It's summer, and the only person she knows is her nerdy cousin Simon. Soon she meets Simon's best friend, Brent, and Brent's twin sister, Tara, and their pug, Wolfgang.
When Ollie digs up a human bone in the backyard of the pub, police are called. It turns out the bone is over twenty years old. Who can the dead person be? Surely Aunt Stella can't be involved.
Penny and Simon decide to investigate. Together with Brent and Tara, they form The Crime Club. And before long they discover one thing: if you've killed before, you can kill again.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"We're moving where?" I heard Mom pronounce the name but thought I must have heard it wrong.
"Mudville. South of Toronto, on Lake Erie. We're moving in with your aunt Stella," said Mom.
I relaxed a bit. I know Aunt Stella from family reunions in Cape Cod. She is my mother's older sister. I like her a lot.
And I'd heard of Toronto, of course. It is a big city. Not big by New York standards, maybe. But we weren't actually going to live in Toronto.
"Mudville. Seriously?" I asked. "So what's in Mudville? Besides mud?"
Mom paused. "Not a whole lot. Apparently they're known for their pickles. And they have a big fish."
Fish? "Just one?"
"It's a statue. There's also a fishing regatta. The Mudcat Festival, I think it's called."
"Why on earth would they ever move to Canada?" I said. "It's winter all year round! More important, why are we moving there? You know I'm allergic to snow."
"Uncle Phil inherited a pub. Since he died, your aunt has been all alone. She runs the pub now. We're going to live above it. And it is not winter all year round. Mudville is just north of the border."
"We're going to live in a pub? Now that's cool," I said.
"I thought you'd like that part," said Mom, rolling her eyes.
A change of scenery would probably be good. Things had been tough the last few months. High school sucked. And I don't mean the homework. People avoid you when they know your dad is in prison. They ghost you. It changes everything, and it's not fair.
None of this was my fault. Or my mom's.
"But this is only until I finish high school, right?" I said. "We'll be coming back here eventually."
Mom raised an eyebrow. "Let's take it one step at a time. It will be nice to get a fresh start."
I heard the words she didn't say. Without your dad. Without the shame and fear that follow us everywhere.
"We'll get you there next week. Then I'll wrap up things here and be in Mudville by the end of the month. Is that okay with you?"
"We're taking Ollie, right?" I felt the first signs of panic. Going anywhere without my dog was out of the question, as far as I was concerned.
"Of course! He's part of the family."
Ollie is a huge dog of unknown pedigree. A better name for him would have been Scruffy.
"What's the pub called?" I asked.
"The Big Dill," said Mom. "Because of the pickle factory."
Hard to believe, but true. One week later, I saw it all for myself.CHAPTER 2
I have a secret. Not even Mom knows this one.
I'm still talking to my dad. We found a way.
After Dad was charged, Mom and I were hounded by journalists. They parked in front of our house, with vans and cameras. They followed me to school. You can imagine the headlines they were after. Interview with the Killer's Daughter. It was awful. If this is what rock stars go through, I never want to be one.
I dropped out of school in June to avoid them. Mom had to leave work. It was like we were prisoners ourselves. So when she said we were moving to Canada, I couldn't wait. But here's the thing.
Dad's lawyer was worried about people tracing our correspondence and figuring out where we lived. The tabloids were annoying, but this was more about the Mob. The lawyer said we couldn't have any contact with Dad at all. That was the only way we could drop off the radar. Be safe.
So Dad and I don't send emails. But we do write them.
I'm particularly proud of the system we've been using, because I thought of it myself. I created a new email account. I gave Dad the password before he was hauled off to jail. Every few days, I go in and leave a message in the Drafts file. Dad logs in from his end and reads the draft message. Then he deletes it and writes his own.
No emails sent. Nothing to trace.
This is what he wrote last night:
Hi, Bugs. Thanks for letting me know where you're going. All okay here. It's tough inside, but I'm used to tough. Don't worry about me. Let me know how you settle in. Love you.
