Hiss Me Deadly

Author Miranda James On Tour
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Hardcover
$27.00 US
| $37.00 CAN
On sale Jun 27, 2023 | 320 Pages | 978-0-593-19949-7
Charlie and Diesel must catch a killer before he strikes another deadly note in this latest installment of the New York Times bestselling Cat in the Stacks Mysteries.

Charlie Harris remembers Wilfred “Wil” Threadgill as one of the outsiders during high school in Athena. Although Wil was a couple of years ahead of him and his friend Melba Gilley, Melba had a big crush on Wil, who dropped out after his junior year. An aspiring musician, Wil hit the road for California and never looked back. Wil eventually became a star, fronting a band and writing award-winning songs. 

Coming back to Athena to work for two weeks with students in the college music department, Wil is now the big man on campus. Not everyone is happy to have him back, however. His entourage have been the target of several acts of petty harassment. At first they are easy for Wil to shrug off, but the incidents escalate and become more troubling. When one of the band members is killed Charlie worries that Melba, now deeply involved with the man at the center of the attacks, could be in deadly danger. It is up to Charlie and Diesel to find out who hates Wil Threadgill enough to silence his song . . . forever!
One

I frowned at Melba Gilley, my coworker and longtime friend. "Sorry, I just don't remember anybody called Wil Threadgill."

Melba returned my frown with a scowl. "Honestly, Charlie, I wonder about your memory sometimes. Maybe you ought to be taking one of those supplements they're always going on about on television."

Diesel, my Maine Coon cat, chirped loudly and moved against my leg. He apparently didn't like Melba's tone.

"I don't have your encyclopedic memory for everyone who has lived and died in Athena, Mississippi, over the past fifty-odd years," I replied, trying to keep my tone even. "Remember, I was gone for twenty-five years." I rubbed Diesel's head to reassure him that I was fine.

"True," Melba said grudgingly. The scowl receded, to be replaced by a thoughtful expression. "Do you remember Fred Threadgill?"

I thought for a moment. That name did ring a bell. "Yes, I think so," I said, drawing out the words. "Wasn't he in high school with us? But a little older?"

Melba nodded. "That's Wil."

"So Fred is Wil?" I asked, still puzzled.

I ignored the eye roll.

"His name was Wilfred," Melba said. "He never liked anyone to call him Wilfred, so he went by Fred back in high school."

"When did he become Wil?" I had vague memories of a tall, skinny, redheaded guy who never had much to say to anyone. He'd always seemed to be lost in his own little world.

"When he went to California and became a famous musician," Melba said, a note of triumph in her voice.

"Okay, but why am I supposed to have heard of Wil Threadgill?"

I could see that Melba was again trying to hold on to her temper. I wasn't deliberately trying to aggravate her. My knowledge of the California music scene was fairly limited, despite the fact that my daughter Laura had spent several years there trying to establish her acting career. I knew the famous names, of course, like Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, and Diane Keaton, as well as the greats from the Golden Age, like Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, and Jimmy Stewart. But musicians? Not so much, unless they were from the sixties and seventies, like the Supremes, the Beatles, ABBA, and the Carpenters.

"He's been nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for film scores," Melba said.

"That's impressive," I replied. "But I never watch those award shows. I guess that's why I didn't recognize his name." I hadn't been to the movies in I didn't know how long. My late wife, Jackie, and I used to go occasionally, but neither of us was a big movie buff. We both preferred Golden Age Hollywood in all its glamour. I reminded Melba of this.

She sniffed. She was an avid moviegoer and knew who all the current stars were, who wrote the movies' scores, and probably even who the best boy was, or other trivia. "I'll let it pass this time," she said, her tone mock severe. She pulled out her phone, tapped on it several times, then thrust it at me. "This is Wil."

I took the phone, and Diesel warbled. Surely he didn't want to look at the phone. I patted his head as I examined the photograph of Wil Threadgill.

The long red hair, streaked liberally with gray, hung well past his shoulders. His thin face and shy smile recalled the high school loner to my memory. "His hair style hasn't changed much, but I remember the face." I gave the phone back to Melba. "I didn't know him well. He always seemed like he wasn't really in the present."

