Table of Contents
PRAISE FOR The Gourdmother
“A lovely and fascinating mystery I thoroughly enjoyed . . . A wonderful, satisfying read.”—Earlene Fowler, author of
The Saddlemaker’s Wife
“In gourd artist Bruce’s strong debut . . . [she] deftly weaves insightful instructions on dealing with grief and loss as well as details of the ancient craft of gourding into the plot.”—
“Appealing protagonist Lili Marino charts a courageous and kindly course in this trenchant exploration of damaged lives.”—Carolyn Hart, author of
Death of the Party
“A compelling mystery with realistically drawn, nuanced characters and a compassionate heroine yearning for healing. Maggie Bruce captures the tantalizing charm—and unveils the dark secrets—of a small town where newcomers are not the only outsiders.”—Rochelle Krich, author of
“What a terrific debut! In much the same way as her protagonist transforms gourds into personal and unique works of art, Maggie Bruce takes the traditional village mystery, moves it to upstate New York, populates it with believable and complicated people and issues—and with knife-edge sharpness turns it into something new and uniquely hers.”
—Gillian Roberts, author of the Amanda Pepper Mysteries
“A great cozy mystery . . . [Lili’s] mystery solving is reminiscent of a good episode of
Murder She Wrote
The Snoop Sisters
. Maggie Bruce does a wonderful job creating characters that are both memorable and endearing . . . If you are a fan of Jan Karon, Dorothy Bodoin, or Lilian Jackson Braun,
is certainly the book for you! Good work, Ms. Bruce! We look forward to other Lili Marino adventures.”—
“[A] fine amateur sleuth who-done-it.”—
The Best Reviews
“Maggie Bruce writes with extraordinary warmth and understanding about such things as love and loss, families and communities.
is a wonderful start to a fine new series.”—Nancy Pickard, author of
The Whole Truth
“In addition to the smoothly crafted mystery itself, I loved Maggie Bruce’s depiction of friendship—the quirks and false starts before trust takes root. She knows how small-town America can guard its secrets, and she is wise enough to let her story flow from this knowing. The gourd lore is fascinating and left this reader saying, ‘More, please.’”
—Margaret Maron, author of
“An intense who-done-it . . . well written and entertaining.”
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / March 2007
Copyright © 2007 by Wallace Systems, Inc.
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eISBN : 978-0-425-21226-4
BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
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For Bruce and Mark and Jeremy, forever my guys.
My writing life wouldn’t be the same without the feedback I get from Judy Greber, Triss Stein, Jane Olsen, and Meredith Cole. I’m grateful for their perceptive comments, the kindness with which they were delivered, and the camaraderie of sharing manuscripts and laughter, with some good political rants thrown in for good measure.
My gourding life has blossomed thanks to Dyan Mai Peterson, Bob and Kathy James, Joy Jackson, and all the dedicated gourders I’ve met at shows and festivals and online. What a great and generous community you all make up!
My life has been enriched by so many wonderful, loving people that I can’t even start to name each of them, or these acknowledgments would become a novella. Still, I need to thank Irving Weiss, Karen Bozdech, Steven and Debra Weiss, Ken Wallace, Ben Davis, Anita and David Orlow, Lynn and Michael Hassan, Maria Nardone, Jan Roth, Nancy Gallagher, my friends at Gilda’s, and the Gogs—Judy, Margaret, Sue, Lia, Linda, and Nancy—for the love and support that has helped get me through some interesting (as the Chinese saying goes) times.
Most of all, even though the book is dedicated to them, I thank my guys—Bruce, Mark, and Jeremy—for all the ways you’ve shown your love, and for letting me love you with all my heart and soul.
Sometimes you get an early warning signal. You sense that the placid surface of your life is about to be disturbed by a storm. Maybe it takes a while for the pressure to build enough for you to recognize that you’ll have to spend enormous time and energy to return things to their proper places. I knew something was wrong as soon as my friend Nora got into my car.
She didn’t look at me, didn’t start chattering about her son Scooter, didn’t kiss my cheek in a spontaneous burst of affection. Maybe she was simply distracted, but I had the sense that something was bothering her in a deeper place. I offered a silent prayer that whatever it was could be chalked up to a bad day. My already overloaded life—clients with freelance writing work they wanted done yesterday; a juried art show for which I needed to have twelve new pieces ready next week; once a week sessions as a volunteer mediator—had me scheduled to the nanosecond. Good, bad, or neutral, I couldn’t cram another thing into my life.
Except, here I was on my way to a town meeting to hear arguments for and against allowing a casino to be built outside of Walden Corners, New York, population 3,245.
“Where’s Susan?” I asked. Susan Clemants, who got up at five and then taught sixteen-year-olds about the industrial age all day, hated driving after dark. “I thought she was coming with us.”
Nora buckled her seatbelt and turned to me, her light brown skin glistening with a sheen from the mist that had turned the April evening diaphanous with fog. I switched to low beams as I backed my blue Subaru out of her driveway.
“She’s driving herself to the meeting.” Nora sounded troubled, her voice tentative. “Said she felt as though she needed to be on her own. That she was tired of arguing with the rest of us and upset because we didn’t get it. I don’t like this whole casino question, Lili. Who ever thought it would cause so much trouble?”
Susan had been adamant. A casino would provide reparations to Native Americans for centuries of injustice. She didn’t want to hear about how much it would change everyday life—which was exactly what concerned many of us.
“I know. But she’s entitled to her own opinion, right?” I groaned and glanced at the clock on the dash. We would just about make it in time for the town council meeting, scheduled to start promptly at seven. “I hope she’s not really serious about not coming with us. I disagree with her but so what? We’re friends. We’re grown-ups. Don’t you think she’s overreacting?”
“Elizabeth phoned her.” This time, Nora’s voice was barely audible. “She stomped up one side and down the other of poor Susan. Said Susan would be singing a different tune when some lowlife ended up peeing in her front yard at three in the morning after the casino plied him with drinks to keep him at the tables. Said that if Susan wanted to save the world that was her business but a lot of other people had worked too hard all their lives to build a community here.
And they weren’t ready to give it up to satisfy either greed or guilt.”
“Sometimes, Elizabeth just likes to push people’s buttons. I mean, she’s an attorney. She loves arguing.” I still had moments of wariness around Elizabeth, whose sharp tongue and quick mind served her better in court than it did around a dinner table.
“So does Susan. At least about this casino thing. I still can’t believe what she said to me.”
I glanced away from the road to see whether Nora’s face was as troubled as her voice. She bit her lower lip and shook her head, her gaze fixed on her knees.
“Nora?” I said as gently as I could.
She lifted her head. “Susan said, ‘Of all people, you should be thinking about justice. I’m sure your daddy would have been on the side of the oppressed.’ Can you believe it? Now all black people have to support the casino. We’ve been friends since third grade, but that’s the first time Susan ever told me I wasn’t black enough for her white liberal self.”
possible for friendships to get lost in a swirl of politics and misunderstanding, but I didn’t want to believe that about this group. Nora Johnson, Elizabeth Conklin, Susan Clemants, and Melissa Paul had been sharing the triumphs and challenges of their lives since grade school. Allowing me into their circle six months after I moved to Walden Corners from Brooklyn was one of the things that made my life full and rich. I didn’t want an argument about a casino to jeopardize the monthly poker games that I’d come to count on for good company and the occasional ten dollar win.