Home For the Homicide (A Do-It-Yourself Mystery)

BOOK: Home For the Homicide (A Do-It-Yourself Mystery)
13.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Wall-to-Wall Dead

“A really good whodunit.”

Cozy Mystery Book Review

“This fast-paced, nonstop action whodunit kept me on my toes.”

Mayhem and Magic

Flipped Out

“Bentley’s well-developed characters are what makes this cozy so endearing, entertaining, and enthralling.”


“The reader will be drawn in like a moth to the flame. This is probably the best book in the series to date.”

Debbie’s Book Bag

Mortar and Murder

“With plot twists that curve and loop . . . this story offers handy renovation tips, historical data, and a colorful painting of the Maine landscape.”


“Mystery author Jennie Bentley has nailed together another great mystery with
Mortar and Murder

Fresh Fiction

Plaster and Poison

“[A] thrilling story that keeps the readers guessing and turning pages.”

Fresh Fiction

“A believable and beguiling mystery. Each novel in the series delights, and the third installment only raises the stakes.”


Spackled and Spooked

“Smooth, clever, and witty. This series is a winner!”

Once Upon a Romance

“Bound to be another winner for this talented author. Home-renovation buffs will appreciate the wealth of detail.”


Fatal Fixer-Upper

“An ingeniously plotted murder mystery with several prime suspects and a nail-biting conclusion.”

The Tennessean

“A great whodunit . . . Fans will enjoy this fine cozy.”

Midwest Book Review

“Smartly blends investigative drama, sexual tension, and romantic comedy elements, and marks the start of what looks like an outstanding series of Avery Baker cases.”

The Nashville City Paper

“Polished writing and well-paced story. I was hooked . . . from page one.”

Cozy Library

“There’s a new contender in the do-it-yourself home-renovation mystery field . . . An enjoyable beginning to a series.”

Bangor Daily News

“A strong debut mystery . . . Do-it-yourselfers will find much to enjoy in the first of this new series.”

The Mystery Reader

“A cozy whodunit with many elements familiar to fans of Agatha Christie or
Murder, She Wrote

Nashville Scene

“A fun and sassy journey that teaches readers about home renovation as they follow the twists and turns of a great mystery.”


“A first-rate mystery and a frightening surprise ending.”

RT Book Reviews

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Jennie Bentley










Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China


A Penguin Random House Company


A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2013 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62722-8


Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / December 2013


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.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Neither the publisher nor the author is engaged in rendering professional advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, projects, and suggestions contained in this book are not intended as a substitute for consulting with a professional. Neither the author nor the publisher shall be liable or responsible for any loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestion in this book.



Praise For The Do-It-Yourself Mysteries

Also by Jennie Bentley

Title Page




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21



Home-Renovation and Design Tips



As always, thanks go out to a multitude of people who had a part in bringing
Home for the Homicide
to this point:

My editor, Jessica Wade, and her assistant, Jesse Feldman, along with everyone at Berkley Prime Crime and Penguin Random House. Thanks for finally giving me the opportunity to write my baby-skeleton story!

My agent, Stephany Evans, and everyone at Fine Print Literary Management, for taking a chance on me those many years ago.

The book design team: cover designer, Rita Frangie; interior designer, Laura Corless; and cover artist, Jennifer Taylor; for another beautiful product.

Berkley publicist Kayleigh Clark, without whom this book would be nowhere.

My long-suffering beta reader and critique partner, Jamie Livingston-Dierks, for reading and providing feedback on everything I write, even the neurotic and weird stuff.

The two people who graciously outbid everyone else for the privilege of becoming characters in this book: Deborah Holt for supporting FOWL, Friends of the Wetumpka Library, and Kerri Waldo for donating to the Brenda Novak Diabetes Auction.

Kelli Stanley, for suggesting the title
Home for the Homicide
for book three in the DIY mysteries, which ended up being called
Plaster and Poison

And Dean James, for suggesting the same title this time around, when we finally managed to get it approved!

All my other friends within and without the publishing industry. By now there are too many of you to mention by name, but know that I’m grateful for each and every one of you. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for your love and support.

Everyone who’s read a copy of one of my books sometime in the past five years; especially those of you who liked it, and even more especially those of you who told a friend.

And last but not least my family, my husband and my two boys, who have learned to accept the fact that I spend much of my time in a world far removed from theirs, where they can’t join me, and who love me anyway.


“The Christ Child is gone!” Kate announced dramatically as she flung her coat over the back of a chair.

I looked up from where I was bent over a particularly stubborn piece of interior design software on the laptop. “Excuse me?”

She dropped into the chair on the other side of the table and reverted to her usual voice. “The Baby Jesus from the manger outside the church. It’s gone.”

“That happens every year,” my husband told her over his shoulder, from where he was on his knees in front of the fireplace, building a fire.

I looked from one to the other of them. “Really?”

Kate nodded. “Don’t you remember from last year? You were in Waterfield then.”

