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Murder at the Library - North Dakota #1

Murder at the Library - North Dakota #1

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North Dakota Library Mysteries - Book #1

If you like goofy humor, quirky characters, snarky chameleons, and all things bookish, you'll love this cozy mystery.

Why You'll Love This Book!

  • Amateur Sleuth
  • Quirky Characters
  • North Dakota Setting
  • Library Theme
  • Way Too Much Coffee
  • Clean Read - No Swearing, Violence, or Sex on the Page


Libraries are full of books . . . and deadly secrets.

When Thea Olson agreed to volunteer at her local library, she anticipated shelving books, not stumbling across a dead body.

Concerned her brother, the acting chief of police, is in over his head, Thea is determined to find out whodunit. She investigates the murder with the assistance of her grandmother and the handsome new library director.

Just when the trio of amateur sleuths hit a dead-end, a snarky chameleon appears in the library with cryptic clues for Thea. At first, she thinks she’s hallucinating. But once Thea accepts the fact that the obnoxious reptile is real, she realizes he might just help her crack the case.

Can Thea discover who the murderer is before someone else is taken out of circulation?

This is the first in a new library series set in the fictional town of Why, North Dakota. If you like quirky characters, chameleons, way too much coffee, and all things bookish, you’ll love Murder at the Library.

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Chapter 1 – Flip-flops in the Snow

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” I muttered to myself as I circled the airport parking lot for what felt like the millionth time. The flight from Minneapolis landed twenty minutes ago, and the VIP I was picking up was probably wondering why no one was there to greet him.

I pleaded with the universe, “Please don’t let him call my grandmother to ask where his ride is.”

Grandma was a stickler for a number of things. Never dog-ear book pages, don’t even think about tracking dirt on newly mopped floors, and keep your elbows off the table. But the worst sin of all? Well, that was being late. Not being on time was practically tantamount to committing murder.

Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit extreme. I don’t really think my grandmother would compare being tardy to killing someone, but it was still a pretty serious crime in her eyes.

No wonder my stomach was churning. If Grandma found out that I hadn’t been at the arrivals gate well before the plane landed, she’d be quietly disappointed in me.

The problem with quiet disappointment is that it can linger. Guilt smolders inside, threatening to overwhelm you. But my grandmother doesn’t do loud, showy displays of emotion. No one in my overly reserved Norwegian-American family really does. To be honest, there are times when I think a heated exchange might be preferable to keeping it all inside. You have a blow up, clear the air, and then you move on.

A couple walking across the parking lot distracted me from thinking about how people deal with their emotions differently.
“Here we go,” I said, doing a fist pump. “The parking gods have heard my plea.”

I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel. It was taking these two forever to clear the snow off their sedan. When the last snowflake was finally banished from their windshield, I inched forward, ready to slip into their spot once they pulled out. But just as I was about to claim victory, a blue pickup truck cut in front of me and swooped into the parking space.

I’d recognize that battered, rusted-out piece of junk anywhere. It belonged to Bobby Jorgenson, a guy I’d gone to school with. He had a reputation for causing trouble, and was certainly causing me some now. I laid on the horn.

“I was waiting for that spot,” I yelled when he got out of his truck.

“Sorry, Thea.” Bobby’s cocky grin indicated that he didn’t feel any remorse whatsoever. He jammed a gray beanie on top of his shaggy mullet, then said, “Gotta go. Don’t want to be late.”

Bobby ran toward the terminal, darting between cars and jumping over barricades like someone who was trying to elude the police. My parking nemesis was no stranger to evading law enforcement. Whenever there was a report of petty theft, vandalism, or disorderly behavior in our small town of Why, Bobby was usually the suspect. Unfortunately, this afternoon the police were nowhere to be found, and I was stuck circling the parking lot yet again.

Unlike Bobby, I didn’t usually flaunt the rules. But this was an emergency. So, I pulled into the loading zone and said a silent prayer that the airport security guards wouldn’t tow my car.
I had to elbow my way inside the small terminal, which was insane. This was a small, regional airport in western North Dakota with three or maybe four flights a day. Why did it look like half the county was here?

Someone bumped into me and I inadvertently jostled the older woman in front of me. The petite lady had been standing on her tiptoes, trying to see over the people in front of her. She twisted her head to look back at me.

“Sorry, ma’am,” I said.