When I was little, I couldn't say my own name, Penny. It came out Bunny. So Dad started calling me Bugs, as in Bugs Bunny.
It made me feel good when he called me that in the email. It also made me sad. I miss him so much.
Dad pled out to get a lighter sentence. That's what the lawyer told us. But I know better. He pleaded guilty to avoid a trial. In a trial, everything comes out.
I don't know why he killed that man. No one would tell me. They said it was safer for me not to know.
But one day I'll find out.
Everything went according to plan. Mom drove me to the border. Aunt Stella was waiting there, ready to drive me and my stuff (and Ollie) to Mudville. She even got me a new cell phone. One with a Canadian phone number.
Mom would join us a week later. We wouldn't communicate again before then, just to be safe. I hugged her tightly as we said our goodbyes.
It was a beautiful summer day. Aunt Stella and I arrived in Mudville just after lunch. She parked the car around back. As we walked up the sidewalk, Ollie bounding around us like a maniac, Aunt Stella gave me a side hug. "Welcome to the Big Dill. Everyone around here calls it the Dilly. It will be great having you here. I've been pretty lonely since Phil died."
I hugged her back. Maybe this would be a good thing for her too.
Aunt Stella looks a lot like Mom, only older and a bit slimmer. Her shoulder-length brown hair was pulled back with clips. Her great big smile was irresistible.
The door to the pub looked freshly painted. The top half was all screen. The bottom half had a picture of a smiling green pickle wearing sunglasses. Not kidding. The door swung inward easily.
Ollie beat me in the door. I stepped across the threshold. It wasn't as dark inside as I had expected it to be. My eyes easily adjusted. Lots of light poured in from windows on three sides. A man with gray hair sat at a round wooden table by one of the windows. He looked up and squinted.
"Jeez Louise, Stella. They've finally gone and done it. Crossed a poodle with a grizzly bear."
Aunt Stella darted ahead of me. "Now you behave yourself, Vern."
"Or is it a woolly mammoth?" said Vern.
Aunt Stella gave Vern a playful swat. "Thanks for looking after the place this morning. This is my niece, Penny. And this gorgeous boy is Ollie." She reached down to scratch Ollie behind the ear. She didn't have to reach down very far, of course. "Never mind the grumpy old man, Ollie. Good boy. Aren't you a handsome fellow."
Ollie started to whimper. He wanted more scratches. Some guard dog he was.
Vern stood up. He was much taller than I had expected. Close on six feet. He shuffled up to us and peered at me with surprisingly blue eyes.
He put out a large, knobby hand. "I'm Vern."
"Ollie, stand down," I commanded. "Friend." Ollie relaxed. He wagged his bushy tail and yipped. "Nice to meet you."
"Wait until you meet Wolfgang," Aunt Stella said, still rubbing the pooch.
"Who's Wolfgang?" I asked.
"Tara's dog. You'll meet them both soon. In fact ..." Aunt Stella turned to look at the back door. "That will be Simon now," she said. "He and his friends wanted to be here to welcome you."
"That's nice," I said. Simon is my cousin. From Uncle Phil's first marriage. Aunt Stella and Uncle Phil used to bring him down to Cape Cod most summers. I like Simon, although he is sort of nerdy. He likes old movies and things.
Simon is a year older than me. I am counting on him to help me adjust to the new school in the fall.
I looked up at the sound of a motorcycle. I heard it roar, then putt, putt, then come to a stop somewhere close by. I peered out the back window and stared in amazement.
"Ah ... not Simon. That's Tara. I'll let you two get acquainted. I've got to start prepping for the dinner crowd," said Aunt Stella. "Vern, can you give me a hand back here?"
Vern shuffled obediently after her. Curious. Did my aunt have a boyfriend?
A few seconds later the back door banged open. In marched a tallish girl about my age. And a dog. A sort of dog, going, "Yap, yap, yap. Yip!"
"Damn dog won't wear his helmet," said the girl. "Don't know why I bother."
"Your dog rides in a sidecar?" I asked. Wow.
