Despite growing up together, Ditie hasn't seen Ellie Winston in two years, and she didn't even know Ellie was living in Atlanta. But when Ellie asks her to take care of Lucie and Jason for the weekend, she thinks nothing of it. They'll bake cookies together, play with her dog-it'll be fun! Until the police call with terrible news . . .
Ellie may not have been the best friend, but who would want her dead? Could it have something to do with the vague get-rich-quick scheme she mentioned to Ditie? Or the men in a black truck following her and breaking into her home? Not sure who to trust other than her best friend, Lurleen, Ditie's buried maternal instincts kick in to protect the kids and find their mother's killer-before they're orphaned again . . .
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Nothing warned me that my world was about to tilt on its axis and never tilt back again.
Early spring in Atlanta was a magical time, and this morning was no exception. A few cumulus clouds drifted overhead, the temperature was near seventy, and my garden was already in bloom. I got up with the sun, so I'd already made cinnamon rolls, some of which might actually last until the next day, Saturday, when I could take them to work. I planted myself on the open porch of my Virginia-Highland home to drink in the scent of my gardenia bush and watch my tulips sunning themselves. No work for me today, just pleasure.
Hermione, my half German shepherd, half collie bodhisattva of a dog, put her head in my lap, partly to say she loved me and partly to see if she might get a bit of cinnamon roll. I gave her what I had left and sipped my coffee. I would not let this perfect morning be ruined by the hit-and-run visit of my brother. Tommy came when he wanted something and always left me with collateral damage. This time the visit had been on his way to work to see if I'd finally agree to sell the family farm in Iowa.
"We could make millions in condos," Tommy said. For him, everything was about the dollar sign. No, I told him. I hadn't changed my mind and wasn't likely to. The dairy farm had been in our family for generations. We had a good tenant. While I didn't love the farm, our mother had. It might have been the only thing she really had loved. Tommy left in a huff, driving over my Texas bluestar on his way out.
I did my best to breathe new life into my half-flattened plant and then sat on the porch musing about the future. Was it time to leave Atlanta? I'd stayed in this city longer than most that I'd lived in. First for medical school and residency. Later for a job in a refugee clinic. I loved my work, but as a pediatrician, I could work anywhere. Why had I come back? To try once again to mend fences with Tommy? Clearly that was not going to happen. Was it because I loved being near my best friend, Lurleen? She and I kept up through Skype and visits wherever I landed.
I really didn't need to stay any longer.
The desire to roam was getting stronger. I could feel it like an itch that I couldn't quite scratch. Sure, I loved my garden, my house, my work, Atlanta. But there were other homes and cities I could love just as well.
"Ditie?" someone called. I stood up. No one but my closest friends called me that.
My dad called me Aphrodite, Ditie for short, because he thought I was beautiful. My mother said that was absurd. She christened me Mabel Brown after her hard-working grandmother. "You're no Aphrodite," she told me later, "and it's a sorry day your father put those thoughts in your head."
I looked up and down my tree-lined street. I lived in the perfect neighborhood on a street that had little traffic. I saw no one.
"Ditie. It is you!" someone called again.
This time I saw her emerging from behind my neighbor's dogwood tree, running toward me, arms outstretched. Ellie! Tall, slender, her magnificent blond hair swirling around her face, her deep-set blue eyes the color of the Gulf of Mexico. It was how she always appeared. Out of nowhere. Unexpected.
She threw her arms around my round body, squishing my head against her ample breasts. The last time I'd seen her was two years earlier when she'd called for help with a bad-news boyfriend — getting away from him, that is. Eleanor turned up when she was in trouble and not much in between. I'd learned to accept that, sort of, but it was hard.
Ellie was the person I wanted to be from the time I first saw her. I was five years old and she was seven. She stood in the doorway of our classroom with her long blond hair catching the light. She was a goddess to me, the real Aphrodite. I followed her around like a lost bear cub. I was pudgy and short, with curly brown hair. I think I'd just chopped it all off to spite my mother, who insisted that girls had to wear barrettes and dresses when they went to school. Once I saw Eleanor, all I wanted was long silky hair. I didn't cut my hair short again until I was sixteen and headed off to college.
