Aspiring conductor Cressa Carraway arrives at her grandmother’s cabin at a rural Illinois lake resort, hoping to find some peace and quiet so she can finish composing the symphony she needs to earn her master’s degree in composition. Instead, she finds her grandmother’s corpse in the lake.
The authorities dismiss the death as an accidental drowning, but when Gram’s best friend drowns in the exact same spot, Cressa just knows something is off-key in this idyllic setting. Convinced that her grandmother’s death was anything but an accident, she fights her instinct to flee and starts looking into things herself.
There are lots of people and facts to consider, from the self-important property manager and his brow-beaten wife, to their salacious son, to the elderly widow who may be lacing her home-baked cookies with a dash of poison. As the body count rises, Cressa doesn’t know which will be finished first—her symphony or her life.
Eine Kleine Murder is a 2013 Silver Falchion Award Nominee
“Five stars out of five! I strongly recommend putting this book on your summer reading list. It is the perfect book to read while sitting by the water.” — Lynn Farris, Examiner.com
“Suspenseful and full of surprises! Agatha-nominated writer Kaye George seamlessly combines an engaging heroine, an unusual setting, and a suspicious set of characters to create a truly satisfying read.” —Judy Dailey, author, Animal, Vegetable, Murder
“Great characters. A genuine page turner.” — Marilyn Levinson, author, Twin Lakes Mystery series
“Eine Kleine Murder immediately draws you in. Once you start reading, you’ll ignore calls, texts and possibly your family until you reach the last page. The good news is that it’s well worth it!” — Laura Oles, Photo industry journalist & author
“Kaye George marries music and mystery in Eine Kleine Murder to produce an exciting, satisfying read. Brava, Ms. George!” — Kathy Waller, Austin mystery writer
“Kaye George delivers again! Cressa Caraway, classical composer, is up to her eyeballs in music, murder, and mayhem in George’s new mystery series. A rousing read.” —Gale Albright, Austin mystery writer
These links were provided to online performances of the musical pieces mentioned in Eine Kleine Murder. If you’d like to get an idea of the mood suggested by them, you can just listen to a few measures. But if you have the time, author Kaye George says they are all worth hearing in their entirety.
What was that sound? A foot, snapping a twig in the woods? Ida knew she shouldn’t be swimming alone at night, but she’d been antsy all day. She needed to get her mind off Cressa’s visit. Grace usually swam with her, but her friend had taken relatives to the Quad City airport tonight. Besides, Ida was a strong swimmer. She knew every inch of Crescent Lake. And she thought she knew every sound. But there was that snap again. It prickled the hairs on her arms.
She stopped stroking and listened, straining toward the trees on the opposite bank, just ahead. It didn’t repeat. Must have been a night creature in the woods. A raccoon out foraging?
Ida cupped her hands and pulled herself through the caress of the cool water, creating tiny ripples and almost no sound. The moon, a mere sliver tonight, laid a shining path across the silent ridges in the inky liquid. Bullfrogs boomed from the shallow end of the lake and the wind rattled the oak leaves on the shore.
She neared the bank and stuck her toes into the soft mud, turned and stood waist deep for a moment before her return trip. The scent of the night woods was verdant, lush. She breathed in the familiar fishy smell of the dark water.
There was that sound again—snap, then a footfall. She tried to whirl around as a dark form—Dear God—sprang with a splash from the darkness, grabbed her from behind, shoved her under the water. Ida clawed, scratched. Strong fingers pressed her down. Into the muck. Ground her face into the bottom. Her nose and mouth clogged with silt. No air.
She twisted. Kicked. Her bare feet struck strong legs. Unmoving legs. She scratched, tried to pry the iron grip from her shoulders. It only tightened. Her arms went limp. Her legs stopped flailing. Those hands, always those strong hands, forced her down, into the mud. No air. No breath. Mud. Only mud.
She knew this shadow, these hands. She stopped struggling. She was dying. Regret mingled with the peace that took over as she collapsed and gave up.
Oh Cressa, my dear, dear Cressa.
# # #
I drummed my finger faster on the steering wheel. Stop that, Cressa. It was an old nervous habit that just made me more anxious. The CD in my car stereo was beginning to rattle me. Moussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain’s spooky, ominous strains were too much like my surroundings: mile after mile of identical, disorienting Illinois cornfields, interrupted only by dark clumps of trees huddled on stray hillsides.
And now I had a tailgater. It was time to admit I was lost. It was getting dark and if I didn’t reach my grandmother’s soon, I’d… well, what would I do? I hadn’t passed a motel since leaving Moline. Pull over and sleep in the car?
As I rounded a curve and the road straightened, the headlights of the car behind me flashed in my rearview mirror, blinding me for a second and yanking a cuss word out of my mouth. The jerk had been on my tail for at least twenty miles and wouldn’t pass me. A sudden thought stilled my dancing fingers. Was it my ex-boyfriend Len? The thought was too unsettling, and I was already starting to lose it. I needed to concentrate on getting there.