I had been, as a matter of fact. It was about a year and a half since I’d moved from New York City to tiny Waterfield, Maine, to renovate my late aunt Inga’s house. It was a year and three or four months since Derek and I had become an item, personally and professionally.

Only about a month since he’d become my husband.

But I had definitely been here last December.

“We were a little bit busy this time last year,” I reminded Kate. “Renovating your carriage house, remember? You didn’t give us much warning, so we were scrambling through half of November and all of December to get it done before you and Wayne got married.”

And in addition to the renovations themselves, and my mother and stepfather coming in from California to visit for the holidays, there had been the dead body that had been dropped into the middle of our renovations to slow things down further. If the Baby Jesus had gone missing from the manger outside the church last year, I didn’t remember hearing about it.

“It’s been happening for as long as I can remember.” Derek left the fire, now crackling merrily, and sat down next to me. He made himself comfortable, with one ankle on the opposite knee, and stretched one arm along the back of the sofa. Right where my back would have been if I hadn’t been leaning forward to place the laptop on the table. “Barry puts out the nativity scene in front of the church the first of December, and a day or two later, someone takes the baby out of the manger and leaves with it.”

“You’re kidding.” I leaned back, and he curled his arm around my shoulders and pulled me a little closer. Between the fire crackling on one side, and the heat of his body on the other, it was like being wrapped in a warm blanket.

“No,” Kate said. “It’s been going on for as long as I’ve been living here. A lot less time than Derek can remember, obviously. But Wayne said the same thing.”

Wayne Rasmussen, Kate’s husband, had grown up in Waterfield, just like Derek. Kate and I were both transplants. She’d come from Boston some seven or eight years ago now, with her daughter, Shannon, and had settled right in, while I still wasn’t sure I considered myself a Waterfielder. Maine was great in the summer, but now, at the beginning of December, with sunset by four in the afternoon and the nights cold enough to freeze my toes off, I had a hard time remembering what it was I liked about it.

Kate was my first friend when I came to town last summer, and it was thanks to her that Derek and I had found each other. He was a handyman, and she’d recommended I hire him to help me renovate Aunt Inga’s house before putting it back on the market and—the plan was—going back to my life in Manhattan with the profits. But instead I’d fallen in love with both Derek and the house, and with life in this little town on the coast of Maine (in the warm weather at least!), and had ended up staying. And now we both lived in what used to be Aunt Inga’s house, since we had plans for a family and since Derek’s loft, above the hardware store in downtown, didn’t have the space we needed, or for that matter a yard for the kiddies to play in, once they came along.

“Is he going to investigate?” I asked.

In addition to being Kate’s husband and a native Waterfielder, Wayne was also the local chief of police.

“There’s nothing to investigate,” Kate answered. “Usually the baby is returned after a day or two. They’re just waiting.”

“Is someone going to stake out the front of the church? See who returns it?”

“Lot of trouble for a doll,” Derek said, and Kate nodded.

“Besides,” she said, “what are they going to charge the thief with, if they figure out who it is? Borrowing Jesus?”

“What about a camera? One of those small motion-activated ones? It would kick on whenever someone came close to the nativity scene . . .”

“A lot of people walk up to the nativity scene,” Derek said. Kate nodded.

“The department doesn’t have the money for something like that anyway.”

After a second, however, she added pensively, “Although I wouldn’t be surprised if Josh could wrangle one . . .”

Josh was her stepson, Wayne’s son from his first marriage, and in a strange twist of fate, also the boyfriend of Kate’s daughter, Shannon. Josh liked Shannon long before Wayne liked Kate, though, so there was nothing weird about it.

Josh was also a student at local Barnham College—same as Shannon—and his specialty was information technology. In other words, he was a geek. I had no doubt whatsoever he either had, or had access to, a motion-activated camera.

“It couldn’t hurt to ask.”

“No,” Kate said, “although it’s probably just kids, Avery. Pranks.”

“For thirty years?” My husband was thirty-five, and if the Baby Jesus kidnappings had been going on for as long as he could remember, whoever had been doing it when he was a kid, had to be well beyond the age of pranks by now.

“Maybe it’s a family tradition,” Derek said with a grin. “Someone used to do it back then, and now he’s passed the job on to his kids.”

That made as much sense as anything else about this situation, which essentially was none at all. “But you said the baby is always returned?”

They both nodded. “It usually takes a couple of days,” Kate said, “but then one morning it’s back in the manger. That’s why nobody makes a fuss about it.”


“It is,” Derek agreed. “But it’s just one of those little things that makes Waterfield a great place to live.”

He smiled down at me. I smiled back. I couldn’t help it. Looking at him made me happy. The feeling of knowing I was married to him made me giddy inside with joy. Sometimes—like when he smiled at me—it spilled over.

And he was handsome when he smiled. He was handsome the rest of the time, too—tall, lean, with hair about midway between dark blond and light brown, and eyes the color of the sky—but when he smiled, he got dimples. I’ve always had a soft spot for dimples.

Kate cleared her throat, and I returned my attention to her, my cheeks hot. “Sorry.”

