"PTA President Tries to Solve a Mystery of Poisoning"
Reviewed by Min Jung
Posted June 19, 2014
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 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
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
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
As the Tarver Elementary School PTA president, Beth
Kennedy is always on the goâ€”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 breakâ€”and that
means letting someone else organize the PTAâ€™s upcoming
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.
ExcerptI stopped on Marinaâ€™s back deck and looked up at the
darkening sky, trying to
focus on the wonders of the universe.
Itâ€™s a wonderful world, I told myself. Donâ€™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.
Marinaâ€™s back door opened. â€śWhat are you doing out there?â€ť
â€śLooking at the stars,â€ť I said dreamily.
â€śMost people look at stars when itâ€™s not three hundred
degrees below zero. Get
in here, silly, before you freeze to death.â€ť
Hearing Marina call me silly lifted my spirits. Maybe she
hadnâ€™t been feeling
well yesterday when sheâ€™d run off on me. Maybe everything
was fine and Iâ€™d
been, once again, taking things too personally.
I knocked the snow off my boots and entered the warmth of
her cozy kitchen.
Before Iâ€™d even hung my coat on the back of my normal chair,
Marina had swooped
in with a mug of tea.
â€śSit, sit, sit,â€ť she said. â€śWe 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.â€ť
A small knot somewhere in my middle relaxed and disappeared
as if it had never
been. Finally, Iâ€™d find out who sheâ€™d been with the mall.
Iâ€™d find out why
sheâ€™d acted so oddly, and Iâ€™d find out what the heck was
â€śGladly,â€ť I said, smiling at her. â€śIâ€™ve been waiting for this.â€ť
â€śYou have?â€ť She gave me a puzzled look. â€śWhat Ah mean,â€ť she
said, sliding into
Southern belle mode, â€śis of course you have, mah deah.â€ť She
dropped into the
chair opposite me. â€śAh am the imparter of all local news and
Ah do have news,
why, yes, Ah do.â€ť
The mug suddenly didnâ€™t feel as warm as it had a few seconds
ago. â€śYou want to
talk about local news?â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s the best news of all.â€ť She blew the steam off her
mug. â€śMuch better
than news about things that are happening in countries weâ€™ve
barely heard of. I
mean, does anybody actually know where Nauru is? Geography
for four hundred,
I knew Nauru was in the South Pacific, but I also knew she
was trying to get me
off track. â€śSeems to me we should be discussing something
other than news,
local or otherwise.â€ť
â€śWhat I want to know is if youâ€™ve heard what Iâ€™ve heard.â€ť
Suddenly, what I wanted to do more than anything else was to
go home and crawl
into bed. The world wouldnâ€™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?
â€śBeth?â€ť Marina asked. â€śAre you okay?â€ť
I opened my eyes. Somewhere in the midst of my reverie Iâ€™d
closed them. Sheâ€™d
asked me a question; what had it been? Oh, yes. â€śUntil you
tell me what youâ€™ve
heard, thereâ€™s no way I can know if itâ€™s what Iâ€™ve heard.â€ť
â€śWell, then.â€ť Marina glanced toward her living room from
whence came kid cheers
and groans. She leaned forward and lowered her voice. â€śI 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.â€ť
Uh-oh. â€śAbout what? The weather? How he didnâ€™t get what he
Christmas? That he wants to retire?â€ť
Marina sat up straight. â€śGus is retiring? He canâ€™t do that!
Thatâ€™d be like
Auntie May turning into a nice little old lady.â€ť
There were times when I truly did not want to know how
processes worked. â€śHow are those two things the same?â€ť
â€śBecause neither one bears thinking about. Life without
Auntie May to spice it
up just wouldnâ€™t be the same. Just like life wouldnâ€™t be the
same if Gus wasnâ€™t
our chief of police.â€ť
That almost made sense. â€śWhat was Gus talking to Ashley about?â€ť
â€śHeâ€™s not retiring?â€ť
â€śI was joking. As far as I know, heâ€™s going to stay chief
until the next
Marina blew out a breath that fluffed up her red bangs.
â€śWhew. You had me
worried. Anyway, Gus was asking Ashley all sorts of
questions. Like if Cookie
had arguments with bank customers, or if sheâ€™d ever said
anything about feeling
threatened by anyone.â€ť
I didnâ€™t say anything but sipped more tea. It was lukewarm.