Melba sighed as she gazed at the picture. "I don't like that long hair, but if you block some of it out, you can see Wil almost the way he was back then." She put her phone away suddenly. "Wil has always been a dreamer. A misfit, too, I guess. He never felt like he really belonged here."

"A conservative, small Southern town," I suggested. "When he wanted to rock and roll." Diesel warbled again.

"Something like that," Melba said. "I had such a crush on him. He was a sweet guy, and we were friends, sort of. I think I was as close to him as any other girl was, but all he was really interested in was music."

"Did he have a band?" I asked. "In high school, that is."

Melba nodded. "There were four of them. They got together in the eleventh grade. Called themselves Southern Drawl."

I laughed, and Melba grimaced.

"Yeah, not a great name," Melba said. "It wasn't Wil's choice. The other three outvoted him. They played some gigs around here, but then Wil just up and disappeared one day. It was right after school let out for the year. He never came back for his senior year."

"He went straight to California?" I asked. "What about his family here?"

"There was only his daddy, and they didn't get along," Melba said. "His daddy died about twenty years ago. I thought Wil might come home for the funeral, but he didn't."

"That's sad," I said. "He really had no other ties here."

"No strong ones anyway," Melba said. "He actually wrote to me that fall he went to California and told me where he was," Melba said. "A short note, that was all, but he included his address. Asked me to keep it to myself, and I did." She shrugged. "I wrote him every once in a while, and sometimes he'd answer. He moved a lot, and then finally I stopped getting letters from him."

Having known Melba since we were kids, I knew she had been hurt by this. She was the most loyal person I knew, and I figured she might have been in love with the guy. I heard a trace of pain in her tone as she talked about him. "I'm sorry," I said.

Melba shrugged again. "It was a long time ago, and I got over him. I haven't thought much about him for over twenty years, except hearing him on the radio or seeing his name pop up in the credits at the movies." Diesel moved close to her and rubbed against her legs. She smiled and stroked his head.

"What brought him to your mind again, then?"

My question earned me a trademarked Melba snort of exasperation. "Charlie, don't you ever read the campus newsletter? The announcements from the president's office?"

"Sometimes, but since I'm not full time, I don't pay a lot of attention to anything other than library news or the theater department." My son-in-law, Frank Salisbury, served as head of the department, and my daughter Laura, his wife, was a faculty member in it.

"Wil's getting an honorary degree," Melba said, "and he's going to be here in a couple of weeks conducting clinics with students in the music department."

"Not bad for a guy who never finished high school," I said, and I meant it.

Melba narrowed her eyes at me, but evidently satisfied that I wasn't attempting sarcasm, she nodded. "He's done really well. With talent like that, he had to succeed."

"Did he ever get married?"

"Not that I know of," Melba said.

"Is he gay?" I asked.

Melba considered that for a moment. "No, I don't think so. He went out with a few girls that I can remember. I reckon he's just not the settling-down type. I could be wrong. He might arrive with a couple of women in tow. You never know about these Hollywood types."

I wondered if Melba were still carrying a torch for Wil Threadgill after all these years. She had never had much luck with men, and that always surprised me. She was a good, loving, smart woman, but maybe too smart and too good for the men she encountered in Athena, Mississippi.

Melba was like a sister to me, in many ways, and yet I hesitated to ask her right out, "Are you in love with him still?"

She solved my dilemma by suddenly telling me, "I think I'm still in love with him, Charlie. Otherwise the thought of seeing him again wouldn't have me all discombobulated like a teenager. Isn't that the stupidest thing you ever heard?"

I shook my head. "First loves are always special. I don't know that you ever truly get over them."

Melba shot me a sympathetic glance. She knew my first love was my late wife, Jackie, who died of pancreatic cancer several years ago. We had been devoted to each other, and I still missed her, though I had made my peace with her death. I had even found another woman whom I loved, my dear Helen Louise Brady. We were engaged to be married, if we could ever agree on where to live after the ceremony.

