If you’re just starting our craziness, here are the first installments of the interactive short story inspired by Chantel Reads All Day’s “Read Your Bookshelf Challenge” for 2022.
I just have to give a HUGE shout out to author Joanne Markey who took it upon herself to badger everyone and her sister to find out what the book is–including demanding that I show her a picture of every single book I own–front covers, of course. Then her sister-in-law went on a stalking hunt and decided she found it on my instagram. Let’s just hope they’re right!
To find out what books I’m reading (and a hint of the upcoming prompts), you can find my list on Chantel’s (from Chantel Reads All Day) Hey Reader Website. I’m almost done with my May book, The Orchard House. This is my first Heidi Chiavaroli book, and it will NOT be my last. Just sayin’. EEEP!
Cast of Characters
Bill Olemann- Rich dead uncle
Wes Olemann- Bookstore owner
Tom Olemann- Wes’ brother
Sadie McGee- Music store owner
Elton Sadler- Mary Margaret Montmorency’s sorta grandson
Detective Grosser- not to put too fine a point on it but…
Book club members:
- Allison Petty- pediatric nurse
- Jonas West- truck driver
- Mary Margaret Montmorency- old lady from England
- Arlette Hoskins- homemaker
- Gavin Underwood- businessman
- Corey Gray- florist
- Simon Lesourd- printer
- Bernice Boyles- postal worker
- Piper Etherbridge- retail clerk
- Julia Chen- lawyer
- Xander Meers- student
- Carrie Dermott- homeschool mom
Tension stretched through the group until it became a matter of when, not if, the first person snapped. Piper commented that A Man Called Ove shouldn’t work as a novel. “It’s choppy. Simplistic. And the old guy is so cliche it isn’t funny.”
Mary Margaret Montmorency’s hands trembled at the nods that followed. Don’t move! she wanted to scream. You’ll break. Though she’d promised herself she wouldn’t look at Jonas, there wasn’t any hope for it, so “Mmm” as she’d even begun to think of herself turned and faced him. With her best attempt at a natural smile, she said, “You listened to the audio, I believe? You’ve already read the book? How did it compare?”
The man—a boy compared to her, she supposed—shrugged. “I caught things I missed the first time. Nuances, you know? But I don’t know if that was because of the narration or because it was the second time around. You know how that is.”
A few nods followed, and by the way everyone gazed at him, it was obvious the club members were relieved to have an excuse to look his way. Piper asked if the characters had Swedish accents. A few people laughed before she sighed. “Dumb question.”
“I thought it was a good one.” Gavin shrugged at a few questioning looks shot his way. “I mean, we wouldn’t think it was silly if a book written by an English person taking place in England was expected to have a British accent. Why shouldn’t the narrator sound a bit Swedish?”
Perhaps Mary Margaret Montmorency should have steered the conversation back to the merits and demerits of the book. Perhaps. The problem was that it struck too close to home. She understood an old man’s loneliness. And though she’d lived more years in the United States, had become a voting citizen long ago, and considered herself as American as any of the others in the room, a tiny bit of her ached to be “home.” Back in the little English village where her family lived or even off at Wheeton Abbey again. No matter how often Elton stopped by to visit or Bethany arrived to take her for a drive or to the sweet tea room at Stafford House in Brunswick, no matter how much she relied on the strength and companionship of her Lord…
A sigh escaped—one that Jonas must have heard because he turned to her. “What is it, Mrs. Montmorency?”
Such a rare thing—hearing just one of her names from someone not on the phone or in a doctor’s office. She offered a small smile, ready to assure him all was well. But the others had now turned concerned faces to her, too. Maybe she could make a difference for someone if she spoke out. “I have compassion for Ove. I understand the loneliness that comes after sharing a life with someone only to be left behind. Friends visit, and the Lord is always there with me. I know this and I’m grateful for both but…”
Allison, the dear girl—no. She really had to quit seeing everyone as so childlike. The dear woman reached for her hand and squeezed it. “Tell us. You’re right. Maybe it’ll make a difference someday.”
