Perseverance Press, 2013.
Now available as an ebook.
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Frommer explores the nuances of family relationships in her well-plotted seventh Joan Spencer mystery. . . . She uses dialogue effectively to highlight each character’s individuality. —Publishers Weekly
Although as the ending neared I thought I knew the identity of the killer, I was wrong, and it was a surprising finish. This is a welcome addition to the series, with its contingent of [mostly] likeable characters and the familiar small-town setting. Thoroughly enjoyable, it is RECOMMENDED. —Gloria Feit, I Love a Mystery
Her Brother’s Keeper is a captivating, absorbing family mystery. The characters are uniformly well drawn, with a good mixture of individual strengths and weaknesses, and almost as interesting, their own perceived strengths. . . enjoyable from start to finish. —Beth of The Betz Review in HIDDEN Staircase Mystery Books
“It’s always fun reading about heroines married to cops, and Frommer does an excellent job of compartmentalizing the role that Joan’s husband, Fred, plays in the solution to the murder. It’s small town Indiana, and Joan is a small town girl with a big heart. The interplay between her brother’s behavior and the mother-in-law keeps things spicy.” —Shelly Glodowski, Senior Reviewer, The Midwest Book Review
They hadn’t waited for him, he was glad to see when he arrived at the little church. Reverend Eric Young was talking the wedding party through the service.
“Fred, you’re just in time,” he said as Fred hurried down the aisle. “You’ve already walked the bride down the aisle, and when I ask, `Who gives this woman to be married to this man?’ Rebecca says you’ll answer.”
“Yes,” Fred said. He smiled at Rebecca. “She wants me to say, `Her mother and I do.’”
Rebecca tucked her arm through his and nodded emphatically.
“Then you go back and sit with her mother.”
Fred did, and he thought his part was finished. “Who walked her down?” he whispered to Joan. Andrew was standing up by Bruce, and the redheaded girl by Rebecca must be Bruce’s sister.
“Nobody. So far they’re just talking.”
“You mean they’re going to go through the whole thing again?” He and Joan hadn’t bothered with a full-fledged rehearsal when Eric Young had married them in this very church, with hardly more people than were scattered around it now. He waved to his brother, Walt, sitting near the back door with his wife, Ruthie.
Across the aisle, the woman emphatically clearing her throat had to be the infamous mother of the groom. Fred smiled and nodded in her direction as if the words he was sure she intended weren’t in his vocabulary.
“You’re awful!” Joan whispered.
“I try,” he returned out of the side of his mouth.
Then the unforgivable happened—his cell phone rang. He hit the Mute button, looked at the number on the screen, and slid out of the pew to retreat up the aisle to the back door. “What?”
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” the 911 dispatcher said in his ear. “I knew not to bother you. But when they said it was your family, I–”
He cut her off. He hadn’t seen his parents in the church, but hadn’t worried until now. “What happened? Where are they?”
“At Ellen Putnam’s. Something about a knife was all I could get. Ambulance on the way, but I thought you’d want to know.”
“Oh, God,” he groaned. It had to be his mother. “I’ll be right there.”
Joan had turned around. He scribbled a note to her and handed it to Ruthie. “Come on,” he said to Walt, who looked surprised, but followed him.
“Carol didn’t make this trip?” Fred asked him once they were outside.
“No, they were glad to get some time to themselves. You know how it is, with Mom and all.” Fred did know. Their sister and her husband shared the care of their parents with Walt and Ruthie, but the demands of Walt’s restaurant meant that Carol bore the brunt of it. Walt looked alarmed. “Is Mom all right? Is Dad? Where are you taking me?”
“Back to Ellen’s. And I don’t know. Whoever called 911 said it was my family, so I figured Mom. Here’s my car.” He’d parked his Chevy smack in front of the church, illegally, knowing no Oliver cop would bother it.
Because the college was taking its break, the streets were empty. They covered the short blocks in minutes that felt like hours. Two squad cars were flashing lights outside the B &B. The ambulance hadn’t arrived when they pulled up, but the siren was close.
Beside him, Walt sat mute and tense.
“Come on,” Fred said, knowing Walt had to dread what they’d find as much as he did. Walt followed him in.
“In the kitchen, Lieutenant.” Officer Wampler pointed the way.
“Hang in there, Walt,” Fred said. “She probably cut herself.” The dispatcher had mentioned a knife, and he had to prepare Walt for that, at least.
But he himself wasn’t prepared for the sight that met them. Her apron and hands covered in blood, Helga stood alone beside a table covered with what looked like individual salads arranged on plates, waving a bloody kitchen knife at all comers. Armed, the police were keeping their distance. Then Fred saw the man’s body crumpled at her feet, face down. The table kept him from seeing the head, but the source of the blood was obvious from what he could see.
“Good God, Mom!”
“Fred. I’m glad you finally got here. Tell these people to leave me alone.” She waved the knife at the police again. “They don’t understand. I had to do it.”
“Do what, Mom?” Churning, he forced himself to ask it quietly.
“Take the knife out,” she said as if it were obvious. “It was going to kill him.”
Taking it out probably finished the job, Fred thought. “We’d better see how bad it is,” he said. “Let’s let the doctors check him, okay?”
“Okay,” she said. Fred went to her side.
“Tell them to come in,” he told Officer Chuck Terry, who nodded and gestured behind him. Two EMTs hurried in and knelt by the body.
“Let’s give them room to work, Mom,” Fred said. “I’ll take the knife.” He reached his hand out to Officer Jill Root. “Evidence bag, Jill.”
He held the open bag out to his mother, who put the knife into it without protest. Fred passed it to Root as if it didn’t matter.
“Mom, are you hurt?”
“No, but that poor man. . .” she said, leaning on the table and craning to look.
Fred stood in her way and faced her. “They’ll take care of him now. Let’s get you cleaned up.” He held her hands out to the sink and ran water over them, just in case. No, no cuts. She, at least, was uninjured.
“Walt, can you take Mom to her room and help her clean up? We’ll get this apron off right now.” He pulled the blood-soaked thing over her head and held it out to Root, who slid it into another bag.
“Sure,” Walt said, with amazing calm. “Come on, Mom.” He led her out of the room, unprotesting. Fred wondered how often Walt had to help his mom in less dramatic circumstances. Their roles seemed to come naturally to them both.
Did she have any idea what she’d done? And exactly what had she actually done? Could she have reported that accurately?
“Lieutenant, I know she’s your mother and all, but somebody’s got to talk to her,” Jill Root said. Not you, she clearly meant.
“Of course. Ketcham can do it, unless Altschuler wants someone else. But you’re not going to get anything useful out of Mom. You could see how she is.”
Root nodded. “Is she always that way?”
“Pretty much. Up and down, not always the same. Stress makes her worse. I haven’t seen her since last year, so I’m not up to date. We’ll see what she’s like when Walt gets her changed, but I’ll be surprised if she can be much help. You call Ketcham yet?”
“He’s on the way.”