(This blog first appeared this June in Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare blog.)
Ours did. Fresh out of college, my birthday a week earlier the only thing keeping me from being a child bride, I married the man I’m still married to many years and two sons later.But when I was ready to marry off Joan Spencer’s daughter in Her Brother’s Keeper, it was December in their lives. And I’d never had a daughter, much less married one off. So I had to wing it.
My first attempt, written years ago, was a flop. Once I got over the shock, I had to agree with the editor who’d turned it down. I no longer have the manuscript or even the vaguest memory of the plot. The next two books in the series were published, but they left poor Rebecca waiting her turn while her mother married Fred Lundquist, the cop she met way back in the first book. Now, in book seven, (fortunately, characters don’t have to age as fast as writers), Rebecca’s finally marrying Bruce Graham, the violinist to whom she announced her engagement in book four, The Vanishing Violinist. What can possibly go wrong?
A December wedding means Joan can put up family members in the bed-and-breakfast usually filled by the Oliver College football crowd. But Rebecca’s worried that her family will be seriously outnumbered by the groom’s. At her urging, Joan invites the brother she’s hardly heard from for many years.
The trouble starts when he accepts. Joan, who never expected him to come, is flummoxed. Nothing to do but warn Ellen Putnam, who runs the b&b in her home.
“I came to throw myself on your mercy.”
Why was this so hard? “It’s my brother,” Joan said.
“He’s decided to come to the wedding. He wants to stay with us, but he just can’t, not with Rebecca in the one spare room I have.”
“We still have space.”
“But you don’t want Dave Zimmerman!”
“What is he, an ax murderer?” Ellen’s dimples showed.
Joan suddenly felt silly. “Not that bad. At least, not that I’ve ever heard. And maybe he’s matured. But when he was still living at home, he got into one scrape after another. Underage drinking, pot, reckless driving, gambling, even got picked up once for shoplifting. I’m sure I didn’t hear all of it–I was younger, probably too young to tell. But sometimes I heard my parents talking when they thought I wasn’t listening. I haven’t seen him for years. I don’t know what kind of thing he’d pull now, but I wouldn’t want to cause you any trouble.”
“Don’t give it a thought, Joan. He can’t be any worse than some of the people who stay here. I didn’t repaint the walls because I changed my mind about the color, you know. You should have seen the stuff the last bunch threw at them.”
So Joan lets herself relax, and Dave shows up. He comes a week early and turns out to have been in prison, which he confesses immediately. He’s also enough of a ladies man to charm the grouchy conductor of the Oliver Civic Symphony, not to mention the old ladies at the senior citizens center that is Joan’s day job. Still leery about what he might do, she begins to remember the sweet big-brother things he did when she was small and he was in high school.
Even before Dave arrives, Rebecca’s mother-in-law-to-be barges in on Joan at the senior center. Joan enjoys Fred’s mother. Helga Lundquist’s mind may be failing badly, but her heart is in the right place. Elizabeth Graham is focused only on herself. She tries to run everything about the wedding–never mind what the couple themselves want–and looks down her nose at anything this small Indiana college town might provide.
“It is difficult, when we’re all so spread out,” Joan said as sympathetically as she could manage. “And Bruce and Rebecca have such definite ideas.” Thank goodness.
“They certainly do,” Elizabeth said. “But they don’t know what they’re doing. You and I have to set them straight.”
She lays out her ideas for a wedding far beyond Joan’s means, but says Bruce and Rebecca won’t even let her check on the availability of the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis.
“Well.” Joan’s admiration for Bruce rose another couple of notches. Whatever Rebecca faced in dealing with this woman, her husband would stand up to his mother.
“They want to have the ceremony and the reception all in that church. Can you imagine–a wedding reception in the church basement? Nothing but wedding cake and little sandwiches, they said. You can’t treat people like that!”
Joan smiled, remembering that she and Fred not only had treated their guests like that, but that those very guests had decorated the room and baked the wedding cake as a surprise gift.
Elizabeth wasn’t in my first try at writing the wedding book. Bruce had some namby pamby mother I’ve managed to forget. Now that I’ve met his real mother, I’m so grateful to her for showing up. Joan stands up on her own hind legs, and the conflict continues till the end of the book.
In the middle of the wedding rehearsal, Fred gets a call about his mother and has to leave. (Elizabeth finds that unforgivable, of course.) It turns out that Helga, in town for the wedding, is on the scene of a bloody murder. Worse yet, she’s holding the bloody murder weapon. And we’re off and running.