“When night falls, shadows become your only companions. They’re flat, one-dimensional beings—an echo rather than a conversation. You lock your door—alone. You turn out each light until even your shadow companions fade into the darkness. The pillow beside you remains empty, no matter how many mornings you wake from a wonderful dream of how things used to be.” She wiped a tear, and from nowhere it seemed, Wes Olemann produced a box of tissues. “Thank you.”
“Go on… if you can.” Allison’s urging almost sounded like a plea.
“I have a rich life,” she hastened to assure the room. “I have friends at church. A garden. Elton and Bethany spend many hours with me, and of course…” Mary Margaret Montmorency—she clung to all three names now—held up the book they’d been discussing. “I have my books—old friends many of them. But some new… like Ove.” She swallowed back some of the rising emotion, steadied herself, and continued. “I miss having someone with whom to share the troubles at book club or the vacation Bible school curriculum debate raging each week at the meetings.”
A thoughtful pause pressed itself into the meeting. Some stared at the floor in front of them. Others seemed to try to read the book straight through the cover. Carrie spoke first. She dug into another of her myriad tote bags and pulled out a book with a striking red cover. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. “I got this at a little free library near my house. Someone had slapped a sticky note on the cover saying that if you liked A Man Called Ove, you’d like this one. Have you read it?”
Almost everyone in the room shook his or her head.
Julia Chen nodded, however. “I have. I um…” She eyed Carrie’s tote bag. This one read: *Need proof there is a God? Gotcha covered. Coffee, Chocolate, and Books. “Well, she continued. “I don’t think you’d appreciate the language or the intimate content.”
If further proof of the tote bag’s assertions of the genuineness of God was needed, one only note that Mary Margaret Montmorency didn’t laugh when Piper went from bored to interested in the space of those last two words. Carrie’s disappointment lasted only as long as her offer for anyone in the room to take the book. Seeing Piper’s excitement, the woman beamed. “One woman’s literary junk is another’s feast.” She grinned at a now-scowling Piper. “You’d say the same about half the books I love. To each her own, right?”
Offense crisis averted, she decided perhaps it was time to call intermission. No one really cared about the book tonight, and who could blame any of them? “I think I could use a cup of tea now. Has everyone given their opinion of the book?” If they hadn’t, no one admitted it.
Everyone rose to escape to the restroom or to nab their cups of coffee. Jonas moved to her side, though. “I was wondering, Mrs. Montmorency. Have you ever ridden in a big rig?”
Of all the startling questions, that was one she would never have imagined. “Well, I can’t say that I have. I always wanted to see the inside—ever since I learned they have beds. And Elton told me he saw one that had a tiny kitchen inside as well.”
“I have a short run tomorrow—down to Louisville and back. I thought maybe you’d like to ride along.” Her bruised pride must have shown because he reached for her hand and held it between both of his. “I’ve taken lots of people on short runs. Anytime I get a chance.” He bent closer and murmured. “Don’t be embarrassed that you admitted being lonely. If people don’t tell us, we don’t learn to pay attention. So thank you. And I hope you can come—if not tomorrow some trip soon.”
With her pride still smarting, Mary Margaret Montmorency gave herself a sound, silent scolding and nodded. “I would love to come. Where do I meet you?”
“If you’d rather, we can meet anywhere you like. But I don’t mind picking you up at your house.”
A tiny, uncertain part of her checked at that suggestion. If Jonas were their puppet master, she’d make killing her easier if somehow she’d chosen the wrong book. And there was only a little over a week before the month ended. But one look at the man’s eyes changed that thought train. “I’ll just write it down for you. Come a bit early and I’ll have scones and tea ready for you.”
Jonas flashed a smile that should be making women’s hearts pitter and patter simultaneously. Were the women in Rockland idiots? She decided that they most definitely were when he said, “I would like that very much, ma’am.”
