's lives, author Dorothy St. James is a former Folly Beach beach bum. She now lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina with her husband, precocious daughter, slightly (OK, terribly) needy dogs, and the friendliest cat you'd ever meet. Author of a dozen novels, Dorothy enjoys writing both cozy mysteries and romance. Her works have been nominated for many awards including: the Southern Independent Bookseller's Alliance Southern Book Prize, Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award, National Reader's Choice Award, and The Romance Reviews Today Perfect 10! Award.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

 

No one in the moderately sized rural southern town of Cypress would ever suspect their stalwart assistant librarian of breaking into the library where she worked. Why would they? A bronze plaque hangs on my kitchen wall. It was personally presented to me by Mayor Goodvale. He declared me an asset to the town. I'd received the award because I always performed my job with the highest level of pride and professionalism. For the past thirteen years I put the town and library first, often to the detriment of my personal life.

 

An even bigger honor occurred a few years ago when Mrs. Lida Farnsworth, the town's head librarian, whispered (she always whispered) while we busily returned books to their shelves: "Trudell Becket, I couldn't be more pleased to be wrong about my first impression of you. I would have hired any other candidate for the position. But, alas, the only other person who'd applied was that drunkard Cooper Berry. I honestly didn't think you had it in you, honey. But, bless your heart, you've become the model of a perfect librarian."

 

And she was right. I was perfect. Until . . .

 

Well, let's just say someone needed to do this.

 

As a general rule, librarians don't speak in loud voices. Librarians don't exceed the speed limit when driving to work. And librarians certainly don't dress head-to-toe in black ninja-wear while attempting to pick the library's backdoor lock.

 

Yet, librarians can always be counted on to get things done.

 

"Don't look at me like that," I muttered to a lanky brown cat with black tiger stripes. It had emerged from the darkened back alleyway to stand next to the library's cool pearly-pink granite wall and watch me. "Someone needs to protect those books before they all end up destroyed. They're sending them to the landfill." The small metal flashlight clenched between my teeth caused the words to come out garbled. Both of my hands were busy working the lock.

 

A textbook for locksmiths that I'd borrowed from the library's reference section sat open to the page featuring a diagram of a lock. Since I didn't own a lockpick kit-why would I?-I'd improvised with a few sturdy paperclips bent to resemble the tools depicted on the book's previous page. Every little sound, every scrape and rumble in Cypress's quaint downtown boomed in my ears. I jumped at the soft cough of a car engine. And with that cat watching me, I felt an itchy need to scurry into the nearest mousehole to hide.

 

But I couldn't run. I had to finish what I'd set my mind to finishing.

 

After what felt like a million thundering heartbeats while I fumbled with the paperclips, the lock clicked. The door opened. I rose on shaky legs, gathering up the reference book and the stack of flattened moving boxes I'd brought with me. My gaze darted to the darkest corners of the alleyway before I slipped inside.

 

Just as the door started to close, the cat that had been watching with such a judgmental glare shimmied between my legs and into the library before the heavy metal back door clanked closed.

 

"Hey!" I called in a harsh whisper because shouting in a library simply wasn't done. Whispering seemed even more important in the middle of the night as I sneaked inside on my clandestine mission.

 

The brown cat ignored me. With a yeow loud enough to have me instinctively hissing "Shhhh!" the little beast darted upstairs and disappeared into the shadows of the stacks.

 

"Tru, you're in for it now," I muttered before dropping the stack of boxes. I sprinted after that darn cat.

 

Mrs. Farnsworth would have a heart attack if she discovered a flea-bitten kitty wandering among her books in the morning. I needed to get him out. The head librarian was already on edge with having to deal with the changes coming to the library.

 

If I didn't know the tough older woman better, I would have suspected she was busy plotting a murder. Every time she had to deal with the man behind the changes that were ripping apart both of our worlds, she'd grit her teeth and smile so tightly it looked as if her lips might crack open. But later, when she talked about him and his grand plan, her smile changed into something horrible that made ice tiptoe up my spine.