"I kept hoping he'd come back," Melba said, and her wistful tone made my heart ache for her. "But he never did. He would always sign his letters Love, Fred, and then later, Love, Wil, but I learned not to take that literally."

"I'm sure he did love you, as far as he was capable," I said. Almost as if on cue, Diesel trilled loudly. "Artists who are that driven to succeed can suppress a lot. They also sacrifice a lot. He is the poorer for not ever coming back to you, or inviting you to come to California."

Melba turned away, and I knew she had teared up. She couldn't stand to let anyone see her in what she considered a moment of weakness. I pulled some tissues out of the box on my desk, got up, and took them to her, pushing them into her hand. She didn't look at me, and I returned to my chair. When she faced me again, she had regained her composure.

"Thank you. He wrote me a couple weeks ago." She stopped abruptly.

I waited a moment, but she remained silent.

"What did he have to say?" I asked. Diesel remained by her side, his head on her lap. She stroked him absentmindedly.

Melba frowned. "It was an odd letter. He acted like we hadn't lost touch all those years. Maybe in his mind, we hadn't. He sounded like the same old Wil, for the most part."

"But?" I prompted her when she fell quiet again.

Melba's gaze met mine and held it. "The last bit of the letter has been worrying me. Wil said he thought coming back might be a bad mistake. Stirring up old feelings and causing unhappiness. He said things might get ugly."

"What things?" I asked, rather disturbed by this.

"He didn't say," Melba replied. "He might be talking about the guys in the band. He did leave them in the lurch right as they were getting some decent gigs."

"That's nearly forty years ago," I said. "Surely they're not still angry with him after all this time."

Melba shrugged. "Sounds ridiculous, I know, but some people hold grudges a long time."

"He might have to face them and apologize," I said, "and that wouldn't be pleasant. Surely he's man enough to do that."

"I sure hope so," Melba said. "But I know one of the guys from the band, and he's the one I'm afraid of."

"Why? What do you think he might do?" I asked.

"Kill Wil," Melba said, and her obvious sincerity shook me.

Two

"You sound awfully sure," I said. "Who is the guy you believe might want to harm Wil Threadgill?"

"John Earl Whitaker," Melba said, her tone flat. "I doubt you know him. He graduated four years ahead of us, and just barely at that. He was in trouble a lot of the time." Her expression grew hard. "His family was about as sorry as they come. Drunk, shiftless, can't hold a job, you name it."

I didn't know this paragon of society, or his family. Didn't sound like I'd ever want to, in fact. Melba could be hard on folks sometimes, but she was truthful. These Whitakers must be a pretty useless lot.

"John Earl is still around?" I asked.

"You may have seen him once in a while at an intersection near the highway," Melba sighed. "He begs, saying he's homeless, all that crap with a pathetic little cardboard sign. Police or sheriff's deputies eventually run him off, but he turns up again at another spot after a week or two. He probably ends up taking money away from real homeless people who really could use the help."

"That's sad," I said.

Melba snorted. "No, it's not, he's just too damn lazy to get jobs and stick to 'em." Her face softened suddenly. "The truly decent one is John Earl's wife, Natalie. She cleans here on campus during the week, and on weekends I think she cleans people's houses. Used to do housekeeping at the Farrington House. She works really hard."

"That's good," I said. "At least they're not starving."

"If it weren't for Natalie, they would be," Melba said darkly. "I swear John Earl'd rather starve than work as long as he can get drunk. He gave up on music sometime after Wil left town. He blamed Wil for every bad thing that happened to him after that." She snorted. "When he's drunk enough, he gets up in the front of whatever bar he's in and starts singing, though. Fancies himself as Elvis, I hear."

"That's stupid," I said. "Wil may have abandoned his friends, but I can't see why that would have ruined their lives."

"That's John Earl all over. Can't accept responsibility for anything. It's always someone else's fault." Melba gave Diesel one last head rub before she stood. "I'd better get back downstairs. I've got work to do."

I watched Diesel amble around my desk and crawl up into the window embrasure behind me. He loved to watch birds and squirrels in the trees nearby.