"How did you find me?" I asked. "I tried to call you when I moved back to Atlanta, but they said your number was disconnected."
"Hi, sweetie. I googled you and there you were. Funny how we all ended up here — you, me, Tommy. I live ten minutes away in Little Five Points. Small world, huh?"
Small world maybe, but I wondered if Ellie had moved to Atlanta in hopes of working something out with Tommy. They dated in high school and then broke up when Ellie got a better offer from the quarterback. Loyalty wasn't Ellie's strong suit. Forgiving wasn't Tommy's. She eyed me, and as usual around Eleanor, I wished I'd combed my hair and put on makeup.
"Tommy was just here," I said to get the focus off me. "You missed him by thirty seconds."
"I thought I saw his car," she said.
"So you two have been in touch?"
"No, no," she said quickly. "Haven't seen him in a year. Tommy doesn't have time for me."
"You and me both. It's funny though — I thought Tommy just bought that Mercedes."
Ellie shrugged. She looked over my yard and my 1920s brick bungalow. "This is a big house. You live here all alone?"
"I don't have a man in my life right now if that's what you mean. But I do have my cat, Majestic, and my dog, Hermione." I looked around. "Where are the kids?"
Eleanor seemed to be out for a stroll with no kids in sight. She looked good. Her hair was shorter and her figure was as great as ever. The only thing that looked off was her smile. It didn't light up her face the way it usually did.
"What's wrong? Are the kids sick? I'm seeing a lot of norovirus in the clinic these days."
"No, no. The kids are fine. Thank God. Nothing with the kids, and I want to keep it that way. They're in school. I just stopped by, so we could ... chat a bit."
"Chat a bit" was Eleanor-speak for "I have a problem."
"Come on in," I said after giving her another hug. I could hear her gasping for air. "Sorry, sometimes I forget my own strength. I'm just so glad to see you. Where is your car?" "Repossessed. I took a bus. You're right on the line from Little Five."
"Why didn't you call me? I could have picked you up."
"I wasn't sure I'd actually have the nerve to see you. Not after how I left the last time. I never thanked you for saving my life. Again." She gave me a momentary mea culpa look and then shook it off with a quick twitch of her slender shoulders.
Occasionally, Eleanor spoke the truth. This was one of those times. I had rescued her from a thug who would have been happy to beat the crap out of her for promising something she didn't deliver. That was the story of Ellie's life. She promised and didn't deliver.
"Something smells delicious," Ellie said as I ushered her inside. Hermione wagged her tail and then settled on the couch.
"Home-made cinnamon rolls. Can I get you some along with coffee, tea?"
Eleanor shook her head. "I can't stay long. It's a wonderful house," she said, looking around. "Just the house I'd expect you to have — a house with character."
Eleanor knew all my soft spots and most of my vanities. Houses mattered to me. God knows I'd lived in enough of them. Majestic, my large orange cat, swished his way past Eleanor and sat down beside the open door to preen and see what the birds outside were up to.
Eleanor stood near the front door. "I have a favor to ask. A big one."
"Maybe we ought to sit down first," I said.
Ellie perched on the edge of my grandmother's rocker, and I squeezed onto the couch where Hermione was sprawled. "Okay, shoot."
"I know this is a huge imposition, but I don't know where else to turn. You've always come through for me in the past. It wouldn't be for long. Just till I got a few things sorted out."
This was going to be quite a favor. "Tell me, Ellie."
"Do you think the kids could stay with you for a few days?"
I stared at Ellie. She looked desperate. Frantic — if the way she rocked back and forth on the edge of the chair was any indication.
