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Poison At The PTA

Poison At The PTA, February 2014
Murder at the PTA #5
by Laura Alden

Featuring: Beth Kennedy; Marina
320 pages
ISBN: 0451415078
EAN: 9780451415073
Kindle: B00DYX9K8I
Paperback / e-Book
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"PTA President Tries to Solve a Mystery of Poisoning"

Fresh Fiction Review

Poison At The PTA
Laura Alden

Reviewed by Min Jung
Posted June 19, 2014

Mystery Cozy

Beth Kennedy is a woman trying to do it all. She's the President of the Tarver Elementary School PTA, she's the owner of a children's bookstore, and she's a single mother of two active children. So it shouldn't be a shock when her best friend Marina decides to lead an intervention. All of Beth's friends band together and take some of Beth's duties away from her for six months. One of those duties is organising the PTA's eightieth-anniversary event, most of which Beth has already done, but she hands over the rest of the work.

The event itself goes off without a hitch and all signs point it being a success. However, a few days after the event, one of the featured speakers, Cookie Van Doorne suddenly dies. Beth was the last person to see her alive, so when it's discovered that Cookie may have murdered, Beth feels responsible for finding out who would have done such a thing. Beth's task is daunting, though, since she soon discovers that Cookie had few friends Beth can talk to about her life.

Quite unexpectedly, Beth receives a letter from Cookie. The letter explains that Beth would only be receiving this letter if Cookie is dead, and Beth should follow the clues to find the killer. Beth, understandable is quite taken aback by the letter, but she feels a mandate to follow the instructions. Not long after that, Beth receives a package from Cookie that contains various odds and ends, which Beth assumes are the clues referred to in Cookie's letter.

While Beth is trying to catch Cookie's killer, she's preoccupied by Marina's behaviour. Never before has her best friend kept a secret from her, but now Marina is actively dodging her and lying to her. Beth's kids are also keeping her busy. Jenna is finding out that she has competition for first-string goalie, and Ollie has a crush on the school vice principal. All this while Beth is trying to convince the PTA to accept additional funds from the Tarver Foundation.

The PTA Mystery Book series is one of my favourites, and POISON AT THE PTA is a prime example of why. Beth nearly single-handedly solves the mystery while juggling all of her other duties. She never purports to be the perfect person, and her imperfections shine through winningly, making her the perfect heroine. The subplots dove-tail quite well with the plot, and neither distract from the other. The mystery is well-written and well-paced, and the premise is ingenious. Overall, everything done in POISON AT THE PTA only proves why this series is will remain one of my favourites.

Learn more about Poison At The PTA


As the Tarver Elementary School PTA president, Beth Kennedy is always on the go—especially when someone puts murder on the agenda.

Beth has been running nonstop to be the best PTA president, bookstore owner, and single parent ever, which is why her friend Marina is staging an intervention. Beth needs to take a break—and that means letting someone else organize the PTA’s upcoming eightieth-anniversary event.

But when Cookie Van Doorne, one of the event speakers, dies of suspicious causes, Beth decides to make an intervention of her own to find out what happened. When she discovers that Cookie was poisoned, the next order of business is catching a killer whose break is almost over.


I stopped on Marina’s back deck and looked up at the darkening sky, trying to focus on the wonders of the universe.

It’s a wonderful world, I told myself. Don’t let what happened to Cookie drag you down. Look at the stars, those tiny pinpricks of light, and think about all the fantastical things that could be out there.

Marina’s back door opened. “What are you doing out there?” she asked.

“Looking at the stars,” I said dreamily.

“Most people look at stars when it’s not three hundred degrees below zero. Get in here, silly, before you freeze to death.”

Hearing Marina call me silly lifted my spirits. Maybe she hadn’t been feeling well yesterday when she’d run off on me. Maybe everything was fine and I’d been, once again, taking things too personally.

I knocked the snow off my boots and entered the warmth of her cozy kitchen. Before I’d even hung my coat on the back of my normal chair, Marina had swooped in with a mug of tea.

“Sit, sit, sit,” she said. “We have lots to talk about and not enough time to do it in. Put what I assume are your freezing cold hands around that mug and listen to what I have to tell you.”

A small knot somewhere in my middle relaxed and disappeared as if it had never been. Finally, I’d find out who she’d been with the mall. I’d find out why she’d acted so oddly, and I’d find out what the heck was going on.