She smiled good-naturedly. “Can’t be helped. We’re packed in here tighter than the bras in my underwear drawer.”

Okay, that was an interesting tidbit about this woman’s unmentionables that I didn’t need to know. “Why are there so many people here, anyway?” I asked.

“Don’t you read the newspaper?” Her eyes were bright with excitement. “We have a celebrity arriving here, right in our very own county.”

I scanned the area. Folks of all ages were humming with excitement, a high school band was tuning up in the corner, and a reporter from the local television station was testing his microphone. I snorted when I saw Bobby Jorgenson poised by the arrivals door, clutching a bouquet of red roses. He’d probably swiped the flowers from the gift shop. He certainly hadn’t been carrying them earlier.

Although my grandmother thought the guy I was picking up was a VIP, I was stunned that anyone else shared her view.

“Wow, I can’t believe everyone is here to see Why’s new library director,” I said.

The older woman gave me a funny look. “Library? What are you talking about?”

“The board of trustees hired a new director for the library,” I said. “His name is Hudson Carter. He’s flying in today. Well actually, he should already be here.”

I scanned the airport terminal. My grandmother had only given me a vague description of what Hudson looked like—in his 30s, dark hair, and above average height. Normally that would have been enough to go on, given how few people flew in and out of the tiny airport on a daily basis. But with this crowd, I wasn’t sure how I was going to spot him.

“We have a library in Why?” The woman shook her head. “I didn’t realize libraries were a thing anymore.”

I bit back a smile. Thank goodness I was here instead of my grandmother. As Why’s former library director, Grandma would not have been amused by the woman’s comment. There would have been a lot of that quiet disapproval going on.

“Yep, we have a library,” I said. “It’s next to the bowling alley.”

“But there’s so much to watch on streaming channels. Why would anyone need to read a book?”

She appeared genuinely perplexed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an uncommon reaction these days. People liked to unwind with their favorite shows rather than immerse themselves in a book. Personally, I did both, but with the caveat that I never watch a movie or TV series based on something I’ve read. No matter how hard they try, the Hollywood versions always disappoint.

Rather than try to convince her that books are worthwhile, I changed the subject. “If you’re not here for the library director, why are you here?”

A huge grin spread across the woman’s face. “The minute I saw on my Instagram feed that Seatrina was going to be here, I made this.” She unfolded a sign and held it up for me to see. Large turquoise letters spelled out, ‘Seatrina.’ Silver glitter flew off the poster board as she waved it enthusiastically in my face.

“Who’s Seatrina?” I asked.

Her jaw dropped. She started to reply when the crowd erupted. Whoops of excitement competed with the high school band’s out-of-tune rendition of ‘Celebration.’

“She’s here,” the woman shrieked repeatedly as she jumped up and down.

I put my hands over my ears to muffle the noise, then looked in the direction of the arrivals gate. The first thing that drew my attention was the enormous fluorescent green beehive on top of the twenty-something woman’s head. Her eyes were the exact same unnatural color—clearly the work of contacts. It looked like Seatrina was struggling to hold her head up due to the immense size and heft of her hairdo. Or maybe it was the dinner plate-size earrings that were weighing her down.

My eye was drawn next to her sequined halter top, cut-off shorts, and high heels. Apparently, she hadn’t gotten the message that this was February in North Dakota. The minute she got outside, the woman was going to freeze her tush off if she didn’t slip and fall on it first.

Seatrina held up her hands for silence. I was mesmerized by the way the iridescent makeup covering her exposed skin sparkled in the harsh overhead fluorescent lighting.

A hush fell over the room, everyone waiting with bated breath to hear what their idol was going to say. But before she could speak, Bobby pushed his way through the crowd screaming, “I love you, Seatrina. I want to have your babies.”

Everyone roared with laughter. Bobby’s face reddened. “I mean, I want you to have my babies,” he spluttered.

Someone in the back shouted, “No one wants to have your babies, Bobby.”

“Leave the girl alone,” someone else said.

As other people chimed in with rude comments about Bobby’s suitability as a baby daddy, I started to feel sorry for him. But then I remembered how he had stolen my parking spot.

Seatrina took pity on Bobby, squeezing his hand and bestowing a quick kiss on his cheek.

Bobby looked like he was going to faint. “Does that mean you’ll have my babies?” he asked in a squeaky voice.

She looked horrified. “Uh, no. That’s a hard pass.”