â€śDonâ€™t you see?â€ť Marina asked. â€śThat means Gus is thinking
that Cookie was
murdered, that he doesnâ€™t think she took that acetaminophen
even on purpose.â€ť
â€śOr it could mean that heâ€™s following procedure.â€ť
â€śPolice ones. Iâ€™m sure there are things that have to be done
when anyone dies
Marina sat back and studied me. â€śYouâ€™ve talked to Gus,
havenâ€™t you? You know
something and youâ€™re holding out on me.â€ť
There was no way I could to lie to her. Sheâ€™d pick up the
faintest whiff of
prevarication in a single sentence. â€śI promised Gus.â€ť
â€śPromised him what?â€ť
â€śThat I wouldnâ€™t talk about . . . about the investigation.â€ť
She pounced on my hesitation like a cat on an untied
shoelace. â€śYou know
something, donâ€™t you?â€ť
â€śI know lots of things. I know where Nauru is and I knowâ€”â€ť
â€śAnd what I know is youâ€™re not telling me something.â€ť She
fixed me with a
steely glare. â€śYouâ€™re breaking rule number one of the best
I glared right back at her. â€śOkay, then, who were you with
in the mall the
Marinaâ€™s ruddy cheeks faded to a sickly white. â€śNo one,â€ť she
said in a hoarse
whisper. â€śI donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about. I came
alone and left alone
and thereâ€™s nothing else to talk about.â€ť She stood up. â€śAnd
I just remembered.
I need to run to the store for some lettuce for tonightâ€™s
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. â€śAre we going to talk
about this later?â€ť I
â€śThereâ€™s nothing to talk about. Good, Iâ€™ll see you later, okay?â€ť
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 didnâ€™t have to cook dinner, there was still a
pile of dishes to
wash. More than once Iâ€™d been tempted to go to paper plates
utensils, but every time I started to open that particular
cabinet door, my
motherâ€™s voice started reverberating inside my head.
â€śElizabeth Ann Emmerling, donâ€™t you start taking the easy
way out. Thatâ€™s not
how I was raised, thatâ€™s not how your father was raised, and
thatâ€™s not how
weâ€™re raising you.â€ť
At the time, sheâ€™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 wasnâ€™t so sure that my own children
were being raised
quite the same way, because never once had my mother left
decorations up until the end of January, and never once had
my mother tossed
the entire householdâ€™s dirty clothes into the bathtub and
shut the shower
curtain so the new minister wouldnâ€™t see how we really lived.
Then again, Mom hadnâ€™t been a single mother and business owner.
I pushed away Momâ€™s oft-expressed opinion my single mother
status was my own
fault, and took the large bowl Jenna was handing me to dry.
â€śWhy canâ€™t we put this in the dishwasher?â€ť she asked.
â€śBecause this was your great-grandmother Chittendenâ€™s bowl.
It was made before
dishwashers were invented, so it wasnâ€™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.â€ť
â€śThen why donâ€™t we use it to hold, like, apples and oranges
or something, and
buy a new bowl to use for mashed potatoes?â€ť
â€śBecause . . .â€ť I stopped. What Iâ€™d been about to say was
â€śbecause thatâ€™s the
bowl Grandma Chittenden always used for mashed potatoes.â€ť I
thought a moment,
then said, â€śActually, Jenna, thatâ€™s a good question. I do it
because I really
like the idea that weâ€™re using the same bowl for the same
thing that my
grandmother, your great-grandmother, did.â€ť
Oliver, who was putting away the silverware, looked up at
the ceiling. â€śDo you
think maybe she knows when we use her bowl?â€ť
I smiled. â€śItâ€™s a nice thought, isnâ€™t it? Maybe she does.
Itâ€™s kind of a nice
way to remember our ancestors, isnâ€™t it? Using something the
same way they
My son was sold, but Jenna looked unconvinced and somewhat
troubled. â€śWho 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?â€ť
I wanted to laugh, but my childrenâ€™s faces were so serious
that I didnâ€™t dare.
â€śWhoever gets the bowl can use it for anything she or he
â€śA dog dish?â€ť Oliver asked, bouncing up on his toes and
Jenna looked at the simple bowl that was so precious to me.
â€śI think it would
make a good place to put extra hockey pucks.â€ť
â€śAnything.â€ť 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, Iâ€™d
cry over the loss.
Then Iâ€™d find some other way to feel my grandmotherâ€™s love
and forget all about
the bowl. Almost. â€śOkay, kiddos, you two can finish this up.
I need to take a
look at todayâ€™s mail.â€ť
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.
â€śYouâ€™re a big faker,â€ť I told him. â€śIâ€™m pretty sure you make
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.â€ť
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 didnâ€™t
need and couldnâ€™t afford, bills, and a letter. A handwritten
â€śThatâ€™s not typical,â€ť I told George. â€śDo you know how not
typical it is?â€ťGeorge
yawned. Apparently, he didnâ€™t care. And he didnâ€™t care even
when I told him the
last time Iâ€™d received anything handwritten outside of
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
I studied the envelope. Standard number ten, common flag
stamp, no return
address. I didnâ€™t recognize the handwriting, and the
postmark . . . I squinted.
The city name was a long one, but it was so smudged I
couldnâ€™t make out most of
the letters. The state letters were also smudged, but I was
pretty sure they
Weird. Why on earth would anyone in Alaska be sending me a
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
Dear Beth, if youâ€™re reading this, Iâ€™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. Iâ€™m
dead. There was no air
to breathe, no life in the world, no nothing save that
single stark phrase.
What do you think about this review?
No comments posted.
Registered users may leave comments.
Log in or register now!