"Of course," I said. That was always my first response to Eleanor. Tommy said I picked up trouble the way other people picked up a favorite book to read. He swore I had a deep-seated neurotic need to be everyone's rescuer, the bigger the problem the better. That was Tommy's latest interest — shrink talk. Ever since he'd gone to therapy for about two weeks, he understood the world of the psyche.
"But why do you need me to do that?"
Ellie fidgeted. "There's just something I have to do. And I can't do it with the kids in tow. I need to know they're safe."
"Safe?" Now I started to fidget. "Ellie, what are you up to this time?"
"Don't press me, Ditie. You're the only one I can turn to. The only person I know I can trust. The only person I'd leave my children with. Lucie talks about you all the time. When will she get to see her Aunt Di?"
Ellie found another of my soft spots — a kid who likes me. Kids in the practice like me well enough, but they're a lot less enthusiastic after I poke them or give them a shot.
"Lucie must be eight or nine by now. And Jason is what, five?"
"Jason turns five in a couple of days and Lucie will be nine in September."
I was silent, and I'm sure I looked worried.
Ellie glanced at her watch and stood up. "I have to go. I've got something I have to handle, and I don't want the kids in the middle of it. If you can't help me out, I'll find someone who can."
"Take it easy. Of course, I'll help you. But I need to know what's going on with you. You look frightened."
Ellie composed her face. "Not frightened," she said. "Excited. I'm about to make a killing. Maybe I'll buy a house next door and we'll become the sisters we were always meant to be."
I smiled. Ellie was like a sister to me. Not always an easy one, but one I loved.
"The kids won't be a burden," she said. "They go to Morningside Elementary. They take the bus from our apartment, but they could walk from your house. Lucie is very responsible. She's as much a mom to Jason as I am."
I nodded. She'd been a mom to Jason the last time I saw them. Lucie got her responsibility gene from somewhere, but it wasn't from her mother. "Do the kids ever see their father?"
"Of course not. He's no good, you know that. Doesn't pay child support, much less alimony. I don't even have a current address for him."
Eleanor, for all her looks, never had good luck with men. Her father was a run-around, and maybe that's just what she expected and got from the men she hooked up with. She left her husband before Jason was born and I never knew why.
"When shall I pick up the kids?" I asked.
"At five or six, if that works for you."
"Sure." Why did that word fall so easily from my lips? I didn't actually know how this would work. It was Friday, my day off, but I had a morning shift at the Refugee Clinic on Saturday, and what about Monday?
Ellie read my mind. "Like I say, Lucie can walk Jason to school and home again. No problem. They're used to being home alone."
"I'm not comfortable with that. I can probably get my friend Lurleen to help out in the afternoons, and I can drop them off at school on my way to work."
"You're such a problem solver. That's why I love you. Here's the address." She handed me a slip of paper on Sandler's Sodas letterhead.
"You work for Sandler's?" I asked.
"Used to. Long story. They are about to make me a very good retirement offer. I have to go."
"Do the kids know about this arrangement?" "Well, sort of."
"I didn't want to tell them until I was sure about you. They'll be fine."
"I'll drop you at home," I said.
"You don't need to drop me off. I have an errand to run first. If I'm not home when you get there, Lucie can help you get everything you need. Not to worry."
Not to worry. Right. I could feel my shoulders tense — a sure sign that something wasn't okay.
Ellie flicked her fabulous hair back from her face and gave me her megawatt smile. "I'll explain everything when I pick the kids up in a few days."
Explaining wasn't part of Eleanor's vocabulary. I nodded. I'm no shrinking violet, but with Eleanor I seemed to lose my adult self and become her five-year-old slave again.
She got ready to leave with a kiss on my cheek and a promise to call in the evening. The sky had darkened and we were in for an afternoon storm. I could hear the first drops on the porch. I offered again to take her wherever she needed to go. She refused.
"At least take my big umbrella," I said as she headed out the door.
Probably to get me out of her hair, she grabbed the umbrella, gave me another peck on the cheek, and darted down the front steps. She headed up the road toward Highland Ave., and I went into action mode.