“Gladly,” I said, smiling at her. “I’ve been waiting for this.”

“You have?” She gave me a puzzled look. “What Ah mean,” she said, sliding into Southern belle mode, “is of course you have, mah deah.” She dropped into the chair opposite me. “Ah am the imparter of all local news and Ah do have news, why, yes, Ah do.”

The mug suddenly didn’t feel as warm as it had a few seconds ago. “You want to talk about local news?”

“That’s the best news of all.” She blew the steam off her mug. “Much better than news about things that are happening in countries we’ve barely heard of. I mean, does anybody actually know where Nauru is? Geography for four hundred, Alex.”

I knew Nauru was in the South Pacific, but I also knew she was trying to get me off track. “Seems to me we should be discussing something other than news, local or otherwise.”

“What I want to know is if you’ve heard what I’ve heard.”

Suddenly, what I wanted to do more than anything else was to go home and crawl into bed. The world wouldn’t end if I did absolutely nothing until the next day. It might even be better off if I stopped poking a stick at it. What had ever made me think that it was my job to fix everything?

“Beth?” Marina asked. “Are you okay?”

I opened my eyes. Somewhere in the midst of my reverie I’d closed them. She’d asked me a question; what had it been? Oh, yes. “Until you tell me what you’ve heard, there’s no way I can know if it’s what I’ve heard.”

“Well, then.” Marina glanced toward her living room from whence came kid cheers and groans. She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “I had to call the bank this afternoon and I got talking with Ashley, you know, the one who always worked next to Cookie? Well, she said that Gus came in and talked to her.” Uh-oh. “About what? The weather? How he didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas? That he wants to retire?”

Marina sat up straight. “Gus is retiring? He can’t do that! That’d be like Auntie May turning into a nice little old lady.”

There were times when I truly did not want to know how Marina’s thought processes worked. “How are those two things the same?”

“Because neither one bears thinking about. Life without Auntie May to spice it up just wouldn’t be the same. Just like life wouldn’t be the same if Gus wasn’t our chief of police.”

That almost made sense. “What was Gus talking to Ashley about?”

“He’s not retiring?”

“I was joking. As far as I know, he’s going to stay chief until the next millennium.”

Marina blew out a breath that fluffed up her red bangs. “Whew. You had me worried. Anyway, Gus was asking Ashley all sorts of questions. Like if Cookie had arguments with bank customers, or if she’d ever said anything about feeling threatened by anyone.”

I didn’t say anything but sipped more tea. It was lukewarm.

“Don’t you see?” Marina asked. “That means Gus is thinking that Cookie was murdered, that he doesn’t think she took that acetaminophen accidentally. Or even on purpose.”

“Or it could mean that he’s following procedure.”

“What procedure?”

“Police ones. I’m sure there are things that have to be done when anyone dies unexpectedly.”

Marina sat back and studied me. “You’ve talked to Gus, haven’t you? You know something and you’re holding out on me.”

There was no way I could to lie to her. She’d pick up the faintest whiff of prevarication in a single sentence. “I promised Gus.”

“Promised him what?”

“That I wouldn’t talk about . . . about the investigation.”

She pounced on my hesitation like a cat on an untied shoelace. “You know something, don’t you?”

“I know lots of things. I know where Nauru is and I know—”

“And what I know is you’re not telling me something.” She fixed me with a steely glare. “You’re breaking rule number one of the best friend code.”

I glared right back at her. “Okay, then, who were you with in the mall the other day?”

Marina’s ruddy cheeks faded to a sickly white. “No one,” she said in a hoarse whisper. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I came alone and left alone and there’s nothing else to talk about.” She stood up. “And I just remembered. I need to run to the store for some lettuce for tonight’s dinner.”

I looked at her kitchen counter. An unopened bag of romaine hearts sat right next to her favorite salad bowl. A shiver of sorrow rippled through me, because she was lying to me. Flat-out lying. “Are we going to talk about this later?” I asked softly.

“There’s nothing to talk about. Good, I’ll see you later, okay?”

She grabbed her purse off the counter and went out into the cold January night just like that, no hat, no boots, no gloves, no coat.

