SENTENCED TO DEATH
It’s Founder’s Day in Stoneham and the whole village has turned out to celebrate in the square, including Tricia’s friend and festivities organizer Deborah Black. As everyone watches Deborah give the opening speech, a small aircraft crashes into the village gazebo, killing both Deborah and the pilot. While the Sheriff’s Department is convinced that it was an accident, Tricia has a feeling that there’s more to the story. And when she reads between the lines of the case, what she finds is worse than the most sinister whodunit …
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Founders’ Day weekend. What else could Bob Kelly, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, come up with to try to draw a crowd to the little village of Stoneham, New Hampshire? Tricia Miles shook her head at the notion, and resettled the weight of the warm, sleepy—and sweaty—toddler against her shoulder. “Booktown, NH,” as Stoneham was often referred to, had risen from the ashes of near extinction thanks to Bob’s efforts when he’d enticed some ten or so booksellers to locate to the village. It had put Stoneham back on the map, and had made Bob quite a handsome profit, too. Tricia hadn’t done too badly, either, with her own mystery bookstore, Haven’t Got a Clue.
A small, single-engine aircraft buzzed the town with a long banner trailing behind it announcing, “Stoneham Founders’ Day—www.StonehamNH.com” behind it. Trust Bob to think of that, too. However, Tricia wished it wouldn’t buzz quite so close, as it made conversation nearly impossible and in only minutes her friend, Deborah Black, the architect of the celebration, would be on deck to give her welcoming speech and to open the festivities.
It was Deborah’s child that Tricia held, since Deborah was otherwise occupied. Little Davey wasn’t impressed by all the hoopla, and the warm August morning had sent him straight to dreamland, which was okay with Tricia. A fall had given the toddler a broken right arm, now encased in a purple cast that he sometimes not-so-playfully used as a club.
Tricia looked around the crowd, hoping Deborah’s mother would soon make an appearance and she could give up the boy, who hadn’t wanted to sit in his stroller—voicing that opinion with tears and screams. He’d found her to be a much more comfortable place to nap.
Tricia stood across the street from Stoneham’s square, home to a Victorian-era stone gazebo with a lovely copper roof that had aged beautifully. The small park was crammed with carnival rides and colorfully tacky trailers with vendors ready to sell greasy, fattening foods. Loitering among them were the local merchants, townspeople, and tourists—exactly the crowd Bob had hoped to attract. Tricia could just picture Bob standing along the sidelines, rubbing his hands together in miserly fashion. That he’d suckered Deborah to do most of the work was yet another accomplishment. He’d share some of the glory with her, but would no doubt take the bulk of the credit for coming up with the idea in the first place.
“Quite the turnout,” Russ Smith said, almost in Tricia’s left ear. Where had he appeared from? She stepped to her right and frowned at him. She and the editor of the Stoneham Weekly News had once been lovers, but that had been more than a year ago. Despite the fact he’d originally dumped her, he now wanted what he couldn’t have.
“Shouldn’t you be stationed closer to the action?” Tricia asked, after all, he did have his Nikon camera hanging from his neck. He’d need pictures of Deborah giving her speech for the next issue of the paper. Russ had contemplated selling the Stoneham Weekly News when he thought he could get back into reporting for a big metropolitan newspaper, but that hadn’t happened, either. Still, Tricia found it hard to feel sorry for him—not after he’d stalked her for a time. Thankfully he’d gotten the message and, although he hadn’t completely accepted the fact, his advances had backed off. He was trying for friendship; at least, that’s what he’d said.
Tricia turned to see Deborah’s mother, Elizabeth Crane, hurrying toward her. At last, she could surrender little Davey to another shoulder. He was getting heavy.
“Did that boy sucker you into holding him?” Elizabeth said, and held out her arms for the boy.
“I’m afraid so.”
“He’s an operator,” Elizabeth said, and shouldered the child, patting him on the back. Davey didn’t even stir. “Deborah has spoiled this kid. But then, she works so hard, when she’s not at the shop, she likes to spend every minute she can with him.”
Deborah and her husband both worked hard. David Black had two jobs, and not quite so jokingly claimed he held the second one to keep his wife’s shop afloat. That wasn’t exactly true. Sales at Deborah’s business, the Happy Domestic, had picked up since she’d added a line of greeting cards and stationery to the retail mix. She was in the black—not very far, mind you—but any shade of that color was better than seeing red on a balance sheet. Deborah did, however, admit that David got a bit irritated at having to watch the baby on weekends, but they’d both agreed upon it when they decided to start a family. That said, he was nowhere to be found this day.
“Hello, Russ,” Elizabeth said. “Are you going to take pictures of Deborah giving her speech?”
“I sure am.”
“Get her from the right, it’s her best side,” Elizabeth said and laughed.
The aircraft did another low circuit around Main Street. Russ grabbed his camera and snapped off a couple of shots. It was impossible to hear anything else until it had moved out of earshot.
“Nice banner,” Russ commented. “I hope I got a good enough shot of it to print in the paper.”
“If you didn’t, it’ll be around again in another couple of minutes,” Tricia said, and pulled at the shoulder of her blouse where little Davey had drooled in his sleep.
Russ glanced at his watch. “The show’s going to start in a few minutes. I’d better go up by the podium. See you later, Tricia?”
The man just didn’t give up. “Goodbye, Russ.”
Elizabeth turned her attention back to the gazebo. “I’m so glad Deborah was able to hire Cheryl Griffin part-time in the shop. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this.”
“I admire Deb’s stamina. She’s really worked hard on the whole Founders’ Day event.” Of course, Bob had tried to foist the job off on Tricia—and several other members of the Chamber of Commerce—first, but she’d been more adept at dodging his constant nagging. After much badgering, Deborah had given in just to shut him up.
