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by Laura Alden
Penguin, October 2010
311 pages
ISBN: 0451231090

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Single working mothers (and any mother is, by definition, a working mother) of small children, meaning children still living at home no matter what their size, always have more than enough to do. Beth Kennedy is still new to the single part of this; her divorce is only about a year old. She hasn't been in Rynwood, Wisconsin even that long. Her ownership of the Children's Bookshelf is also a new thing in her life. As one might imagine, she wants no part of being the new secretary of the Tarver Elementary School PTA. Her friend Marina is adept at arm-twisting and Beth finds herself taking notes. It seems that nobody ran against Beth in the election, which comes as no surprise at all to anyone who has even been involved in small town school politics. Beth gets a baptism by fire.

Agnes Mephisto is the principal of Tarver Elementary. Nobody likes her, or will admit to liking her. She is high-handed, obstreperous, cantankerous, and generally goes out of her way to upset people. She announces at Beth's first PTA meeting that she has found a private donor for an addition to Tarver. She proceeds to put up an architect's rendition of possibly the ugliest addition anyone has ever seen. The parents, unanimously, object loudly and not always politely. According to Agnes, it's a done deal. The contractors are coming any day to start work.

Because the Children's Bookshelf is a focal point for parents, Beth gets to hear all about it when Agnes is murdered. Everyone thinks she knows something about it because she's the secretary. Marina encourages Beth to look into the case; Marina has ulterior motives. Beth just wants her children to feel safe again, and that won't happen while the killer is still at large.

This is Alden's first book in what looks to be a very good series. There is plenty of room for the characters to grow, as they do a little bit here. The setting is rife with plot possibilities. Alden sets the scene for a romance and since it barely gets off the ground in PTA, readers have that to look forward to. MURDER AT THE PTA was nominated for an Agatha Award in the Best First Novel category.

P.J. Coldren lives in northern lower Michigan where she reads and reviews widely across the mystery genre when she isn't working in her local hospital pharmacy.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, March 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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