Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneTHE BODY IN THE FICTION AISLE
On Thursday morning, when Jack the janitor stumbled over the body in the Mo -- Neaisle of the fiction stacks, losing his oatmeal and orange juice only a littleway from the outreaching shadow of dark blood, Miss Helma Zukas was late forwork, a rare occurrence that caused her to miss the initial hysteria andexcitement of the discovery.
Miss Zukas was just sliding behind the wheel of her Buick, dressed for a day atthe public library, all except for the brown oxfords she wore to and from work tosave her heels, when she glanced out over Washington Bay and saw sunlightglimmering through the cement gray clouds. Golden beams flickered wanly on thedistant crown of Orcas Island. But it was enough of a warning for Helma. She wascertain she hadn't pulled down the opaque shades that protected her furnishingsfrom the sun.
"I should have known this weather couldn't last," she said to herself as sheclimbed the outside stairs to the third floor of the Bayside Arms, avoiding theelevator because Miss Zukas always avoided elevators. She was going to be latefor work, but it couldn't be helped.
The Bayside Arms stood on a bank above Washington Bay, three stories tall andholding eighteen apartments. Except for its location, the Bayside Arms wasunexceptional, unadorned by architectural embellishment, neatly painted, andtidily maintained, The side of the building facing the parking lot and street wasstrung with outside landings like a motel. Small balconies jutted from eachapartment on the opposite side, facing the bay. Helma's apartment was second fromthe end on the third floor.
As was her habit, Helma swept a quick eye around her apartment as she entered.Allwas in order and yes, she had left the shades up.
Light sparkled off the water and the day definitely threatened sunshine. Helmaunrolled the plastic shades on her picture window and the sliding glass door thatled out to her small balcony. Her apartment slipped into a twilight of softshadows.
Helma Zukas had moved into apartment 3F when the Bayside Arms first openedfourteen years earlier. At that time, she was a fresh library school graduatefrom Michigan and had just arrived in Washington, state to accept her position atthe Bellehaven Public Library. It was her first, trip out of Michigan and 3F wasthe first place she'd ever lived that belonged only to her.
There were two bedrooms in Miss Zukas's apartment. Her own, which was done inbeige-pinks, like the rest of her Apartment, and a guest bedroom, which shereferred to as "the back bedroom," where she also kept gifts which didn't suither tastes, but which had been given to her by people whose feelings she couldn'tbear to hurt. Among other items in the back bedroom was an intricate Indianblanket on the guest bed -- a gift from her mother-and a small, too-brightpainting done by her friend Ruth. When she didn't have guests, Helma kept thedoor of the back bedroom closed.
All the paintings on Miss Zukas's walls were originals done in the school ofrealism: pleasant beige landscapes; pastel still lifes; gleaming white sailboatson tame seas.
Aside from a barely noticeable stain on the beige carpet where her friend Ruthhad spilled, a cup of coffee one night when HeIrna was trying to sober her up, Helma's apartment was in as pristine shape as it had been fourteen years ago whenshe carried in her first labeled cardboard box of kitchencutlery.
She turned to leave, glancing at her watch and noting she was already fiveminutes late. Her foot caught on the dish under her Chinese elm and the ceramicpot tipped onto the carpet, spilling a cascade of black dirt across the rug.
"Oh, Faulkner!" she said through tight lips, kneeling to right the plant andscoop up the dirt with her hands. It would take at least fifteen minutes to getevery bit of it out of the carpet. This called for her vacuum, and the spotremover, too.
She sighed and stood, holding her dirt-covered hands in front of her, away fromher skirt.
Bellehaven sat on the edge of calm waters, protected from the moods of thePacific Ocean by Washington Bay and the San Juan Islands. Behind the city, theland rose upward into the foothills and then the snowcovered and jagged Cascaderange that blocked the easterly progress of rain clouds, forcing them to releasetheir wet burden on Bellehaven's side of the mountains. Rain and gray skies andmisty vistas were frequent in Bellehaven and a period of weeks without sunshinewasn't unusual. Because of this, Bellehaven was temperate year round: lush, succulent, a gardener's paradise, although. sunflowers were as uncommon assuntans.
The public library, the city hall, the courthouse, and the police station, allbuilt of similar brick architecture, occupied one oversize block in downtownBellehaven.
The rectangular brick library was one of a universal design popular in theno-frills sixties: flat-roofed, recessed windows, plate glass doors, a tendencyto huddle close to the earth.
It wasn't unusual for the police to park near the library, but when Helma pulledher Buick into the tiny library lot, a black-and-white police car wasparked inher space. A gibberish of police radio static buzzed out through its openwindows. There were only six parking spaces and twenty library employees; Helmahad had to wait four years for her own parking slot, and after ten years sheconsidered it her personal property.
She studied the police car for a few moments, bit her lip, and parked her ownBuick crosswise behind it.
Helma worked at the Bellehaven Public Library five days a week and one Saturday amonth. She had five...
When a dead body turns up right in the mid le of the fiction stacks, the police are baffled. But Helma Zukas, who never fails to make note of the slightest deviation from the norm of everyday life, is tracking some baffling questions of her own. With the help of her not-so-proper best friend, Ruth, a six-foot-tall bohemian artist with a nose for gossip and a penchant for getting into trouble, the two are soon in hot pursuit of the truth... and getting lose enough to find they're about to become the killer's next victims.
Meet Miss Zukas . . . the very proper, exceedingly conscientious, and relentlessly curious local librarian of tiny Bellehaven, Washington—and one heck of an amateur sleuth!
The Bellehaven police are baffled when a dead body turns up right in the middle of the library's fiction stacks. But Miss Helma Zukas—who never fails to make note of the slightest deviation from the norm of everyday life—is not willing to let this rather nasty disruption stand. Her precious literary sanctuary has been violated, and if the local law cannot get to the bottom of this case, Miss Zukas certainly intends to—with the help of her not-so-proper best friend, Ruth, a six-foot-tall bohemian artist with a nose for gossip and a penchant for getting into trouble. But their research project is bringing them a little too close to a killer . . . who'd like nothing better than to write Helma and Ruth out of the story completely!
About the AuthorJo Dereske grew up in western Michigan and is a former librarian who now lives with her husband in the northwest corner of Washington state. She is currently at work on the eighth book in the Miss Zukas series.