That meant calling Lurleen. I explained the situation. Besides being my best friend, she lived a block away. She hadn't worked since her aunt left her a small fortune and she was always ready to help.
"Oh, chérie, you know I would do anything for you." I could envision her twisting one strand of her luxuriant auburn hair. "Anything at all. But children? What do I know about children? They are so little and squirmy." The usual excitement in her voice took on a new timbre of anxiety. Something I hadn't heard before.
"It's okay, Lurleen," I told her. "They aren't babies. They've been looking out for themselves their entire lives. I just need a responsible adult to stay with them when I'm at work. They'll have a great time with you. You're so much fun."
"You think so?" Her voice settled down into a soft southern drawl with French highlights that was music to my ears. Her full name was Lurleen du Trois. I never knew if that was her given name or something she created. I did know her French accent had never seen France, or Quebec for that matter. It was pure Lurleen. "C'est vrai. I can be very amusante when I try. But kids — I'm not sure what kids find amusing. Maybe we could play badminton or croquet or charades. I'll make a list. And what shall I feed them? Do they eat regular food or do I need to buy something special — like those little fish crackers and alphabet soup?"
"Regular food will be fine," I said. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, Lurleen. Do you have time to stop by tonight and meet them?"
"Bien sur. Anything for you, chérie. When you make your chocolate chip cookies, will you save some for me?"
"Of course. How did you know that was next on my list?"
"My dear girl, you always bake — when you're happy, you bake. When you're bored or upset, you bake. I think today you're worried about your friend Ellie."
Lurleen said she'd stop by around seven.
I picked the kids up at five in a run-down section of Little Five Points. They didn't know I was coming and there was no Ellie or babysitter in sight.
"It's okay," Lucie told me. "We don't need a babysitter. I can look after things."
Ellie and I would be having a long discussion about this when I saw her next. We gathered up the few things they had. Jason brought his action figures and Lucie brought her stuffed monkey but only when I insisted. "I'm really too old for that, Aunt Di," she told me.
"Well, I'm not," I said and tucked it in her book bag.
Lurleen arrived on the dot of seven.
"I hope I'm not late," she said and grinned at me. Lurleen was never late. She wore a jaunty beret that sat atop her massive auburn curls, and she stooped to kiss me on both cheeks. Lurleen was six feet tall, slender — a sharp contrast to my five feet of well-rounded flesh.
"Bon soir," she said to Lucie and Jason. She knelt down beside them and shook each of their hands with great solemnity. They looked at her as if she might be from another planet.
"That's French for good evening," she explained. "Ah, I see you have the latest action figure, Jason. The Transformer, isn't it?"
I could imagine how Lurleen had spent her afternoon — searching the Internet for what little boys liked to play with. That was all it took to hook Jason. He showed her the intricacies of the Transformer, changing it around from human to machine and back to human again.
Lucie was equally enthralled with her. "I took French once in school," she said shyly. "But only for a few weeks until we had to move."
"Ah, no problem. Or should I say, pas de probleme. We'll speak French every day, and you'll catch on in no time."
Lurleen's first encounter with the kids was a glowing success. I had no doubt it would be. Lurleen could charm a cow into giving more milk, a coop full of chickens into laying more eggs, a judgmental mother into being kind to her daughter. When my mother came for my med school graduation — after Lurleen called her and insisted she come — I never heard one word of criticism. Lurleen entertained her, sang my praises. She had my mother laughing out loud, something I'd never heard before. That had been a good visit, two weeks before my mother died of a massive stroke.
Excerpted from "Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot"
Copyright © 2018 Sarah Osborne.
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
I really enjoyed the first book of the Ditie Brown series. The characters are interesting. I would have given it a five star rating, but the plot was a little too convoluted. I am looking forward to the next adventure and finding out more about Lurleen, Mason, Dan and Eddie. Hopefully, Tommy will make an appearance, too. I would suggest this book to anyone who enjoys cozy mysteries.