Melba waved and headed out the door. I heard her footsteps on the stairs as she hurried down to her first-floor office here in the library administration building. An antebellum home that had once belonged to a prominent Athena family, the building had come to Athena College in the late 1800s. Now it housed the library director's office, along with my office, the rare book collection, and the college archives. Several of the downstairs rooms sometimes hosted small meetings or the occasional cocktail party for fund-raising.

I needed to get back to work on the old books I was cataloging, but instead I found my mind stuck on all that Melba had told me about Wil Threadgill and his erstwhile friend, John Earl Whitaker. Melba wasn't prone to exaggeration-at least, most of the time she wasn't-but I had to wonder about her description of Whitaker. He might be every bit as worthless as she said, but to hold a grudge for so long, and over a high school band that fell apart-well, that seemed extreme to me.
PRAISE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING CAT IN THE STACKS MYSTERIES

“Let us now praise the cozy mystery, so comforting on dark days, so warming on chilly nights—the literary equivalent of a cat.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Courtly librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are an endearing detective duo. Warm, charming, and Southern as the tastiest grits.”—Carolyn Hart, New York Times bestselling author of the Death on Demand Mysteries

“Ideal for Christie fans who enjoy a good puzzle.”—Library Journal

“A pleasing blend of crime and charm.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“All my must-haves for a cozy mystery read: engaging story line, interesting and spunky characters . . . and a charming pet.”—Open Book Society

“Combines a kindhearted librarian hero . . . a sleepy Southern town, and a gentle giant of a cat that will steal your heart.”—Lorna Barrett, New York Times bestselling author of the Booktown Mysteries

“Excellent. . . . Reinforces James’s place in the top rank of cozy authors.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“James presents a sharply focused story that celebrates the role of the armchair investigator and his informants.”—Kirkus Reviews
Miranda James is the New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries, including Twelve Angry Librarians, No Cats Allowed, and Arsenic and Old Books, as well as the Southern Ladies Mysteries, including Fixing to Die, Digging Up the Dirt, and Dead with the Wind. James lives in Mississippi. Visit the author at catinthestacks.com and facebook.com/mirandajamesauthor. View titles by Miranda James

About

Charlie and Diesel must catch a killer before he strikes another deadly note in this latest installment of the New York Times bestselling Cat in the Stacks Mysteries.

Charlie Harris remembers Wilfred “Wil” Threadgill as one of the outsiders during high school in Athena. Although Wil was a couple of years ahead of him and his friend Melba Gilley, Melba had a big crush on Wil, who dropped out after his junior year. An aspiring musician, Wil hit the road for California and never looked back. Wil eventually became a star, fronting a band and writing award-winning songs. 

Coming back to Athena to work for two weeks with students in the college music department, Wil is now the big man on campus. Not everyone is happy to have him back, however. His entourage have been the target of several acts of petty harassment. At first they are easy for Wil to shrug off, but the incidents escalate and become more troubling. When one of the band members is killed Charlie worries that Melba, now deeply involved with the man at the center of the attacks, could be in deadly danger. It is up to Charlie and Diesel to find out who hates Wil Threadgill enough to silence his song . . . forever!

Excerpt

One

I frowned at Melba Gilley, my coworker and longtime friend. "Sorry, I just don't remember anybody called Wil Threadgill."

Melba returned my frown with a scowl. "Honestly, Charlie, I wonder about your memory sometimes. Maybe you ought to be taking one of those supplements they're always going on about on television."

Diesel, my Maine Coon cat, chirped loudly and moved against my leg. He apparently didn't like Melba's tone.

"I don't have your encyclopedic memory for everyone who has lived and died in Athena, Mississippi, over the past fifty-odd years," I replied, trying to keep my tone even. "Remember, I was gone for twenty-five years." I rubbed Diesel's head to reassure him that I was fine.

"True," Melba said grudgingly. The scowl receded, to be replaced by a thoughtful expression. "Do you remember Fred Threadgill?"

I thought for a moment. That name did ring a bell. "Yes, I think so," I said, drawing out the words. "Wasn't he in high school with us? But a little older?"

Melba nodded. "That's Wil."

