Authors: Leigh Perry
“Dr. Georgia Thackery is smart, resourceful, and determined to be a great single mom to her teenager. Georgia is normal in every respect—except that her best friend happens to be a skeleton named Sid. You’ll love the adventures of this unexpected mystery-solving duo.”
—Charlaine Harris, #1
New York Times
“Adjunct English professor Georgia Thackery makes a charming debut in
A Skeleton in the Family
. Georgia is fiercely loyal to her best friend, Sid, an actual skeleton who is somehow still ‘alive.’ When Sid sees someone he remembers from his past life—who later turns up dead—Georgia finds herself trying to put together the pieces of Sid’s past as she works to hunt down a killer. Amateur sleuth Georgia and her sidekick, Sid, are just plain fun!”
New York Times
bestselling author of
“No bones about it, Leigh Perry hooked me right from the beginning. An unusual premise, quirky characters, and smart, dry humor season this well-told mystery that kept me guessing until the very end. It’s too bad Perry’s sleuth is fictional—I’d invite Georgia over for dinner in a heartbeat.”
—Bailey Cates, national bestselling author of
Charms and Chocolate Chips
“A delightful cozy with a skeleton who will tickle your funny bone.”
—Paige Shelton, national bestselling author of
Merry Market Murder
“The first in a new series introduces a family that literally has a skeleton in its closet. What seems like an outlandish idea becomes a very touching and entertaining whodunit. The mystery is intelligent and nicely done with fun insights into academia and anthropology.”
RT Book Reviews
“Delightful characters . . . Perry uses dry humor and wit to bring Sid to life . . . A very original premise . . . Quirky and funny.”
Deb’s Book Bag
“Enjoyable and engaging . . . Perry manages to achieve something I thought would be impossible: making a living skeleton who exists in the ‘real’ world somehow seem completely believable . . . The author’s dry humor and ability to poke fun at the pretentious is always evident and this eccentric mystery proves to be surprisingly grounded and realistic. I loved this fun mystery and can’t wait for a sequel that includes this bony and very likable sidekick.”
King’s River Life Magazine
“The first book in Leigh Perry’s new series is one of the most unusual mysteries I’ve read in a long time. And, that’s a good thing. If you like cozy mysteries, I urge you to pick up
A Skeleton in the Family
. . . Georgia Thackery and Sid make a terrific team. It’s an entertaining mystery involving a very special friendship . . . The book is a winner.”
Lesa’s Book Critiques
“This is a really fun premise for a mystery series. Sid is a complete treasure . . . Very clever writing and thoroughly enjoyable. Funny and exciting and a great book to read on a chilly autumn evening. A terrific start for this new series.”
Escape With Dollycas Into a Good Book
Berkley Prime Crime Titles by Leigh Perry
A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY
THE SKELETON TAKES A BOW
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China
A Penguin Random House Company
THE SKELETON TAKES A BOW
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2014 by Toni L.P. Kelner
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-14320-3
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / September 2014
Cover photos by Shutterstock.
Cover photo composition by Ben Perini.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To Ginjer Buchanan, who believed in Sid from the beginning
A skeleton is all about the connections, and I have many connections to thank for their help.
My husband, Stephen P. Kelner, Jr., for a ludicrous amount of support.
Charlaine Harris and Dana Cameron, who dropped everything to beta read. Again.
My daughters, Maggie and Valerie, for letting Sid join the family.
My agent, Joshua Bilmes, who always has my back.
Art Taylor, for last-minute homework assistance.
Bill Aronoff, for providing the perfect joke for Sid.
Dina Willner, for keeping me from making a real boner.
should have known better than to let Madison talk me into letting Sid appear in
. Of course, he was made to play the part she had in mind for him. Like Yorick, Sid was a fellow of infinite jest and most excellent fancy, had borne me on his back a thousand times, and his flashes of merriment were indeed wont to set the table on a roar. More to the point, Sid and Yorick were both dead. But while Yorick is usually depicted as an inanimate skull, the Thackery family skeleton is a full set of bones and he is quite thoroughly animated.