The aroma of freshly made popcorn wafted on the slight breeze. Tricia noticed Ray Dempsey standing beside his lunch truck, all decorated in red-white-and-blue bunting. Despite protests by the owners of Stoneham’s two lunchtime eateries, the Board of Selectmen had approved Dempsey’s permit request to set up shop with what he called his mobile kitchen. That Tricia’s sister Angelica was the owner of one of those establishments—Booked for Lunch—brought the dispute a little closer to home.
As if she could smell the popcorn from afar, Angelica, dressed in her white waitress togs, crossed the street and approached Tricia and Elizabeth. Despite being a nationally best-selling cookbook author, Angelica still enjoyed waiting on customers at her café a couple of times a week. And it was even more imperative that she do so of late, since she’d recently lost her short-order cook to the Brookview Inn’s reopened kitchen and needed to supervise her new hires.
“Good morning ladies,” Angelica said, but her attention was focused on Dempsey. “So, he’s added popcorn to the mix. What’s next? Cotton candy and funnel cakes?”
“Someone’s already selling those in the park. I love funnel cakes,” Elizabeth said wistfully, but her sappy expression soon turned to chagrin at Angelica’s baleful glare. “How’s business at your café?” she offered as a form of appeasement.
“Not as good as it used to be,” Angelica said, and turned her attention back to Dempsey’s truck. “There’s a reason they called those things roach coaches.”
“Angelica!” Tricia admonished, although she had to admit the only food she’d ever partaken from a street vendor was roasted chestnuts at Christmastime in Manhattan. Nothing else compared.
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your lunch crowd?” Tricia asked.
“Bev,” Angelica’s new waitress, “can handle today’s set up. I thought I should come out to support Deborah.” And keep an eye on Dempsey, Tricia thought.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said. She’d started swaying back and forth, rocking little Davey. “I’m so proud of Deborah. I always wanted to do something with my life, like she has, but I never had the opportunity. I got married right out of high school and had three kids,” she said with a sigh. “We never had any money—Deborah put herself through college. She’s my pride and joy.” Deborah was the youngest of Elizabeth’s children, and, from what had Tricia deduced, Elizabeth’s favorite.
A smiling Deborah stepped up to the podium, tapped on the microphone to make sure it was live, and leaned down to speak. “Good morning everyone, and welcome to Stoneham’s first annual Founders’ Day Celebration.”
The crowd broke into applause, accompanied by whistles and cheers.
Again, the plane buzzed overhead, and Deborah had to wait until it was out of range to speak again. “It was back in 1822 that Hiram Stone first opened one of New Hampshire’s biggest granite quarries, and established the village where we are gathered today. It’s with great pride that we—”
The plane buzzed even lower this time, and Tricia, Angelica, and Elizabeth involuntarily ducked as it drowned out Deborah before it zoomed into a steep climb.
“What kind of an idiot did Bob hire?” Tricia demanded of Angelica, who could only shrug in answer. Angelica and Bob had been seeing each other for almost two years, although of late their relationship had cooled somewhat.
Deborah cleared her throat and continued with her speech. “Hiram Stone was a visionary, and his gifts to the village named after him in life, live on in—” But no one was listening to her. Their eyes were riveted on the sky.
A sudden, horrible sound erupted from the crowd, and people began pushing, shoving—running away from the gazebo.
Elizabeth had turned her back to the village square. “What’s wrong?” she cried, over the noise of the crowd.
And then Tricia saw it—the small aircraft plummeting to Earth, heading straight for the Stoneham Square and the gazebo. Tricia grabbed her sister’s arm, pulling her as she began to run, with Angelica struggling to keep up. There was no sound of an engine as the plane dove at the ground. It hit the gazebo as if it had a red target painted on it. The squeal of ripped metal and shattered plastic tore through the air.
The plane exploded through the other side of the gazebo, ripping out the support pillars that held up the roof. It collapsed in a heap, and a plume of dust shot into the air. The plane skittered across the lawn and finally came to rest where at least one hundred people had been standing only a few seconds before.
“When a friend of Tricia’s is killed in a freak plane crash, the feisty mystery bookstore owner is determined to uncover the truth behind the so-called accident. Smart and compassionate, Tricia is the perfect sleuth to right the wrongs in this town. Add in her strong and opinionated sister, Angelica, and several possible love interests, and you’ve got a great mix of mystery and emotion. Good plotting and logical sleuthing keep this series realistic and charming. This author definitely has a clue on how to hook readers.”
The Book Resort
“Barrett’s strength is in the development of her plot and once she hooks you from the first line, she holds you to the last line without wavering for a second. Barrett is elegant, creative and delivers the goods.
“Sentenced to Death glistens like stars in an inky sky, sizzles like fireworks on the fourth of July, and serves you a complex puzzle to challenge your brain.”
The Conscious Cat
“Sentenced to Death is a highly entertaining summer read with exciting plot twists, the most unique murder weapon of any cozy I’ve ever read, likeable characters, and a lovable feline. Pick up your copy, pour yourself a cold summer beverage of your choice, and enjoy this delightful cozy.”
“Lorna Barrett’s writing is so descriptive. Her character’s come to life and I could picture the townspeople and Tricia vividly. The book’s plot was fantastic. I will definitely be reading up on her other cozy mysteries!”
“Great mystery, lovable characters, a beautiful setting, a dash of romance, a bit of humor, Miss Marple meets a new friend, all the pages put together make it the purrfect cozy mystery. The whole series is not be missed!”
The Richmond Times Dispatch
“As is her custom, Barrett fills this true whodunit with generous doses of humor. And Tricia and her pals (and that includes store cat Miss Marple) become more appealing with each installment.”