GREAT SERIES!!! LOOKING FORWARD TO READING THE NEXT ONE!!!
Dollycas’s Thoughts Pediatrician Mabel Aphrodite Brown – Ditie – who spends her life saving kids. She works at a refugee clinic and sees kids with everything from malnutrition to abusing “uncles”. She comes to care a lot about these children in just the few minutes she spends with them. She has no kids of her own and would make a wonderful mom. She is stunned when her friend, Ellie Winston shows up at her door asking her to watch her kids, Lucie and Jason for a few days while she straightens out some things. Ditie quickly agrees but is worried about what kind of scheme her friend is caught up in. When the police call informing Ditie her friend is dead she feels like she has to do something. Her friend Lurleen has been helping with the kids and they may now be in danger. She will do anything to protect Lucie and Jason. Which may mean moving out of her home and taking time off from work. This mom thing is much harder than she thought. Who knew she would be wrapped up in whatever got Ellie killed? I really enjoyed this story! Mabel Aphrodite Brown is a strong woman but she doesn’t take off trying to solve everything herself. Detective Mason Garrett is assigned the case. He is the one who notifies Ditie of Ellie’s death. He is the one that comes to talk to the kids and Ditie to get their statements. He becomes invested in their lives right away, and there may just be a little spark between Mason and Ditie. He brings in a hunky P.I. to watch over Ditie, Lurleen, and the kids when he can’t be there. Later we meet Mason’s mom, a retired police officer. Together they all work to solve the case. It was refreshing to watch it all play out, even with the bumps the powers that be put in the road. Sarah Osbourne gave us such wonderful characters. We learn some of their backstories, some of which may not be entirely truthful in Lureen’s case, while enjoying getting to know them in the present. They have tons of room to grow. I was immediately engaged and wanted to know all of them better. The children, Lucie and Jason have had a hard life, Lucie more mature than her actual 9 years. She was responsible for 5-year-old Jason even when their mother was still alive. My heart broke for them. I can’t wait to see them hopefully develop more natural relationships as they grow. In addition to these characters, Ms. Osboune gives us one heck of a mystery. So many people seem to be involved, one that was very surprising. Some great red herring diversions kept me guessing. It had some really suspenseful moments and some of the subject matter was a little grittier than in traditional cozy mysteries. The author tempered this with the right about of romance and humor. I did find myself very emotional about the children in this story. Not just Lucie and Jason but the ones seen at the refugee clinic. With the way, children are now being taken away from their parents at the Mexican border and put in cages, and people seeking asylum being arrested instead of helped, Ditie has a very relevant job. While the story takes place in Georgia there are still families there that need help and I love that Mabel Aphrodite Brown is dedicated to just that. This series is off to a super start!
A good book. I enjoyed the interaction between the children and the adults the most. The plot was interesting and there were indeed too many crooks to keep straight. #TooManyCrooksSpoilThePlot #NetGalley
Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot by Sarah Osborne is the first A Ditie Brown Mystery. Mabel “Ditie” Brown is a pediatrician who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is surprised when Ellie Winston, who she has not seen in two years, show up at her house. Ellie only shows up when she is in trouble and this time is no exception. She asks if Ditie can watch her two children for a few days while she handles a matter. Ditie picks up the kids from a rundown apartment that evening and Ellie is not in residence (she left them alone). After 12 a.m. Mabel gets a call from Detective Mason Garrett. Ellie was found murdered in midtown with a note that Ditie is take care of her kids if something happens to her. What had Ellie been up to this time? The killer believes the kids or Ditie have something they want, and they will do whatever it takes to get it. They only way to protect the children is to track down the guilty party. Ditie and the kids are in for a harrowing time in Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot. Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot is not your traditional cozy mystery. The main character, Mabel “Ditie” Brown is a pediatrician who works at a refugee clinic. Some of her patient stories are shared in the book (sad situations). Then we have Ellie Winston who frequently leaves her two kids (under nine) alone at home and has questionable ways of raising money. Ellie is then murdered and Ditie is left with two children to raise. It is distressing that Lucie Winston (age 9) has been responsible for caring for her brother, Jason (age 5). The tales from the children are just heartbreaking. The mystery has some good components and there is action that helps move the story forward. I do wish it had been harder to solve. The responsible party can easily be singled out (if you have not solved this one by the time you are halfway through the book, you need to turn in your deerstalker cap). The small-town charm and some light-hearted humor (a little levity) is missing from Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot. The background on Ditie was lacking as well. The writing lacked an ease to it and the pace was slow (the book seemed long when it was only 244 pages). There is romance (of course) between Ditie and Detective Garrett. Detective Garrett should have focused more on his job instead of Ditie and fewer errors would have been made. There are cozy moments with cooking, eating, baking, and the kids. I felt that the author missed the mark with Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot. My rating is 3 out of 5 for Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot.
Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot is an excellent start to a new series. I was hooked from the very beginning. Ditie ( short for Aphrodite) is a fun, colorful character and I enjoyed getting to know her and her friends. When an old friend of Ditie shows up unexpectedly, with a big favor, Ditie has no idea what she is in for. The story was suspenseful and interesting and found myself wondering just who in the heck Ellie was! This book will appeal to all cozy mystery fans, young and old and in between. I volunteered to read and and review an ARC of this book offered by the publisher and NetGalley.
Too Many Crooks Spoil the Pot is the first edition in Sarah Osborne’s new Ditie Brown Mystery series. Mabel Aphrodite Brown, an Iowa transplant, is a pediatrician working with the Refugee Clinic in Atlanta. Hardworking, single Ditie is dedicated to her career and the patients that depend upon her. However, when her childhood friend Ellie Winston comes to her asking her to care for her two small children for a few days, Ditie’s life is turned upside down. When Detective Mason Garrett visits her to tell her of Ellie’s death, her world is further and forever changed. In Ditie’s quest to protect the children, who her heart has claimed as her own, she and her friend Lurleen become embroiled in a story of industrial espionage orchestrated from within and resulting in multiple lives lost. Detective Garrett hides Ditie, Lurleen, and the kids away at his family home with his mother, retired police officer Edwina “Eddie” Garrett. With Mason, Eddie, and private investigator Danny Devalle on the case it is just a matter of time until the case is brought to a close. What they didn’t count on was opposition from within the police department or that the main villain was at the highest levels of Sandler Sodas. A well written fast paced story, this new series is one to watch. The characters are real yet complex and the plot twists, turns, and empties the reader onto unexpected planes. I did enjoy this book and I do recommend it!
I can’t recommend this book enough! If you are a cozy mystery fan who likes smart, warm and complex characters, I suggest you read, Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot. It starts off cozy, engaging and delightful. It quickly becomes absorbing and suspenseful. Who was Ellie, really? What was she involved in? Why did she take that risk the day she dropped her children off with Mabel? What did Phil want? You’ll find yourself asking all these questions and more by chapter three! The pacing is perfect and the story-line enjoyable. Five Stars.
I received a free copy of Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot by Sarah Osborne in exchange for an honest review. This is the debut cosy mystery novel by Sarah Osborne. Pediatrician Mabel Aphrodite “Ditie” Brown is a wanderer. Ditie is getting up ready to pull up stakes and move when a childhood friend asks Ditie for help. Ditie gladly agrees to babysit for the weekend even though she had misgivings about what her sometimes shady friend may be doing. When the friend is murdered and the children are threatened, can Ditie and her friend Lurlene keep the children safe? When the police seem to be blocking the investigation, can Ditie and her friends figure out who is behind the wickedness before one of them is killed, too? I liked this book. I already told my friends about it and recommended it to them. The characters were likeable and engaging. The storyline was interesting. The romance with the detective was a little trite, but you have to get a law enforcement connection in there somehow. #TooManyCrooksSpoilThePlot #NetGalley