"So Fred is Wil?" I asked, still puzzled.

I ignored the eye roll.

"His name was Wilfred," Melba said. "He never liked anyone to call him Wilfred, so he went by Fred back in high school."

"When did he become Wil?" I had vague memories of a tall, skinny, redheaded guy who never had much to say to anyone. He'd always seemed to be lost in his own little world.

"When he went to California and became a famous musician," Melba said, a note of triumph in her voice.

"Okay, but why am I supposed to have heard of Wil Threadgill?"

I could see that Melba was again trying to hold on to her temper. I wasn't deliberately trying to aggravate her. My knowledge of the California music scene was fairly limited, despite the fact that my daughter Laura had spent several years there trying to establish her acting career. I knew the famous names, of course, like Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, and Diane Keaton, as well as the greats from the Golden Age, like Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, and Jimmy Stewart. But musicians? Not so much, unless they were from the sixties and seventies, like the Supremes, the Beatles, ABBA, and the Carpenters.

"He's been nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for film scores," Melba said.

"That's impressive," I replied. "But I never watch those award shows. I guess that's why I didn't recognize his name." I hadn't been to the movies in I didn't know how long. My late wife, Jackie, and I used to go occasionally, but neither of us was a big movie buff. We both preferred Golden Age Hollywood in all its glamour. I reminded Melba of this.

She sniffed. She was an avid moviegoer and knew who all the current stars were, who wrote the movies' scores, and probably even who the best boy was, or other trivia. "I'll let it pass this time," she said, her tone mock severe. She pulled out her phone, tapped on it several times, then thrust it at me. "This is Wil."

I took the phone, and Diesel warbled. Surely he didn't want to look at the phone. I patted his head as I examined the photograph of Wil Threadgill.

The long red hair, streaked liberally with gray, hung well past his shoulders. His thin face and shy smile recalled the high school loner to my memory. "His hair style hasn't changed much, but I remember the face." I gave the phone back to Melba. "I didn't know him well. He always seemed like he wasn't really in the present."

Melba sighed as she gazed at the picture. "I don't like that long hair, but if you block some of it out, you can see Wil almost the way he was back then." She put her phone away suddenly. "Wil has always been a dreamer. A misfit, too, I guess. He never felt like he really belonged here."

"A conservative, small Southern town," I suggested. "When he wanted to rock and roll." Diesel warbled again.

"Something like that," Melba said. "I had such a crush on him. He was a sweet guy, and we were friends, sort of. I think I was as close to him as any other girl was, but all he was really interested in was music."

"Did he have a band?" I asked. "In high school, that is."

Melba nodded. "There were four of them. They got together in the eleventh grade. Called themselves Southern Drawl."

I laughed, and Melba grimaced.

"Yeah, not a great name," Melba said. "It wasn't Wil's choice. The other three outvoted him. They played some gigs around here, but then Wil just up and disappeared one day. It was right after school let out for the year. He never came back for his senior year."

"He went straight to California?" I asked. "What about his family here?"

"There was only his daddy, and they didn't get along," Melba said. "His daddy died about twenty years ago. I thought Wil might come home for the funeral, but he didn't."

"That's sad," I said. "He really had no other ties here."

"No strong ones anyway," Melba said. "He actually wrote to me that fall he went to California and told me where he was," Melba said. "A short note, that was all, but he included his address. Asked me to keep it to myself, and I did." She shrugged. "I wrote him every once in a while, and sometimes he'd answer. He moved a lot, and then finally I stopped getting letters from him."

Having known Melba since we were kids, I knew she had been hurt by this. She was the most loyal person I knew, and I figured she might have been in love with the guy. I heard a trace of pain in her tone as she talked about him. "I'm sorry," I said.

Melba shrugged again. "It was a long time ago, and I got over him. I haven't thought much about him for over twenty years, except hearing him on the radio or seeing his name pop up in the credits at the movies." Diesel moved close to her and rubbed against her legs. She smiled and stroked his head.

"What brought him to your mind again, then?"

My question earned me a trademarked Melba snort of exasperation. "Charlie, don't you ever read the campus newsletter? The announcements from the president's office?"