"His name is Wolfgang. I'm Tara." She gave me a crooked grin.
Wolfgang was a pug of enormous plumpness and smallish voice.
Ollie came bounding down the stairs. I grabbed for his collar and held on tight. But I might have saved my strength.
Wolfgang started to do laps around Ollie. "Yap, yap, yap, yap!" The yapping didn't stop. Neither did the circles.
Ollie stared at the thing leaping around him. I let go of his collar and held my breath. He just sat. Wolfgang stopped doing laps and padded cautiously up to Ollie's front.
Ollie leaned forward and licked him.
"Aw. He likes you." Tara reached down to scratch Ollie.
I breathed a sigh of relief. It was important to me that people here wouldn't have a problem with Ollie.
"Hi, Tara!" Stella called from the kitchen. "Is Simon with you?"
"Any minute," said Tara, looking up. "They were right behind me."
I went back to the window just in time to see a black Mustang pull up. Holy crap — a Mustang! Two people got out, both male, both tall. I watched them amble up the walkway.
The taller guy reached for the door and opened it. As he did, the two dogs ran out of the house.
"It's okay," said Simon. "We closed the gate." He came over, and we shared an awkward hug. "Hey, Penny. Nice to see you. Cool that you're moving here."
"Thanks." I returned his grin and pushed back. He was rail thin and tall. I figured he was even taller and thinner than the last time I'd seen him. We both have dark hair. Mine is quite a bit longer than his though.
"Here they are," said Simon. "This dude is Brent. You've already met Tara. They're twins. Not identical, of course. Although they do look alike." I had noticed they both had the same shaggy blond hair. "Brent's my best bud."
Brent grinned and lunged for Simon.
"Hey!" Simon ducked away. "Don't touch the hair!"
I covered a snicker. Simon was more vain than I'd expected.
"You look a lot like that television star," Tara said to me. "Doesn't she, Brent?"
"Which star?" I asked.
"You're right. She does," said Brent to Tara. Then he answered me. "The one on New Girl. With the big gray eyes."
I liked the sound of that.
Vern came out from the kitchen.
"Hi, Mr. Evans," said Simon. "You know Tara and Brent."
"'Course I do. You can all call me Vern. If you're old enough to drive, you're old enough to drop the mister."
"Vern, get back in here," my aunt called. "I need you to reach something."
Vern shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "The lady calls."
A few minutes later we had pulled up chairs around a table.
"Give me your cell," Tara said to me. "I'll text each of us from your phone, so we have your number too."
"Cool," I said. I happily handed over my new cell.
"Love your car," I said to Brent.
He grinned. "Over three hundred horsepower. It's a beast."
"That car is his baby," said Tara, handing me back my phone. "He's up all night with it sometimes."
"Tara found it for me. She works in a garage after school," said Brent. "Comes in handy." He smiled at me. I couldn't help but smile back. Tara and Brent had the same light-green eyes.
"Brent and I work at the local grocery store," said Simon. "Maybe we can get you a job there too."
"I think Aunt Stella expects me to work here at the pub," I said. "Not serving drinks. I'm not old enough. But helping with the food and stuff."
Simon smacked his hand to his head. "Of course. I'm a dope."
"I'm sixteen now. I want to get my license soon," I said.
"Brent could teach you how to drive," said Tara. "He taught Simon."
I would not mind that a bit. Not only did Brent have a hot car, but he was also pretty hot himself.
The scratching at the back door got louder. I went to open it. Wolfgang trotted in, proudly carrying a big bone.
"Would you look at that?" said Brent. "That's quite a prize."
"Where did you get that old bone, fella?" said Tara. "Is there a compost heap out back or something?" she asked us.
"Nope," Simon said. "What's Ollie doing out there?"
I was still holding the door, so I took a look. Ollie was at the far corner of the herb garden, digging like he was tunneling to China. Dirt was flying in every direction.
