Monday, April 18, 2011

The Mean Girls' Guide to Murder

by Marlyn Beebe

Bullying is a hot topic right now at all levels of education, even post-secondary (hazing, anyone?). Yet, for no reason I can think of, I was somewhat surprised to read two books in a row with that subject as a theme.

The first one I read is by Canadian Mary Jane Maffini, and is the fifth book in the Charlotte Adams mystery series, The Busy Woman's Guide to Murder. Charlotte, who has returned to her hometown of Woodbridge in upstate New York, is a professional organizer who developed a reputation as an amateur sleuth after repeatedly stumbling across dead bodies. As a result she is quite familiar with Mona Pringle, now a 911 operator, who also grew up in Woodbridge.

Mona calls Charlotte, upset because she has heard from Serena Reading, ringleader of a group of “mean girls” who tormented their classmates all the way through school. Serena claims that she wants to arrange a reunion so that she can ask for forgiveness for her bad behaviour as a youngster. Mona doesn’t believe that Serena has changed, and tells Charlotte she’d love to see Serena dead.

Unfortunately, a few days later, a woman resembling Serena is killed in a hit-and-run accident, and Mona thinks that she may have done it. Mona believes that she suffers from multiple-personality disorder and that one of her alter-egos is responsible, which is why Mona herself doesn’t remember the incident.

Then Mona disappears, occasionally calling Charlotte from a blocked phone number and raving about how she thinks she’s losing her mind. When other members of the mean clique start perishing in apparent accidents, Charlotte begins to suspect that Mona is right.

In Deadly Notions, Elizabeth Lynn Casey’s fourth Southern Sewing Circle mystery, librarian Tori Sinclair’s friend Melissa is agonizing over planning a birthday party for her soon-to-be six-year-old daughter Sally. Melissa is worried about having to compete with the parties that Ashley Lawson’s mother Penelope gives: elaborate, expensive affairs involving professional photographers, artists or storytellers and is certain that her daughter will be ostracized if it doesn’t measure up.

Tori, finding it hard to believe that anyone can be as unpleasant as the Penelope described by Melissa, offers to have Sally’s party in the library’s children’s room and use the storytime costumes and stage for the activities. Tori is in for a big surprise when she does meet Penelope, who treats the librarian as a servant, and brings special costumes for Ashley so she doesn’t have to share with the other children. Penelope is so awful that many of the adults in attendance make remarks about strangling her.

The next day, Penelope is found in her car, strangled by a rope used to hang a swing in the library’s garden, and almost all of Tori’s sewing circle friends are suspects due to their comments at the party. Tori is certain that none of her friends would commit murder and sets out to prove it but her efforts are hampered by her boyfriends ex, in town on business, who decides she wants Milo back, and will stoop to anything to get him.

In real-life bullying takes many forms, especially in children and teens. Cyber-bullying has become such a problem that it has resulted in more than one teen suicide. Face-to-face bullying can also result in suicide, and when the abuse is physical, even murder.

There are anti-bully websites, parent groups, even consultants who specialize in it. But, as the novels above describe, bullying is not restricted to kids. Besides being a social problem, as in the two books, this can also be a workplace issue. In fact, in Australia, there is talk of amending the stalking laws to include bullying and making it a criminal offense.

One thinks of cozy mysteries as light, fluffy entertainments, but these are two that could engender useful discussion on a serious subject.

FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me copies of the books for review purposes.

I have a copy of The Corpse Wore Tartan, the fourth Liss MacCrimmon mystery by Kaitlyn Dunnett to give to one person who comments on the blog this week.


  1. Excellent reviews, Marlyn. I appreciate how you took the theme and gave it a current affairs twist at the end.

    Even though I don't read a lot of cozies, these are both going on my list.

  2. Nicely done, Marlyn. These sound like current books. Bullying was a theme in a post on the I wrote recently.

  3. Funny how things seem to pop up in entirely different books. I was reading two unrelated mysteries, and both had bombs/ explosions as a major plot thread. There were times when I'd have to check to make sure I knew which book I was reading.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. I think it's funny how someone would read two different mysteries at once! LOL I'm sure I'd be getting them mixed up constantly.

  5. Thanks, Peg and Judy!
    Terry, I'm so impressed that you can read two books at the same time!

  6. Terry, I know what you mean. I read Lisa Gardner's LIVE TO TELL about some seriously dysfuntional children, then picked up Jodi Picoult's HOUSE RULES where the main character, a young boy, has asperger syndrome.

  7. As crime writers, we're all reading the same news stories and feeling affected by them, so these patterns don't surprise me. In fact, I worry with each novel that someone else is also writing about the same subjects. Still, each author tells their own story from their own perspective.

  8. Thanks so much, Marlyn! I was thrilled to have the Busy Woman's Guide to Murder here. Lovely to be side by side with Deadly Notions. I appreciate your careful read and enthusiasm.

  9. You're welcome, MJ. I really enjoyed both books!

  10. Judy, I read your post. Very well said!

  11. Thanks for a chance to win!

  12. Amazing how much bullying goes on in the corporate world, too. I really enjoyed this post and the info on the first novel. I'm going to check that one out as I'd like to read it.

  13. Thank you, Jenny! I'm chuffed that you enjoyed my post.

  14. I believe you are correct in that we often look at books as pure entertainment and yet they can also be used to effectively bring to light important situations and occurrences in everyday life. Thank you for the informative post. They sound like great books!

  15. I know you Drew. You are not twisted, personally, but anyone who can put together a trailer like that has a direct line to some demented mind somewhere. A handy trait for a mystery writer. Well done.

  16. And the winner of the book is Ann Lee Miller.
    I've decided I'm going to give away another book next Friday: Jasper Fforde's latest Thursday Next book, ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING.


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