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The Mutual Admiration Society
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Whistling in the Dark comes an unforgettable novel that illuminates the sweet and brittle bonds of family, the tenderness of growing up, the heartbreak of longing for what we’ve lost, and the poignancy of finding love.
FACT: Unbeknownst to eleven-year-old Theresa “Tessie” Finley, she’s in over her head.
PROOF: After hearing a scream and catching a glimpse of a mysterious man carrying a body beneath the flickering streetlights in the cemetery behind her house, Tessie adds solving a murder case to her already quite full to-do list.
Tessie has elected herself president of the crime-stopping Mutual Admiration Society—as if dealing with her “sad madness” over the tragic drowning of her beloved father; showering tender loving care on her “sweet but weird” younger sister, Birdie; and staying on the good side of their hard-edged mother weren’t enough. With partner in crime Charlie “Cue Ball” Garfield, Tessie and Birdie will need to dodge the gossips in their 1950s blue-collar neighborhood—particularly their evil next-door neighbor, Gert Klement, who’d like nothing better than to send the sisters to “homes.” And, of course, there’s the problem of steering clear of the kidnapping murderer if they have any hope of solving the mystery of all mysteries: the mystery of life.
A rich and charming tour de force, The Mutual Admiration Society showcases Lesley Kagen’s marvelous storytelling talents. Laced with heartwarming humor and heartbreaking grief, this novel is nothing short of magical.
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I, Theresa Marie “Tessie” Finley, hereby confess that on the night of October 17th, 1959, instead of keeping my ears to the ground and my eyes peeled for suspicious goings-on in our neighborhood, the way I swore to do on the Holy Bible, I screwed up really bad.
For cripessakes, any president of a blackmail and detecting society worth their salt would’ve at least poked their head outta their bedroom window at 12:07 a.m. to see who was hollering their head off in the cemetery behind their house, “I’m warning you! Watch yourself! You’re treading on dangerous ground!” But what did I do? I acted like some dumb schmoe who doesn’t know the score.
According to Chapter One in what has to be the best book ever written on the subject, Modern Detection, a private investigator is never supposed to “assume” they know something without having proof and they’re also never supposed to “let emotions cloud their judgment.”
But the minute I heard that hollering over at Holy Cross, I’m ashamed to say, instead of really listening to the voice barging through our bedroom window so I could figure out who it was—I am an ace at that sort of thing—I right away “assumed” that it was Mr. Howard Howard, because every once in a while (mostly after he’s been hitting the schnapps bottle), he staggers over to the cemetery in the wee hours to collapse in a heap on his wife’s grave to bawl his eyes out and threaten God that He better give his Mrs. back ASAP or else. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I also let my emotions cloud my judgment, because Mr. Howard Howard and me, we have that in common.
I could be an expert witness on sad madness. If Mr. Perry Mason called me to the stand, I’d step right up, swear to tell the whole truth and nothin’ but, and testify in that court of law how when the missing sadness comes out of nowhere to kick me where it hurts, I’d say and do almost anything to make the pain stop. And how when I start remembering the smell of the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sloshing around on the bottom of the white motorboat, the cracking sound my father’s head made when it hit the motor, and the taste of the lake water that splashed into my laughing mouth after he fell overboard, I can switch real fast into the off position of God’s and my on-again, off-again relationship, too.
So, when I first heard the yelling in the cemetery, I thought, Give ’em hell, Mister Howard Howard. Let HIM do a little sowing of what HE reaped for once and see how HE likes it, and I went back to doing what I always do in the middle of the night—besides slipping my hand under my sister’s heinie every once in a while to make sure she hadn’t wet the bed, working on my lists, shadowboxing, practicing my impressions, and a couple of sure-fire jokes that I think will get the crowd going—I breathed in deep and got ready to launch into the “Favorite Things” song that I’m going to perform for the talent portion of Miss America someday in honor of my father.
But when a high-pitched scream, also coming out of the cemetery, interrupted “Raindrops on roses . . . ,” a couple of ideas hit me over the head like a “bright copper kettle.” Mister Howard Howard’s voice is much gruffer than the one I’d heard yell, “I’m warning you! Watch yourself! You’re treading on dangerous ground!” And that screeching? Even though it sounded kinda familiar, that couldn’t have belonged to him, neither. That had to have come out of a mouth wearing lipstick.
And thanks to a certain librarian, I knew exactly what I had to do next.
You wouldn’t think by the looks of the gray-eyed brunette that she’d have a brain in her head, but boy, oh, boy, the famous saying that I bet is thrown around the Finney Library on North Ave. more than anywhere else, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” is so true.
Last month, when that pretty librarian Miss Peshong found me loitering around my favorite aisle, she smiled, nodded at the stack of mysteries in my arms, and said, “Judging by the books you’ve been reading for the Billy the Bookworm contest, Tessie, I’ve been wondering if you’re interested in becoming a real-life Nancy Drew when you grow up.”
Of course, I breathed in deep, smiled back, and told her, “That’s a bright idea. I’ll think about that,” even though it wasn’t and I wouldn’t. The only reason I was interested in reading those books was so I could learn more about doing crimes, not solving them. But I liked that Miss Peshong had given my future some thought and that she always smelled like baby powder even though she didn’t have a baby and she kept a pink lace handkerchief in her blouse sleeve in case a kid accidentally started crying when she saw a dad and his daughter checking books out together, so I felt sorta cruddy about fibbing to her, but only a little, because believe me, honesty is not always the best policy. If I’d told the librarian the truth, which was that I thought her idea stunk up the joint because when I grew up I was going to keep being exactly what I already was—an eavesdropper, liar, shoplifter, cat burglar, poison-pen writer extraordinaire, and top-notch blackmailer—because she goes to Mass at St. Catherine’s Church, the same way most everybody around here does, I’m pretty sure that’d get around the neighborhood in nothing flat.