It started on a Friday in late March, a few days after the Pennycross High School Drama Club held auditions for its production of
. My teenaged daughter Madison had spent most of the afternoon conferring with Sid in his attic room, and when they finally emerged, they cleaned up the kitchen, washed and folded two loads of laundry, and gathered the garbage and recycling to take out to the street—all without being nagged. So of course I’d known they were up to something.
Over our spaghetti dinner Madison said, “They announced the cast for the play today. Becca Regan is going to direct, and she’s great.”
“Excellent!” Madison had joined the drama club as soon as she started attending classes at PHS, but it had been too late for her to be in the fall show. This time she was ready. “What part did you get?”
“He’s one of Hamlet’s friends. Claudius brings him and Rosencrantz in to try to cheer up Hamlet and then uses them to—”
“Sweetie, I know who Guildenstern is. English degree, remember? It’s just that I thought you were going for Gertrude or Ophelia.”
“I was, but so were all the other girls in the club. There are only two good female roles in the play, after all. Guildenstern will be interesting.”
“Are you going to be the mature one this time? I want to know before I start complaining about club politics, playing favorites, and so on.”
“Tonight I will be playing the role of maturity incarnate.”
“Okay, then. They gave you such a small part because you’re a freshman, right? And a new kid?” Even though we’d moved so often that Madison was remarkably adept at fitting herself into a school’s society, some schools were more insular than others.
“Maybe, but to be fair, Becca doesn’t know me well enough to know if she can rely on me to carry a big part. This is her first time directing a show, and you can’t blame her for wanting to go with a known quantity.”
“Yes, I can. Especially if you gave a better audition.”
“Oh, I nailed that audition!” Then she remembered that she was being mature. “Of course, we both know that plenty of people audition and get a role, then don’t even bother to show up for rehearsals.”
“Please. She could have checked your resume and realized that you were dependable enough for more than a small part.”
“There are no small parts, only small actors.”
“Which you are not, so you are going to rock that part!”
“Agreed. Besides, there are a lot of even smaller parts. And Tristan, the guy playing Rosencrantz, is really cool and we get to hang out together at rehearsal. He’s a really good actor and would have been a great Hamlet, but the guy who got it is good, too, and he really looks the part. He’s got that whole dark-haired emo thing going on—Tristan is blond.”
I resisted asking the questions that sprang immediately to mind: Is Tristan cute? Is he cool for a boyfriend or just as a friend? Does he have a girlfriend? When can I meet him? In other words, all the questions that were guaranteed to make Madison’s hackles rise. If she was going to be mature, I should take a stab at it, too. “So are you going to be a female version of Guildenstern, or dress in male drag?”
“Drag!” she said happily. “We talked about setting the show during the twenties or something, but decided to go full-out Elizabethan. Tights, swords, doublets. Jo Sinta is doing costumes again, and she’s so excited!”
“Sounds great. I look forward to it. Just let me know the rehearsal schedule so I can put it in my book.” As an adjunct English professor, my classes tend to be at those odd times that full-time profs don’t want, and I also have to keep office hours. Keeping up with that while monitoring the activities of a busy teenager was a constant challenge.
“There is one thing I wanted to ask about, schedulewise.” Madison looked at Sid, and I knew the moment had come for them to ask whatever it was they’d cooked up earlier. “You know high schools have to work with tight budgets.”
Sid spoke for the first time since we’d sat down to dinner. He doesn’t eat, of course, or even drink, but he likes keeping us company during our meals. He also likes sneaking tidbits to Madison’s Akita, Byron, under the table, not because he likes the dog but because he was hoping to convince him that there were much better treats available than Sid’s own bare bones. He said, “I think it’s shameful that the arts are so poorly supported in public schools. I’d like to do more to help.”
There was a thump under the table that I interpreted as Madison kicking Sid in the shinbone. Had she known him as long as I had, she’d have known that, unlike her, he never could stick to a script. But I’d known him most of my life, while she’d only been formally introduced to him a few months before.