"Sometimes, but since I'm not full time, I don't pay a lot of attention to anything other than library news or the theater department." My son-in-law, Frank Salisbury, served as head of the department, and my daughter Laura, his wife, was a faculty member in it.

"Wil's getting an honorary degree," Melba said, "and he's going to be here in a couple of weeks conducting clinics with students in the music department."

"Not bad for a guy who never finished high school," I said, and I meant it.

Melba narrowed her eyes at me, but evidently satisfied that I wasn't attempting sarcasm, she nodded. "He's done really well. With talent like that, he had to succeed."

"Did he ever get married?"

"Not that I know of," Melba said.

"Is he gay?" I asked.

Melba considered that for a moment. "No, I don't think so. He went out with a few girls that I can remember. I reckon he's just not the settling-down type. I could be wrong. He might arrive with a couple of women in tow. You never know about these Hollywood types."

I wondered if Melba were still carrying a torch for Wil Threadgill after all these years. She had never had much luck with men, and that always surprised me. She was a good, loving, smart woman, but maybe too smart and too good for the men she encountered in Athena, Mississippi.

Melba was like a sister to me, in many ways, and yet I hesitated to ask her right out, "Are you in love with him still?"

She solved my dilemma by suddenly telling me, "I think I'm still in love with him, Charlie. Otherwise the thought of seeing him again wouldn't have me all discombobulated like a teenager. Isn't that the stupidest thing you ever heard?"

I shook my head. "First loves are always special. I don't know that you ever truly get over them."

Melba shot me a sympathetic glance. She knew my first love was my late wife, Jackie, who died of pancreatic cancer several years ago. We had been devoted to each other, and I still missed her, though I had made my peace with her death. I had even found another woman whom I loved, my dear Helen Louise Brady. We were engaged to be married, if we could ever agree on where to live after the ceremony.

"I kept hoping he'd come back," Melba said, and her wistful tone made my heart ache for her. "But he never did. He would always sign his letters Love, Fred, and then later, Love, Wil, but I learned not to take that literally."

"I'm sure he did love you, as far as he was capable," I said. Almost as if on cue, Diesel trilled loudly. "Artists who are that driven to succeed can suppress a lot. They also sacrifice a lot. He is the poorer for not ever coming back to you, or inviting you to come to California."

Melba turned away, and I knew she had teared up. She couldn't stand to let anyone see her in what she considered a moment of weakness. I pulled some tissues out of the box on my desk, got up, and took them to her, pushing them into her hand. She didn't look at me, and I returned to my chair. When she faced me again, she had regained her composure.

"Thank you. He wrote me a couple weeks ago." She stopped abruptly.

I waited a moment, but she remained silent.

"What did he have to say?" I asked. Diesel remained by her side, his head on her lap. She stroked him absentmindedly.

Melba frowned. "It was an odd letter. He acted like we hadn't lost touch all those years. Maybe in his mind, we hadn't. He sounded like the same old Wil, for the most part."

"But?" I prompted her when she fell quiet again.

Melba's gaze met mine and held it. "The last bit of the letter has been worrying me. Wil said he thought coming back might be a bad mistake. Stirring up old feelings and causing unhappiness. He said things might get ugly."

"What things?" I asked, rather disturbed by this.

"He didn't say," Melba replied. "He might be talking about the guys in the band. He did leave them in the lurch right as they were getting some decent gigs."

"That's nearly forty years ago," I said. "Surely they're not still angry with him after all this time."

Melba shrugged. "Sounds ridiculous, I know, but some people hold grudges a long time."

"He might have to face them and apologize," I said, "and that wouldn't be pleasant. Surely he's man enough to do that."

"I sure hope so," Melba said. "But I know one of the guys from the band, and he's the one I'm afraid of."

"Why? What do you think he might do?" I asked.

"Kill Wil," Melba said, and her obvious sincerity shook me.

Two

"You sound awfully sure," I said. "Who is the guy you believe might want to harm Wil Threadgill?"