"Hey," I yelled to him. "Ollie! Stop that!" Oh no! Ollie had already dug up a bunch of plants and showed no signs of stopping. His head was already well down into the dirt. I ran out to grab him.
"Boy, can he dig," said Brent, right behind me. The others followed too.
"Bad dog!" I scolded as I reached for Ollie's collar. "How could you do this?" Aunt Stella was going to have a fit. What a terrible thing to happen on our very first day here.
I stopped dead.
Ollie was a complete mess. His face was covered in muck. But his eyes gleamed. He was clearly very proud of his unburied treasure.
We all stood there looking at the skeleton Ollie had just uncovered. A human skeleton.
"Whoa," said Simon. "Guess we know where Wolfgang got that bone."CHAPTER 3
"Holy crap," I said finally. I was having a heck of a time keeping Ollie controlled. I couldn't let him get too close to the edge of the hole he had dug. But even from here I could see that a corpse had been placed or rolled face first into the shallow grave.
"That guy didn't die naturally," said Simon. He pointed to the skull, which looked crushed at the back.
I felt a little sick.
"How old are these bones, do you think? They have to be pretty old, right? I mean, they're just bones." I spoke quickly.
Brent poked around the dirt with his shoe. "Looks old, all right. What do you think, Tara?"
"Yup. Probably over twenty years."
Now it was my turn to stare at Tara. "How do you ...?"
She shrugged. "It's just bones. The rest is gone. They look white. Soil is pretty acid around here."
I shivered. How did she know this stuff?
"Tara's a brainer," said Brent.
"I'm going to med school when I finish high school. Dead things don't gross me out," said Tara.
"Looks like a man," said Brent. "Big shoulders. See?"
"Definitely a man," said Tara. "A tall one."
How had she figured that out? I tried to follow her eyes, but the whole skeleton wasn't uncovered.
"Long torso," she said, reading my mind. Things were going to get uncomfortable pretty quick if she kept reading my mind. Like they weren't uncomfortable already. Dead body. First day.
"This is where the firewood used to be piled," said Simon. "Aunt Stella didn't want to deal with that anymore. So she got a gas fireplace installed a few months ago. We just moved the wood last week."
"So that's why the skeleton hasn't been dug up before," I said. That and the fact that the backyard was fenced in. Big predators would have to jump a six-foot fence. Did they even have big predators in Mudville?
"How long was the woodpile there?" asked Tara.
"For as long as Uncle Phil owned the place. Before we were born," said Simon. "Stella would know exactly."
"So the body has probably been here for twenty years," I said.
"Who do you think it is?" said Tara.
"No idea," said Brent.
Ollie woofed. He nearly pulled my arm out of its socket, trying to get back to his treasure.
"I'm just going to put Ollie inside with Wolfgang," I said. I walked to the back door, dragging the bouncy mutt all the way. It was a battle to get him on the other side of the door, but eventually I won. "You stay there," I ordered him, closing the door firmly. Luckily, the door opened inward. All his pawing against it wouldn't force it open.
I turned around. Nobody had moved. I could see them talking urgently among themselves. They stopped as I drew close. We all stared down into the makeshift grave.
"What should we do?" said Simon.
"What do you think, Tara?" Brent said. I found it interesting how he deferred to her.
"We should probably send for Simon's uncle Bob." Tara looked at her twin.
"He's a cop," Simon explained to me. "Other side of the family."
I froze. The last thing I needed was police asking a bunch of questions. It wouldn't take them long to figure out who Mom and I were related to. Word would get around. I didn't want to be known as the kid whose father was in prison.
I was so lost in my thoughts, I almost missed the odd silence that had fallen over the others.
"Or," Simon continued after the long pause, "we could simply cover it up again. Let the poor guy rest in peace."
He glanced over at me. Thing is, Simon knows. He knows Mom and I wouldn't want any police hanging around the place, looking for murderers. He knows I would vote with the "bury the evidence" club.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Crime Club"
Copyright © 2019 Melodie Campbell.
Excerpted by permission of ORCA BOOK PUBLISHERS.
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.