No one would look at him, and Jonas couldn’t blame them. The air conditioner pumped cooling air into a stuffy room even as cool rain beat down outside. It hadn’t been a terribly hot day, but the club room had grown warmer even as the temperatures outside dropped with the coming late-spring rain, which made no sense to him. The cup of hot coffee in his hand did little to cool his nerves or his overheated body.
After another sip of the still scalding brew, he addressed the club. “I hope some of you have ideas, because I spent every minute on this and I’ve got nothing.”
Carrie shook her head as did Mrs. Montmorency. Xander threw out an idea. “My mom thinks it’s a Nancy Drew book. She says she saw reproductions of the early ones with clothes that looked right. But I couldn’t find one that had her holding a book.”
One by one the others confirmed what he’d known all along. If this puppet master was serious, he’d die soon. All the more reason to give Mrs. Montmorency that ride. He swallowed hard at the thought. Then again, what if the guy attacked when she was with him?
Julia Chen spoke up next. “I had my assistant scouring the internet, but she couldn’t find anything either.”
First Mrs. Montmorency dabbed at her eyes. Carrie the homeschool mom fished Kleenex from her bag and passed it to those near her. Allison covered her face in her hands. “This is awful,” she whispered.
For once, Simon’s abrasive personality proved useful He kept silent for a short bit before saying, “We’ll since this isn’t Jonas’ funeral yet, maybe we could try to prevent it? What do each parts of the poem refer to?”
“We know there’s a book on the cover,” Mrs. Montmorency began. “No doubt there.”
“Right.” Simon pulled up his phone. “Okay… It says drawn on the cover—so illustrated instead of a photograph?”
Corey’s head bobbed. “I got that, too. It’s a drawing or painting of a girl wearing a hat and nice shoes.”
“Holding a book,” Simon repeated.
“But…” Bernice looked perplexed. “It just says that there’s a book on the cover. She could be standing outside a bookstore or be standing on a book.”
“Or has a book on her head—walking around like they used to,” Allison interjected. Then she frowned. “But… why did I think she was carrying one? What’s the rest of the poem?”
Several others jumped on that all at once. Jonas hadn’t caught what “that which fits the rule” meant, but Julia’s confident, “The rule is that there’s a book on the cover. So it stands to reason that she’s carrying a book.”
In the corner, Wes went from beaten down to thoughtful with those words. He sat up. Stared. Pondered—you could see him pondering, Jonas decided.
“It does say something you once used at school…” Bernice seemed to be catching up to the others’ thought processes. “But it says not a purse. So maybe it might look like one until you look closely?”
“Or…” Mrs. Montmorency began rising from her chair, still stirring her tea as if the sugar wouldn’t dissolve. “What if it is a purse, but the book is about a book, so the puppet master is telling us to overlook things? This riddlesome poem isn’t what one would call clear. It could be a red herring. What books have women carrying books or purses on the covers?”
As if it had been too long since her opinion had been offered, Arlette threw out, “Well, and probably in nineteen-thirties fashion, right? ‘The world’s economy failed.’ That would be the depression.”
“Across the pond—was it written in England or about someone in England or both?” Mrs. Montmorency entered the discussion looking less wilted now. “The words within—the book or the one on the cover, I wonder…”
That sparked a new debate, but Jonas watched the two chairs by the door where Grosser and Mr. Olemann sat. With each comment, Wes whispered something to the detective who in turned looked pensive.
“And why jailed? Is that because it was a controversial book or that something happened in the book that was illegal?” This from Simon.
Piper piped up with, “Well we know there are three words in the title. One is probably miss or missus.”
That changed everything. The debates raged. When did the first letter from Helen Hanff first reach 84 Charing Cross Road? Could it have been during the depression?
“That’s four words, though.” Arlette’s objection seemed to fit the woman’s attitude. From what Jonas could tell, she didn’t like not having a guess.