Because I’d ridden to Alpha dozens of times as a child to swim in the lake where Gram always kept a membership, I assumed I’d just magically know the way there. Wrong. Where the hell was I? My gut clenched. Time to phone a friend.
I reached into my purse on the passenger seat and felt around for my cell phone. Dammit, that idiot behind me had just flashed his brights. Why did he do that? There was no way I was going to pull over to see if there was something wrong with the car.
Where was that cell phone? Had I lost it again? I dumped the entire contents of my purse onto the seat and grabbed the cell. Its name was Peter the Mediocre. He wasn’t a Great cell phone. I punched in the familiar numbers. The phone buzzed twice. Neek answered on the third ring. Thank God. My shoulders relaxed a notch.
“Hi, Cressa. Wait a minute.” She panted a couple of times. “I gotta catch my breath. Doing… extreme yoga.”
“Extreme yoga? I see how that’s something that would appeal to you, Neek.”
“You should try it, Cress.” Another pant. “What’s up? Where are you now? Hey, I have good news.”
“I don’t know where I am and I’m being tailgated. That’s why I called you.” I tried to take the tremor out of my voice. “These cornfields go on forever. Why can’t I ever win the lottery and get a GPS for my car?”
“Don’t whine, Cressa.” She chuckled. “And be patient.” She told me that a lot. “When the omens are right, you’ll win.”
I felt better talking to her. Neek was my best friend and lived in my apartment building. I’d asked her to handle my mail and plants when I’d fled Chicago earlier that day.
“I don’t think that latest ‘if-I-can’t-have-you’ note from Len was a good omen,” I said. Those notes, slipped under my door at night, were getting more frequent—and more frightening.
“He’ll never find you in Alpha, don’t worry. And, speaking of omens, this one’s divine.” Her little-girl voice squeaked with excitement. “Listen, Cress, I found a quarter outside your apartment door right after you left. You know what that means.”
“No, I don’t. This is your good news?” Neek was a sweet person and a true friend, but she tended to find omens in the strangest things. Last week she’d been foretelling the future by the clouds.
“Yep. A quarter. That’s big stuff. Big changes for you. Oh, Cressa, this fits right in with you finally going to visit your grandmother. I’m so glad you’re doing this.”
I eased my foot off the gas. The car behind me slowed, too.
“Are you near your computer?” I asked her. “I need you to tell me if I should go through Ophiem or just drive on past it? Nothing has looked familiar since the Quad Cities.”
I had driven across the floor of a wide valley, then climbed a gentle hill. The name of the town, Ophiem, was so familiar I thought I should drive through it. I turned onto the smaller road toward the town. But that soon felt wrong. And the car still trailed me.
I made a sudden U-turn on the local road into Ophiem and headed back toward Highway 150. That should shake him.
A glance in the rearview mirror told me no one was following now. I let out a relieved breath.
I would breathe even easier if I knew what kind of reception Gram would give me. I had tried calling three times to tell her I might be coming, but I hadn’t been able to reach her. Preferring anyway to see her face to face for our first real conversation, I was relieved and left a few brief messages. She would be glad to see me, wouldn’t she? My burst of self-congratulation, at being the first to capitulate and end our feud, was fast giving way to doubt.
“I can’t wait to see her face when she realizes I’m actually at her cabin,” I said. “Unless she doesn’t want to see me.”
“You’re her favorite grandchild. She’ll want to see you. Promise me you won’t mention the piano.”
“Okay. Not at first, anyway.”
“Hey, I’m just glad you’re going to see her.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat, put there by her soft sympathy. “So am I. So am I.”
“That’s what this quarter must mean, a good surprise. And, by the way, that ficus of yours is dying of thirst.”
I wanted to kill two birds: get away from Len’s harassment and surprise Gram. Well, maybe three birds. A quiet, rural lake should be a good place to finish this piece of music. I’d been stalled on it for weeks, and my teaching job this fall depended on it. I hoped Gram would once again serve as my muse.
“Did you go through Orion?” Neek pronounced it like the constellation.
“It’s ORE-ion,” I remembered from years ago, “and yes, that was awhile—”
“Yep, the highway goes right past a town called Ophiem. You’re almost there.”
“Past, not through, right?”
“Right. A straight shot down Highway One-Fifty. Unless you’re on the interstate?”
“No, I’m back on track. Thanks, Neek. I’ll call you tonight.”
“Tell me all about her new cabin when you get there.”
“Her ‘cute’ little cabin?” My lip involuntarily curled into a sneer.
“Yes. And give your Gram a big hug from me.”
A glint caught my rearview mirror. I flinched and blinked. Then I saw headlights close behind me. The hair on the nape of my neck raised. Was it the same car? I slowed again to try to shake it.
“I’ll give her hugs from both of us. You know, Neek, I think a car really is following me. It’s been behind me ever since I passed the Quad City airport. I hope it’s not …”
“I don’t know. The car kinda looks like his, but how could it be? He has no idea I’m here.”
“Well, I saw—”
“Neek, are you there? Neek?” I’d lost her. I tossed Peter the Mediocre in the direction of my purse. Cell phones were so useless. Mine was usually either lost, or out of juice, or dropping calls.