Madison said, “Becca said we’re going to spend most of our budget on the costumes. That’s the way they did it back in Shakespeare’s time.”
“I know. English professor, remember? Even adjunct faculty members are familiar with the way Shakespeare’s work was originally produced.”
“Right. So we’ll have some props and scenery, but they’ll be minimal, whatever we can scrounge up. And today Becca pulled out this really awful papier-mâché skull and said we’d be using it for the grave-digging scene.”
Sid assumed a dramatic pose. “‘Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy—’”
There was another thump under the table.
“Anyway,” Madison said emphatically, “I thought that the scene would play so much better with a more convincing skull.”
“Like Sid’s?” I asked.
“What a great idea, Georgia!” Sid said, and I think he was trying for enthused surprise. He’d have never made it through an audition if that was the best he could do.
“Nice try,” I said, “but we all know it wasn’t my idea—it was yours and Madison’s.”
“Was doing the laundry too much of a giveaway?” she asked.
“Just a bit.” Not that I was complaining—it meant fewer shirts for me to fold. I took a healthy bite of spaghetti so I could chew on it and the idea simultaneously. “Do you have any idea how you would work this out?”
“It’ll be easy,” Madison said. “I’ll take Sid to school with me and keep him in my locker until rehearsal.”
“You’re going to take all of Sid?”
“No, just the skull.”
“I’m fine with that,” Sid added.
He really was eager. Usually he hated to be separated from the rest of his bones because it made him feel so helpless. The essential part of Sid—I never know if I should call it his soul, his consciousness, his ghost, or his memory chip—travels with the skull, which means that when the skull is elsewhere, the rest of his bones are just that, a pile of bones. He could move the rest of his skeleton from a few feet away, but not from as far away as the high school.
“Won’t you get bored cooped up in a locker all day?” I asked.
“I’ll put him on the shelf in front of the vents,” Madison said, “so he’ll be able to watch people.”
Since Sid was an enthusiastic eavesdropper and peeper, I could see how that would appeal to him.
She went on. “I’ll take him with me to rehearsals, then bring him home every night. All we need is some sort of padded bag to carry him in, and Aunt Deborah has an old bowling bag she’s not using anymore that would be perfect.”
“You told Deborah your plan?”
“No, no. I just noticed the bag the last time I was over at her place.”
That was a relief. My older sister had grudgingly accepted that Sid was a part of the family, but I was pretty sure what her reaction to this plan would be. My initial feeling was the same, but after all the cleaning they’d done, I owed Sid and Madison a chance to convince me.
So I listened to the rest of their pitch as I finished my plate of pasta. Madison’s argument that it would add a vital element to the play’s success didn’t sway me much. Yorick’s skull appears onstage for exactly one scene—as long as the skull they used onstage was approximately the right shape and color, it would be fine. It was Sid’s plea that really got me. Once he abandoned his “support the arts” platform, I could see how much he really wanted the chance to leave the house and spend more time with Madison.
Sid had moved in with us when I was six, but for obvious reasons, he only rarely left the house. As long as I’d been living at home, he’d had me for company, but once I moved out, he’d spent most of his time alone in the attic. Since I’d come back to Pennycross for a job at Joshua Tay University, and was house-sitting for my parents while they were on sabbatical, his life had been far more interesting. He had me and Madison to hang with, Byron the dog to fuss about, and when he discovered the Internet, a whole new world to play in.
But still, he hadn’t had an opportunity to actually leave the house for months, and this sounded like it might be a safe way to allow him a little more freedom. After obtaining pinkie swears from them both—Sid’s that he wouldn’t play any tricks and Madison’s that she’d be exceedingly careful with him—I agreed.
But late that night, after I went to bed, I started counting up the ways it could go wrong. The problem was, I couldn’t go back on my word to my daughter and my best friend, no matter how much I wished I’d never let them talk me into it.