Even though I didn’t have to cook dinner, there was still a pile of dishes to wash. More than once I’d been tempted to go to paper plates and plastic utensils, but every time I started to open that particular cabinet door, my mother’s voice started reverberating inside my head.

“Elizabeth Ann Emmerling, don’t you start taking the easy way out. That’s not how I was raised, that’s not how your father was raised, and that’s not how we’re raising you.”

At the time, she’d been lecturing me about not moving the dining table chairs before I vacuumed, but somehow her words had sunk deep into my brain and become part of my psyche. I wasn’t so sure that my own children were being raised quite the same way, because never once had my mother left her Christmas decorations up until the end of January, and never once had my mother tossed the entire household’s dirty clothes into the bathtub and shut the shower curtain so the new minister wouldn’t see how we really lived.

Then again, Mom hadn’t been a single mother and business owner.

I pushed away Mom’s oft-expressed opinion my single mother status was my own fault, and took the large bowl Jenna was handing me to dry.

“Why can’t we put this in the dishwasher?” she asked.

“Because this was your great-grandmother Chittenden’s bowl. It was made before dishwashers were invented, so it wasn’t designed to take the heat of a dishwasher. If we put it in the dishwasher, that pretty yellow color would fade and the material would weaken and chip or even break.”

“Then why don’t we use it to hold, like, apples and oranges or something, and buy a new bowl to use for mashed potatoes?”

“Because . . .” I stopped. What I’d been about to say was “because that’s the bowl Grandma Chittenden always used for mashed potatoes.” I thought a moment, then said, “Actually, Jenna, that’s a good question. I do it because I really like the idea that we’re using the same bowl for the same thing that my grandmother, your great-grandmother, did.”

Oliver, who was putting away the silverware, looked up at the ceiling. “Do you think maybe she knows when we use her bowl?”

I smiled. “It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Maybe she does. It’s kind of a nice way to remember our ancestors, isn’t it? Using something the same way they did.” My son was sold, but Jenna looked unconvinced and somewhat troubled. “Who are you going to give the bowl to? I mean, if you give it to me someday, do I have to use it for mashed potatoes?”

I wanted to laugh, but my children’s faces were so serious that I didn’t dare. “Whoever gets the bowl can use it for anything she or he would like.”

“A dog dish?” Oliver asked, bouncing up on his toes and grinning.

Jenna looked at the simple bowl that was so precious to me. “I think it would make a good place to put extra hockey pucks.”

“Anything.” I stowed the bowl away in the cabinet. Just a piece of glass, but every time I touched it felt the love of my grandmother. Someday it would break and though of course I knew that nothing lasted forever, I’d cry over the loss. Then I’d find some other way to feel my grandmother’s love and forget all about the bowl. Almost. “Okay, kiddos, you two can finish this up. I need to take a look at today’s mail.”

I walked into the small room off the kitchen. George was curled up in the desk chair. He squawked when I picked him up, but started purring when I sat down and put him on my lap.

“You’re a big faker,” I told him. “I’m pretty sure you make that horrible squawking sound just so I feel sorry for you and let you stay on my lap and get black cat hair all over my pants.”

He kept purring, which I took as confirmation of my new theory.


The mail was the typical mix. Junk mail, catalogs full of things that I didn’t need and couldn’t afford, bills, and a letter. A handwritten letter.

“That’s not typical,” I told George. “Do you know how not typical it is?”George yawned. Apparently, he didn’t care. And he didn’t care even when I told him the last time I’d received anything handwritten outside of Christmas cards, birthday cards, and the occasional wedding invitation was in 1997, when my college roommate had sent me a letter announcing that she was pregnant with twins.

I studied the envelope. Standard number ten, common flag stamp, no return address. I didn’t recognize the handwriting, and the postmark . . . I squinted. The city name was a long one, but it was so smudged I couldn’t make out most of the letters. The state letters were also smudged, but I was pretty sure they were AK.

Weird. Why on earth would anyone in Alaska be sending me a letter?

I slit open the envelope and pulled out the single piece of paper it contained. Tri-folded, plain white copy paper. I unfolded it and began to read.

Dear Beth, if you’re reading this, I’m dead.

My vision tunneled until all I saw was that single sentence, then a smaller and even tighter circle until all I saw were two words. I’m dead. There was no air to breathe, no life in the world, no nothing save that single stark phrase.

I’m dead.

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