"John Earl Whitaker," Melba said, her tone flat. "I doubt you know him. He graduated four years ahead of us, and just barely at that. He was in trouble a lot of the time." Her expression grew hard. "His family was about as sorry as they come. Drunk, shiftless, can't hold a job, you name it."

I didn't know this paragon of society, or his family. Didn't sound like I'd ever want to, in fact. Melba could be hard on folks sometimes, but she was truthful. These Whitakers must be a pretty useless lot.

"John Earl is still around?" I asked.

"You may have seen him once in a while at an intersection near the highway," Melba sighed. "He begs, saying he's homeless, all that crap with a pathetic little cardboard sign. Police or sheriff's deputies eventually run him off, but he turns up again at another spot after a week or two. He probably ends up taking money away from real homeless people who really could use the help."

"That's sad," I said.

Melba snorted. "No, it's not, he's just too damn lazy to get jobs and stick to 'em." Her face softened suddenly. "The truly decent one is John Earl's wife, Natalie. She cleans here on campus during the week, and on weekends I think she cleans people's houses. Used to do housekeeping at the Farrington House. She works really hard."

"That's good," I said. "At least they're not starving."

"If it weren't for Natalie, they would be," Melba said darkly. "I swear John Earl'd rather starve than work as long as he can get drunk. He gave up on music sometime after Wil left town. He blamed Wil for every bad thing that happened to him after that." She snorted. "When he's drunk enough, he gets up in the front of whatever bar he's in and starts singing, though. Fancies himself as Elvis, I hear."

"That's stupid," I said. "Wil may have abandoned his friends, but I can't see why that would have ruined their lives."

"That's John Earl all over. Can't accept responsibility for anything. It's always someone else's fault." Melba gave Diesel one last head rub before she stood. "I'd better get back downstairs. I've got work to do."

I watched Diesel amble around my desk and crawl up into the window embrasure behind me. He loved to watch birds and squirrels in the trees nearby.

Melba waved and headed out the door. I heard her footsteps on the stairs as she hurried down to her first-floor office here in the library administration building. An antebellum home that had once belonged to a prominent Athena family, the building had come to Athena College in the late 1800s. Now it housed the library director's office, along with my office, the rare book collection, and the college archives. Several of the downstairs rooms sometimes hosted small meetings or the occasional cocktail party for fund-raising.

I needed to get back to work on the old books I was cataloging, but instead I found my mind stuck on all that Melba had told me about Wil Threadgill and his erstwhile friend, John Earl Whitaker. Melba wasn't prone to exaggeration-at least, most of the time she wasn't-but I had to wonder about her description of Whitaker. He might be every bit as worthless as she said, but to hold a grudge for so long, and over a high school band that fell apart-well, that seemed extreme to me.

Reviews

PRAISE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING CAT IN THE STACKS MYSTERIES

“Let us now praise the cozy mystery, so comforting on dark days, so warming on chilly nights—the literary equivalent of a cat.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Courtly librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are an endearing detective duo. Warm, charming, and Southern as the tastiest grits.”—Carolyn Hart, New York Times bestselling author of the Death on Demand Mysteries

“Ideal for Christie fans who enjoy a good puzzle.”—Library Journal

“A pleasing blend of crime and charm.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“All my must-haves for a cozy mystery read: engaging story line, interesting and spunky characters . . . and a charming pet.”—Open Book Society

“Combines a kindhearted librarian hero . . . a sleepy Southern town, and a gentle giant of a cat that will steal your heart.”—Lorna Barrett, New York Times bestselling author of the Booktown Mysteries

“Excellent. . . . Reinforces James’s place in the top rank of cozy authors.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“James presents a sharply focused story that celebrates the role of the armchair investigator and his informants.”—Kirkus Reviews

Author

Miranda James is the New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries, including Twelve Angry Librarians, No Cats Allowed, and Arsenic and Old Books, as well as the Southern Ladies Mysteries, including Fixing to Die, Digging Up the Dirt, and Dead with the Wind. James lives in Mississippi. Visit the author at catinthestacks.com and facebook.com/mirandajamesauthor. View titles by Miranda James