“I’m used to it,” Kate said. “Josh has been looking at Shannon like that for six years. Not like I haven’t seen it before.”


Derek grinned. “What can we do for you? Or did you just stop by to tell us that the Baby Jesus is missing from the manger again?”

“I actually came to ask a favor,” Kate said.

Uh-oh. Derek and I looked at each other, and I’m sure the same expression was on my face as I could see on his.

Shades of last year, when she’d shown up right here at the house to beg us to turn her decrepit carriage house into a love nest for two by New Year’s Eve, because her husband-to-be had decided he didn’t like the idea of living in the bed and breakfast Kate runs. Something about a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and two of the guests seeing him in his boxer shorts, totally unbefitting the chief of police.

“If it’s renovation related, I’m afraid we already have a project,” Derek said. “It’ll keep us busy for a while. February, at least.”

Far from being put off by this, Kate sounded interested. “Really? What are you working on?”

“The big Craftsman bungalow on North Street,” Derek said.

“The Green sisters’ house? How did you get your hands on that? I didn’t even know it had gone on the market.”

“That’s because it didn’t,” Derek said.

Derek had been talking to me about Ruth and Mamie Green’s house as long ago as last summer, surmising that it would be coming up for sale soon. He wanted it, in a bad way. It was a large Craftsman bungalow in the heart of Waterfield Village, the historical district, with all the hallmarks of the Arts and Crafts movement: a wide front porch with substantial stone and wood columns supporting the overhanging roof, broad eaves with exposed rafters, and banks of big sixteen-over-one double-hung windows.

He had hoped that not much had been done to the house, for good or for bad, since it was built in the 1920s, and when we finally got a chance to see the interior, he’d turned out to be right. It was in much its original condition, which meant scuffed hardwood floors in dire need of refinishing, and crumbling plaster walls in need of patching and sanding, not to mention two original 1920s bathrooms and an original 1920s kitchen . . . but it also meant a stunning unpainted fieldstone fireplace flanked by casement windows in the living room, and fifteen-light French doors separating the living room from the dining room, not to mention the original and intact breakfront in the dining room and the original swinging butler door into the kitchen. Unpainted, of course. The whole house had the original dark-stained woodwork on doors, baseboards, and window frames; dull and dark with age, but gorgeous.

“What happened?” Kate wanted to know.

“Ruth broke her hip,” Derek answered.

That had happened sometime in June or July. And because Ruth Green was in her mid-seventies, recovery had taken a long time. After a week or two in the hospital, her relatives had arranged for her to go to a rehabilitation facility, and from there to an assisted living facility, since the hip never had healed the way it was supposed to.

“How do you know all that?” Kate asked when I’d explained.

“Derek went to school with Darren Silva. He’s Ruth and Mamie’s cousin or nephew or some such.”

“His grandmother and their mother were sisters,” Derek said. “I think. The Silva line continued, but neither Ruth nor Mamie ever had children. Which makes the Silvas the closest family to the Greens.”

Kate nodded. “So Ruth is in assisted living. What about Mamie?”

“She’s there, too,” Derek said. “She can’t live on her own, and apparently the time when she and Ruth were separated wasn’t pleasant for anyone concerned.”

Kate tilted her head to the side, and her riot of copper-colored curls shifted. “What’s wrong with her, do you know?”

Derek shrugged. “Not sure. I never had occasion to examine her. Not sure Dad ever did, either. Not for that.”

Derek’s dad, Benjamin Ellis, is Waterfield’s GP. For a few years, between medical school and leaving the profession to become a handyman instead, my husband worked with his dad in Dr. Ben’s practice. Derek’s medical knowledge has come in handy more than once, since we’ve had a couple dead bodies turn up during some of our jobs, and it’s nice to have someone around who can pretty accurately diagnose time and manner of death. It’s also nice to have him around for all those little mishaps that occur during home renovation: all the cuts and scrapes and accidental hammer blows.

“Can’t you guess?” Kate said. “I mean, it’s obvious she’s not quite right in the head.”

That much
obvious. I hadn’t seen Mamie Green more than a few times, and usually at a distance, but I could tell that everything wasn’t all right there.

She was a few years younger than her sister, somewhere in her early seventies. A small white-haired lady who liked to dress, incongruously, like a little girl, in gingham and patent leather Mary Janes, with her hair in two wispy braids.

“Some form of dementia probably,” Derek said. “She had a pretty normal life when she was younger. She never married or had children—her sister didn’t, either—but they both had jobs. Ruth was a bank teller and Mamie worked in a nursery.”

“With little kids?” Surely that wasn’t smart, with someone not right in the head?

“Plants,” Derek said. After a second he added pensively, “She always did dress a bit funny, though.”

Nothing wrong with that. Some people think I dress funny, too. I adjusted my tunic—green with a row of silhouetted appliquéd mice around the hem, dancing—as Kate asked, “So she and Ruth always lived together?”

“As far as I know,” Derek said.

BOOK: Home For the Homicide (A Do-It-Yourself Mystery)
13.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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