Death Climbs a Tree

St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2005;Worldwide, 2008.

Now available as an ebook.



Kobo (Independent bookstores)


DEATH CLIMBS A TREE by Sara Hoskinson Frommer (St. Martin’s) New development is threatening the natural environment, and the tree huggers are out in force. Actually, a first violinist for Joan Spencer’s orchestra is living in a tree in protest. When Joan and her son Andrew witness Sylvia’s fall, Andrew decides to take her place. Like all mothers would be, Joan is concerned about her son and she visits the site often. One morning while looking for morels (her excuse for a visit), she discovers something that makes her wonder if the fall was accidental. Clashes between environmentalists and builders, struggles in the workplace, and blending families combine to make DEATH CLIMBS A TREE an all-too-believable contemporary tale.
— Molly Weston- Meritorious Mysteries

“I can’t play the concert,” violinist Sylvia Purcell informs Joan Spencer, the Oliver Civic Symphony manager, at the start of Frommer’s sixth Joan Spencer mystery (after 2002’s Witness in Bishop Hill). “I have to sit in a tree.” Sylvia’s protest against the development of a wooded area for low-income housing turns deadly when she falls out of the tree in front of Joan and her son, Andrew. Evidence Joan finds points quickly to murder, with Andrew a prime suspect. Joan’s husband, police detective Fred Lundquist, doggedly pursues the case, which is complicated by mysterious nocturnal lights in the woods. Meanwhile, amateur sleuth Joan’s nosing around leads her to a dangerous confrontation with the killer. Low-key suspense and likable characters make this an enjoyable, if not compelling, read for cozy fans.
Publishers Weekly, Aug. 2005

Sara Hoskinson Frommer delivers a solidly satisfying, character driven, small town cozy that addresses not only environmental issues but aging, workplace harassment and the impact of death on family and friends left behind. A very enjoyable read.
— Sally Powers–I Love a Mystery July/August 2005


At first, Joan didn’t know it was Sylvia. At first she didn’t know what had happened.

One moment, she was looking up into a tree, worrying about nothing more urgent than trying to persuade Sylvia to consider the people who needed the low-cost apartments. The next, she was staring stupidly at the body crumpled on the ground. Soft as the layers of leaves had felt when she’d walked on them, they hadn’t been able to cushion Sylvia against such a terrible fall.

Andrew was already on his knees beside her. “Sylvia? Sylvia? Mom, call 911! I think she’s alive!”

Jerked into action, Joan remembered seeing the phone fly out of his hand when Sylvia hit the ground. Dropping to her own knees and scrabbling where she thought it had landed, she was hugely relieved to spot the little screen still glowing green through the brown leaves. She ended Andrew’s call and dialed 911. “Send an ambulance to Yocum’s Woods! A woman just fell out of a tall tree.” She listened to the dispatcher. “Yes, the tree sitter. Please, send help right away. She’s badly hurt. . . . Joan Spencer. . . . No, I don’t live here. Nobody lives here!”

The dispatcher was insistent that she needed Joan’s address and phone number. What possible difference could that make? Joan wanted to scream at her. But she gave them.

“Yes, I’ll stay on the line, but that won’t help you find us—I’m on a cell phone. . . . Right, those woods. From the turnoff it’s a few hundred yards to the clearing. . . . Thank you. And would you tell Lieutenant Fred Lundquist, please? Tell him his wife called it in.”

“Mom! What did they say?”

“They’re on the way. They know where we are.” Still on her knees, Joan held the phone to her ear.

“Don’t hang up,” the dispatcher was saying.

“I won’t. What should we do for her?”

“Don’t move her. Check that she’s breathing.”

“Is she breathing?” Joan asked Andrew. Through the heavy jacket, she couldn’t tell.

He put his cheek to Sylvia’s face. “Yes.”

“Is she conscious?” the dispatcher asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Can you get a pulse?”

“I’ll check,” Joan said. “Just send the ambulance!”

“It’s on the way. I need more information from you.”

“Tell them to hurry—she isn’t moving.” Without breaking the connection, Joan stuck the phone in her jacket pocket, scrambled to her feet, and walked back to Andrew. “How is she?”

“Still breathing.”

Eyes closed, Sylvia moaned.

“Sylvia?” he tried. When she didn’t answer, he reached out but then pulled his hand back. “I’m afraid to touch her. She’s all broken up.”

Joan could see impossible bends of Sylvia’s arms and legs through her coat sleeves and sweatpants. She hated even to think about internal injuries.

Sylvia looked pale. Shocky. “Run back to the car, Andrew. Get Fred’s old blanket.” Too bad we don’t have her sleeping bag. But we have her clean laundry!

Joan pulled sweaters, shirts, and underwear out of the bag at her feet to spread over the still body on the ground. Sylvia had landed belly-down, but Joan could see the left side of her face. A red spot on her temple was already beginning to swell. A thin line of bright blood ran down from the corner of her ear to join another from her mouth and stain the clean long johns draped around her neck and shoulders.

Andrew stood over them now, unfolding the worn blanket. “It’s dirty.”

“Better than nothing.”

Together, careful not to disturb her injured limbs, they cocooned Sylvia in it. Then Joan heard the siren.

“Hang on, Sylvia,” she said. “Help’s coming.” Could she hear?

“I’ll go.” Andrew ran toward the sound.

Joan fished the phone out of her pocket. “We can hear the siren. My son has gone to meet them.”

“I’ve been calling you.” The dispatcher sounded testy.

“I was covering her. She’s very pale. Bleeding from the ear and mouth now, too.”

“They can see your son. And your husband’s on his way. He says to wait for him. That’s all. You can hang up now.”

Joan did and pocketed the phone. Was Sylvia still breathing? Even leaning close, she couldn’t tell through the blanket.

The siren wailed through the trees and cut off suddenly, but it was a fire engine, not an ambulance, that rounded the last curve into the clearing. Two uniformed EMTs ran over with a backboard. Andrew was close behind them.

“Okay, lady, we’ll take it from here.” The man didn’t shove Joan out of the way, but he might as well have.

Fighting the urge to tell him to be careful, she backed off and stood by Andrew, whose eyes were fixed on Sylvia.

The men worked quickly and professionally, monitoring Sylvia’s vital signs as they flung aside the blanket and laundry, collared her neck, splinted her poor arms and legs, rolled her onto the board, and strapped her to it.

Another siren, and the ambulance pulled into the clearing. Two more EMTs ran to the tree, pulling a collapsible gurney. They conferred briefly with the first pair. When they picked Sylvia up and loaded her onto the gurney, she cried out. Then, after covering her with a spotless white blanket, they slid her silently into the ambulance.

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