A member of Seatrina’s entourage grabbed Bobby’s arm and steered him away. Bobby looked dazed. I guess it’s not every day you offer to impregnate your celebrity idol, only to be turned down in front of a large crowd.

The news reporter called out, “Can you tell us why you’ve decided to take a break from filming and visit the area?”

Filming, huh? So, this Seatrina was some sort of television or movie star. I peered at her more closely, trying to place her, but I came up with zilch.

When Seatrina didn’t answer his initial question, the reporter added, “Do you have connections to the county?”

She cocked her head to one side, as though considering how to answer this. Her beehive was tilted at an odd angle, giving off a leaning tower of Pisa vibe. Not that I’ve ever been to Italy, mind you. While I’ve traveled extensively around the States for work, I’ve never been to Europe. Hopefully, one of these days, I’d take a vacation there.

Seatrina straightened her head before replying to the reporter, her beehive snapping back into place. “No comment,” she said firmly. Gesturing for her entourage to follow, she sashayed out of the terminal.

The party-like atmosphere ramped up as people excitedly compared pictures they had snapped of Seatrina and shared theories about her mysterious appearance in our county. Eventually, folks decided it was time to head home, and the terminal cleared out.

A lone man stood next to the arrivals and departures screen. He was dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Clearly another person clueless about winter weather in North Dakota.

Assuming he was a lost member of Seatrina’s entourage, I pointed at the exit. “She went that way.”

He frowned. “She already left?”
“Uh-huh, about fifteen minutes ago.”

“Really? I thought she would have waited for me.” He ran his fingers through his dark brown hair, causing some of the curls to stand up at odd angles. “Okay, I guess I’ll have to take a taxi then. Do you know where the baggage claim is?”

“Um, right behind you.” I pointed at the lone carousel. The conveyor belt was slowly whirring around, but it was devoid of any luggage except for one small cardboard box.

“I don’t see my bags.” He looked around. “There must be another carousel around here.”

“No, that’s the only one,” I said. “Maybe your friends took your luggage with them?”

“My friends?”

I bit back a smile. I guess being part of someone’s entourage didn’t necessarily mean everyone was buddy-buddy. Well, at least he was honest about it. “Your colleagues then.”

“Colleagues?” He chuckled. “No, it’s just me and Dr. McCoy.”

“Wait a minute, aren’t you here with Seatrina?”

“Who’s Seatrina?” he asked.

“Honestly, I had never heard of her before today,” I said. “But apparently, she’s famous. But if you’re not with her, then . . .” My voice trailed off as I put two and two together. “Oh, wait a minute, are you the new library director?”

“I am.” He held out his hand. “Hudson Carter.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said as we shook hands. “I’m Thea Olson. Rose Olson’s granddaughter. She sent me to pick you up. But she didn’t say anything about a Dr. McCoy. Is that your wife? Partner?”

Before Hudson could respond, a yowling noise interrupted us. That’s when I noticed a pet carrier on the ground next to the librarian.

Hudson chuckled as he bent down to unlatch the door. A large, fluffy black and white cat raced out, meowing loudly as he inspected his surroundings. Hudson scooped the cat up and presented him to me. “Thea, allow me to introduce you to Why’s new library cat—Dr. McCoy.”

* * *

After I had quickly run outside to unsuccessfully plead with the security guard not to ticket my car, and returned, Hudson went to check on his missing luggage. He left me to get acquainted with Dr. McCoy. The cat was cuddled in my arms, showing me where he liked to be scratched—behind the ears, please—when my phone rang.

“Hi Grandma,” I said, wedging the phone between my shoulder and ear so that I could keep stroking Dr. McCoy. I had a feeling any interruption to my petting services would not be well received.

“Why are you talking on your phone while you’re driving?” my grandmother asked. “You know how dangerous that is.”

“You’re the one who called me,” I pointed out. “And besides, I’m not in the car.”

“Where are you?”

“At the airport, waiting for Hudson.”

“But his plane landed fifty-three minutes ago,” my grandmother said. “You should already be on your way back to Why.”

“There’s been a slight delay,” I said. “Hudson’s luggage didn’t make the connection from Minneapolis. He’s trying to sort it out now.”

“Uff da,” Grandma said, uttering a Norwegian expression of dismay common in these parts. “There aren’t any other flights scheduled today, so he won’t get his bags until tomorrow.”