 

The trouble had started three weeks ago. Duggar Hargrove, the town's new and aggressive town manager, had made his way up the long run of steps and into the library's historic atrium. Dressed in a tweed suit and a pink tie that matched his bright pink complexion, he stood in the middle of the room with his round fists planted on his hips. The mayor and several members of the town council had followed him into the library's semicircular atrium and had gathered like a smiling army of suits around him.

 

Duggar, talking much too loudly for inside a library, called for Mrs. Farnsworth to stand next to him. Because she was both a southern lady and a librarian with the highest standards of comportment, she complied without question. The only sign of her displeasure was a slight shivering of the string of pearls that always adorned her long, elegant neck.

 

Although I grew up in the South and had attended the strictest cotillion classes in town, I had never mastered the art of masking my feelings. Those pesky emotions showed up on my face as clearly as a bright red hat sitting atop a lady's head. I could feel my brows wrinkling and my mouth twisting into a look of puzzlement as I stepped out from behind the front desk to watch as Duggar raised his beefy hands as if asking for silence. This struck me as silly since he was standing in the middle of a library where silence was the rule.

 

He cleared his throat and gave the mayor a nod before speaking. His voice rumbled like a car engine in need of a tune-up. "Thanks to my efforts . . . and those of our elected officials, of course, of course," he said, clearing his throat again, "the town of Cypress has seen unprecedented growth over the past year. We've welcomed industries that make auto parts, fertilizers, and tractor tires. They've invested in our town and in our people. It's all very good. Very good. But now is the time for us to start thinking bigger. And by bigger I mean high tech. We want companies who are on the cutting edge of technology to look to Cypress as their new home to grow."

 

The politicians standing around him all nodded in unison. Mrs. Farnsworth's pearls shivered again, and her dainty brows dipped ever so slightly toward her deep brown eyes. I felt for my boss. I knew how much she loathed surprises.

 

"In order to accomplish our goal," Duggar's low growl continued, "we need to become forward thinking. We need to modernize every aspect of our town. We need to be featured in the national media as a town of the future, a town that deserves to be watched."

 

When he'd finished, the politicians started to clap loudly. Mrs. Farnsworth shot them a sharp look, which put a quick end to that nonsense.

 

"What you are saying is uplifting and all, but why are you making this pretty speech in my library instead of at last night's council meeting?" she demanded in a hard whisper that made the skin on the back of my neck prickle. Her eyelids snapped with impatience.

 

Duggar flashed a full set of teeth. "I'm glad you asked, ma'am. I'm here because, with the full support of our council, we're going to invest in upgrading the library."

 

"Finally," I breathed. After years of budget cuts, the library no longer stocked the latest and most popular new releases. And none of the library employees had seen the cost-of-living raise we'd been promised for three years in a row now.

 

"Well . . . now . . . that's good news," Mrs. Farnsworth pronounced.

 

Duggar tugged at his tight collar. It was as if he knew what was coming next would be ill-received by the library staff and patrons. "Modernization of all aspects of our town is essential. And I'll need everyone's help. Even if change feels painful at first, I need each and every resident in the community to be a part of my team. Can I count on you?"

 

The mayor and town council all nodded. Mrs. Farnsworth rolled her eyes. Everyone else stood silently by, waiting to hear the changes Duggar and the elected officials had planned for our beloved historic library.

 

Duggar tugged at his tight collar again. I'm not sure what he was expecting. Cheers of agreement? Not in this library. Not with the stern Mrs. Farnsworth standing watch. "Well," he said, "the library of the future is a library with no limits. It's a library that brings the world to our small, rural town."

 

No one could disagree with that. For centuries, libraries, and the books they contain, have served as a ticket to the world and beyond. The books populating the stacks educate, inspire, and in some cases save lives. They had certainly saved mine.

 

"Just spit it out," Mrs. Farnsworth chided. "Ever since you were no taller than my knee, you'd talk and talk and talk and never get to the point. I'm an old woman with a busy schedule. I don't have time for this."

 

His pink face turned a shade pinker. "Fine." He huffed. "We're going to turn our library into a bookless library."

 

A what?

