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by Laura Alden
Penguin Books, April 2013
311 pages
ISBN: 045141506X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's Beth's first PTA meeting as President, and she knows even before the meeting starts that Claudia Wolff, the current VP, will be gunning for her all year long. AND they need a secretary, because Beth used to be the secretary before she volunteered for her current position. If Beth can keep Claudia's candidate from winning the election, she has a chance of getting things done. If Claudia's candidate wins, it'll be as bad as the current situation in Congress. Nothing Beth wants done will get voted in.

Another of the issues the PTA has to settle is financial: what to do with the money raised from their book? It's enough money to do fund something major. Claudia wants sports equipment, Beth wants the money to go towards fine arts education. Anyone who has ever dealt with budget cuts and choices in public education knows that this kind of argument is basic and almost primal. There rarely seems to be any room for compromise. The Tarver Elementary PTA is not that rare species. Fisticuffs almost break out at the meeting. Beth calls for a short recess so that tempers can cool and manners regained.

During the recess, the guest speaker is killed. Beth discovers the body and sees the killer fleeing the scene. The police chief is less than ecstatic to find this out; they've had run-ins before. The question soon becomes one of motive: who would want to kill an investment adviser? Surprisingly, there are more suspects than one might expect.

Beth has more in her life than the PTA. There are staffing problems at the children's bookstore she owns. Her best friend wants her to totally redo her wardrobe. One of her kids is acting so strangely that others are commenting on it. Of all the problems, this is the one that bothers Beth the most. She is deeply vested in her children and so this bothers her on at least two levels. The first is that her son has a problem. She wants to fix it, because that's what Moms do. The second is that he won't talk to her, or anyone else, about this problem. This really has her upset because Beth sees this as a reflection on her parenting abilities. Not a good reflection, either.

CURSE is the fourth book in the PTA series. It's a series worth reading, although traditional mystery readers will be much happier with it than readers of noir mystery fiction. Beth grows from book to book, as do her children and those around her. Alden keeps the story moving along; there doesn't seem to be mid-book drag in any of the four. Alden also has a realistic sense of what is possible, if not probable, in the life of a small business owner. The reader never is asked to forget that Beth has a business, that other people depend on her for their living, that time is a very limited commodity in her life. That is one thing that makes this series so much fun to read: the reality that I am asked to believe in is really close to the reality I live in.

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, May 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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