“I know.” I twisted my head to keep Dr. McCoy from batting my earring, but it didn’t help. The cat was persistent, snaking his paw around my neck and poking at the silver hoop. “Hey now, enough of that.”

“What was that, dear?”

“Nothing,” I said to my grandmother while I set Dr. McCoy down. I gave the cat a stern look, warning him to behave. “No wandering off or spitting up hairballs on the floor,” I mouthed.

Dr. McCoy gave me the feline equivalent of a shrug, then proceeded to chew the laces on my Sorel boots.

“It sounds like there’s some sort of commotion going on,” my grandmother said.

I stifled a laugh as Dr. McCoy untied my left boot. “Just the local wildlife.”

“Wildlife? What kind of wildlife could there be at the airport? You’re not making any sense.” Grandma changed the subject, saying, “Since you’re running late, just bring Hudson directly to the library. I don’t think you’ll have time to take him to his lodgings before the reception starts.”

“I still don’t understand why a reception was scheduled the same day Hudson arrived. Couldn’t they have given the poor man some time to settle in first before he meets the library board of trustees and all the other community bigwigs?”

“It wasn’t my decision,” my grandmother said. “I suggested it take place this weekend. The rest of the board agreed, but Thornton insisted it had to be tonight.”

“Oh, I’ll bet he did. That man is so full of himself. I don’t know how you and the others put up with him.” I glanced down to check on Dr. McCoy. I was relieved to find he had lost interest in my shoes and was now curled up by my feet, napping. Turning my attention back to the ill-timed reception, I said, “What I don’t get is why Thornton got to decide when the reception was going to take place. Ivy is the president of the board, not him.”

My grandmother chuckled. “I don’t think Thornton accepted the fact that he lost this past election. He’d won every election for the past ten years. I think he assumed the board would just keep re-electing him. He thought he’d be president for life.”

“He bullied the board into electing him year after year,” I pointed out.

“It helped that he ran unopposed in the past. Thankfully, Ivy had the courage to put her hand up this time.” Grandma sighed. “But despite the fact Thornton lost, he’s still been calling the shots. I hope Ivy can stand up to him going forward.”

“Well, I guess there’s one benefit to having retired,” I said. “Now that you’re not the library director anymore, you don’t have to deal with Thornton.”

There was a long pause before Grandma responded. When she did, her voice sounded wistful. “I’m going to miss it. I know Hudson will do a wonderful job running the library, but it’s still hard to . . .” She cleared her throat, then continued, “Never mind that. Let’s focus on getting Hudson back here in time for the reception.”

I craned my neck, trying to see inside the small office where Hudson was filling out paperwork. “Um, Grandma, we might have another problem.”

I could sense her frowning on the other end of the line. “What kind of problem?”

“Hudson did know this job was in North Dakota, right?”

“Of course, he came here to interview in November.”

“Hmm. Was it by any chance at the beginning of the month? That was when we had that unseasonable heat spell going on.”

“Thea, what’s with your sudden fascination with the weather?” my grandmother asked impatiently.

“The man is wearing shorts and flip-flops,” I blurted out. “I’m not sure he understands how cold it gets here in the winter. It’s like that Seatrina and her entourage. She was wearing a skimpy outfit and the rest of her group were dressed like they were going to spend the day on the beach.”

“Seatrina? Who’s that?”

“Honestly, I don’t have a clue, but everyone else in the county seems to know her.”

“Back up a sec,” Grandma said. “Shorts and flip-flops. Why is Hudson dressed like that?”

“No idea. We didn’t have a chance to discuss it. Hudson wanted to catch the baggage claim guy before the office closed. But the issue is that—”

My grandmother interrupted, saying quickly, “He doesn’t have his luggage so he can’t change clothes. Okay, I see the problem.”

“Yeah, he’ll freeze to death the minute he steps outside.”

“There’s a more serious issue than that. Hudson needs to impress the board, and I don’t think shorts and flip-flops are going to cut it.”

“Why? They already interviewed him,” I said. “They must have been impressed by him, otherwise they wouldn’t have offered him the job.”

“The board members who were at the interview were impressed,” she conceded. “But things have changed since then. Thornton is dead set on firing the poor man, and he’s been busy trying to convince the other board members to go along with him.”

“But Hudson hasn’t even officially started. How can the board fire him already? Why would Thornton even want to do that?”