 

"A what?" Mrs. Farnsworth demanded in her haughtiest, most refined southern tones. She'd reached for the pearls adorning her throat, which showed how much his announcement had flustered her. She almost never clutched her pearls.

 

I sat down and rolled over to the computer at the reference desk and typed "bookless library" into the search engine.

 

As images of what looked like cybercafés-stark rooms filled with computers-appeared on the screen in front of me, Duggar explained to the crowd, "We will do away with all of these out-of-date books and replace them with computers and computer terminals. Patrons will be able to check out tablets with electronic books and references loaded onto them. Or they will be able to check out electronic books and load them onto their own tablets and phones. Instead of a static collection of moldy paper, we'll have the most up-to-the-minute resources for our community and for the industries that will come. We'll be the envy of our neighboring communities. We'll be educating the best and brightest with the best and newest information."

 

I glanced at the books behind me. Yes, some of them were out-of-date. Every spring we purged books that were no longer relevant. If the town council would simply give us a decent budget, we could refresh our collection on a regular basis.

 

Yet while some of our books might be old-really old-many of the titles in the stacks were timeless classics. There were first editions. A few were even signed.

 

"I must have misheard you," Mrs. Farnsworth said, her voice tight with emotion. "It sounded like you said that you planned to get rid of my books."

 

"Yes, ma'am. These old books will be replaced with state-of-the-art computers." When Mrs. Farnsworth scoffed, he added, "Your patrons will have access to more books than you can imagine."

 

"But what will the children do?" she said. "You cannot set a baby up in front of a computer."

 

"The babies and tots will use child-friendly tablets," Duggar was quick to answer.

 

The back-and-forth went on like this for a while. Finally, Mrs. Farnsworth held up her hands. "You can modernize with your computers while keeping our books."

 

He shook his head and turned to Mayor Goodvale for help.

 

"I am sorry, Lida." The mayor, a kindly man who had just a touch of gray on his temples, took her slightly bent hands in his. "I know this must come as a shock to you. And you needn't worry, your position is safe. We'll always need you to help curate our collection, even if it is online. But we only have enough money to purchase the computers, tablets, and subscription services for the various online media sources. We cannot afford to purchase printed books too. We're building a library of the future. There's no place here to shelve outdated books."

 

She yanked away from his touch. "This is a mistake. Abandoning books is not moving forward. It's a step back toward the Dark Ages."

 

I agreed with her. And I wasn't the only one. In the days that followed, several of our long-term patrons complained about Duggar's dramatic announcement. Letters were written to the editor. But nothing anyone said or did stopped Duggar's plans for modernization.

 

As each day passed, I worried more and more about Mrs. Farnsworth. On the surface, she was acting as if nothing was happening to her beloved library-a place where she'd worked for more than fifty years. Practicing the perfection she expected from others, she never complained. She never questioned the rules. She went along with the town's plan to convert the library into a futuristic technological center. An abomination. All the while her slender seventy-nine-year-old body grew tauter and tauter. Her adhesion to the rules, and her requirement that everyone else within her sight also strictly follow those rules, grew more and more stringent as the days passed.

 

She'd scolded young Timmy Cho for breaking the spine of a popular picture book with such a firm whisper that tears had flooded the eight-year-old's eyes.

 

She'd ejected Betty Crawley, the local newspaper reporter, from the stately old building for interviewing library users about what they thought about the coming changes to the library. Not only that, she told the sputtering Betty that she was banned from ever coming back.

 

And she'd given strict instructions to the library staff that we could no longer waive fines for books returned late. "If the citizens of Cypress cannot return their books on time, they're going to have to pay the price," Mrs. Farnsworth had whispered ominously. A worrisome gleam darkened her rich brown eyes as she emphasized "pay the price."

 

Despite her determination to pretend the library wasn't getting a hideous overhaul, changes had started to happen. A newly hired technology specialist imported from Silicon Valley showed up one morning and took charge, ordering everyone, even Mrs. Farnsworth, around.

 

Anne Lowery looked like she should still be in high school. The purple streak running through her inky black hair only added to her youthful looks. I would have suspected she was lying about her credentials if not for the bright spark of confidence in her glittering green eyes and the way she took charge without hesitation.

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