Simon interjected his opinion. “Well, if the title of that book has eighty-four in digits instead of words, maybe not.”
“It does,” Mrs. Montmorency leaned forward, her hands clutching her A Man Called Ove book. “But it was post World War Two..”
“So three words in the title. Takes place in England or is by an English author. Nineteen thirties. What about the address?” Bernice said “ad-dress” as if a location.
Allison objected. “It mentions whom. It could be ‘a-ddress.’ So Piper’s miss or missus is probably correct since there is a woman on the book.
At that comment, Mr. Olemann’s head shot up. He stared at Allison, but she didn’t seem to notice. She glanced over at him, her panic becoming more evident every second. Tears flowed—quiet, steady, heartfelt. A look over at Corey showed her weeping too. Jonas, unsure how to handle the situation sent a plea toward the men at the door. Grosser stood as if ready to take charge before sitting down again, and Wes bolted from the room.
Looks like it’s on me. “I…” He cleared his throat before his voice cracked and gave him away. “I think we should just choose a book. If one of us comes up with the right one, I’ll buy everyone a copy so we end the month with the right one. But why shouldn’t we have something—?”
Wes Olemann strode into the room, paused by Jonas’ chair, and then after seeming to think better of it, marched over to the bookshelf and set a book next to A Man Called Ove.
In one jumbled but semi-synchronized move, every member jumped up to examine the book. Arlette scoffed. “Miss Buncle’s Book? How does that fit?”
“It has three words,” Allison said. “And it has ‘Miss’ on the cover. She’s carrying a book, and the clothes are thirties—see that cloche?”
Half the room stared at her. Jonas found his voice first. “What’s a cloche?”
“That hat.” Mary Margaret Montmorency stood staring. “I’ve not seen that cover. Perhaps I would have thought of it.” A smile formed. “Elton’s mother always tried to get me to read it, but I thought it would be too silly and cliche—not authentically English.”
For the first time in two weeks, Jonas had a bit of hope. “What about the bit about the first two letters rhyming with King James’ you or me?”
“But that’s not what it said,” Julia Chen interjected. It said two first letters. So B. Which rhymes with me.”
“But it doesn’t rhyme with you.” Bernice sounded almost triumphant with that observation.
Carrie waved her tote bag as if a pennant and squealed. “But King James’ you was ‘thee!’ I think Wes did it!”
Amid the murmurs of agreement and a couple of dissenters, Piper asked, “Is he allowed to?”
“I’m putting the next clue under the glass on the coffee table so people can work out their ideas. Nowhere did the puppet master say we couldn’t ask for help, so I’m making sure we get all we can.” Wes pointed to the book. “Who needs a copy. I don’t want to be rude, but I need everyone to go home so I can. I’m worn out.”
The text came through just as Andrew Grosser lay down on his couch and wished, not for the first time that day much less ever, that he had a dog to scratch behind the ears, to talk out his cases with, and to snuff out the loneliness in his life. But dogs needed time and attention. They didn’t need to be cooped up in small apartments for insanely long hours.
A small part of him nearly overrode the instinct to pull up the text, but in the end, habit won out. It was simple and direct, just like the detective who had sent it. Check out this YouTube channel. The one from December 28th. If the next clue is about reading a book you have been avoiding but want to read, I think you’ve got your puppet master.
The video began and a familiar face filled the screen. A stack of unfamiliar books followed, and the “aha!” moment faded. But by the time that a prompt of “growth” appeared, he knew it. Davies had done it. He’d found their creep, and he could almost believe this so-called “puppet master” would actually do the deed. As he lowered the lid of the laptop, Andrew caught his reflection in the window and grinned at the eerie glow it gave him. Too bad their perp couldn’t see him now. “Gotcha.”
There you have it! Andrew thinks he’s nailed our culprit. Who do you think it is? And is he right?
Here are the rest of the episodes in case you missed one.
And this is Miss Buncle’s Book. Did they get it right?