“It’s complicated, and we don’t have time to get into it.” Grandma took a deep breath, then said, “Okay, here’s what we’ll do. Go by the farmhouse and have Hudson borrow one of Grandpa’s suits. From what I remember, they’re about the same size. Then you bring Hudson directly to the reception. I’ll try to keep Thornton and the others distracted in the meantime.”

The door to the office opened, and Hudson walked out clutching a stack of papers in his hands. “It looks like he just finished,” I said to my grandmother. “We’ll be on our way soon.”

“Thea, promise me one thing,” she said. “Don’t tell Hudson what I said. I don’t want him to worry about his job.”

“Sounds like he should be though,” I said.

“I’m sure we can fix it,” Grandma said. “Hudson will never need to know.”

I shook my head at her use of ‘we.’ My grandmother had a way of roping me into helping with all sorts of unpleasant tasks like cleaning out the garden shed—do you have any idea how many spiders live in there?—canning pickled cabbage, and repairing damaged books. One time, she even had me investigate a murder. At least this time, all I had to do was help save someone’s job. How bad could that be?

* * *

“All set?” I asked Hudson. My tone was a little too chipper, which is typically a sign that I’m trying to hide something. Fortunately, Hudson didn’t seem to notice anything was amiss. The last thing I wanted was for him to ask me what was wrong. What would I say? ‘It’s been nice knowing you,’ ‘Don’t get too comfortable here,’ or ‘I hope you have a return ticket to Florida.’

I felt terrible for the guy. Imagine picking up and moving halfway across the country for a job, only to find out your head is on the chopping block upon arrival. How would he feel having to go back home and tell his friends and family that his stint as a library director didn’t work out? Would he be humiliated? Dejected?

Actually, I had an inkling of how he’d feel. I’d left a promising career in Minneapolis eight months ago and returned to my hometown of Why. It’s a small place, so naturally the rumor mill had kicked into overdrive. Speculation about why I had moved back home was rampant. Most people assumed it was because a guy had dumped me. The reality was far more boring—office politics. But who wants to talk about the cutthroat nature of corporate America when you can gossip about people’s love lives instead?

Hudson held up the paperwork. “They said my bags should be on the first flight from Minneapolis tomorrow. They’ll deliver them to the library. I’m all set for toiletries until then, but in terms of clothes—”

I held up my hand. “My grandmother already sorted that for you. She’s arranged for you to borrow something from my grandfather to wear to the reception tonight.”

“Wow, that’s nice of her.”

“Word of warning, Grandpa isn’t exactly known for his stylish clothes. He owns two suits and I think they both date back to the last century. He spent his life working on the farm. So, most of his wardrobe revolves around overalls and hats he picks up at the local feed store.”

“I’m not exactly known for my fashion sense, either. My wife used to buy all my clothes for me, and now that she’s, um . . .” Hudson’s eyes grew moist, then he abruptly looked off into the distance. When he turned back to me, he smiled faintly. “Sorry, it’s hard to talk about it.”

Dr. McCoy rubbed against Hudson’s legs and meowed plaintively, as though he shared his human’s feelings. Hudson scooped the cat up, then said to me, “The past few years have been tough. Your grandmother probably told you about it.”

I shook my head. “Told me about what?”

“Oh, I thought she would have.” Hudson took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “My wife died in childbirth. Losing her and our baby was . . .”

Putting my hand gently on his arm, I said, “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

Hudson was silent for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was more controlled. “One of the reasons I was excited to take this job was to escape Coconut Cove. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown. But there are so many reminders of my wife and the future we had planned. People mean well, but they’re always asking me how I’m doing. It wasn’t a casual, ‘Hey, how are you?’ either. There’s always an undercurrent to the question, as though they’re assessing my mental state.”

“That must have been tough,” I said.

“Coming here is a fresh start for me,” Hudson’s voice started to crack. “The grief will never go away, but maybe not being in a place where my wife and I had our first date, or going to the beach where we got married, or passing by the hospital where we saw the ultrasound for the first time . . . maybe it will be easier here.”

My stomach twisted in knots. Hudson had been through so much already and now he was going to have to fight Thornton tooth and nail to keep his new job. As I watched Hudson press his face into his cat’s fur, I knew one thing for certain—I was going to do everything I could to make sure Hudson kept his job and his fresh start in North Dakota.

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