Thursday, February 2, 2023

"Broken Hearted Killers" - Chapter One

By Connie Berry

The September meeting of the Page Turners had been a massive waste of time.

Helen Hornsby tossed the library book into her tote bag. She’d suffered through plenty of mind-numbing book reports in her thirty-two years of teaching middle school curriculum, but tonight took the cake. On a list of the most tedious books ever written, All Aboard! My Life in Model Railroading had to be right at the top. This was a book club, for Pete’s sake, not a convention of hobbyists, but that was Philip Seaforth for you—the most enthusiastically boring man on the face of the planet.

The so-called discussion had been little more than a monologue. Only Ashley Ahlgren had feigned interest, but Helen knew her enthusiasm had more to do with Philip’s bank account than the difference between S- and HO-gauge. Philip Seaforth was a pharmacist and a bachelor. Ashley, the single mother of twin boys, was desperate.

The Page Turners met on the third Thursday of every month at A Likely Story, the bookstore on Granite Falls’ main drag. The club had begun in 2008 with fourteen members. Life had whittled them down to five—plus Ashley, who didn’t count. Unless Philip showed some interest soon, she’d be gone.

“I’m sure we all wish to thank Philip for a fascinating evening.” After forty years of law practice, Charles Fairweather had perfected the art of lying.

“Well, I’m glad you all enjoyed it.” Philip beamed. “Not our usual fare, eh? Hunhk, hunhk.”

Philip’s laugh always reminded Helen of the Canadian geese who commandeered the village pond every spring. He looked a bit like them, too, with his scarily long legs, skinny neck, and beaky nose.

“Absolutely spellbinding, Phil.” Ashley reached over and touched his arm. “You know, I’d love to see your layout sometime.”

“I’ll just bet you would, Ashley, dear,” said Iris Vermillion, the widow of a former town mayor and Granite Falls’ version of a geriatric femme fatale.

Ashley, who knew sarcasm when she heard it, mumbled something under her breath. It sounded to Helen like Go soak your head.

Melody Smart, owner of the bookstore, began clearing away the paper cups and napkins. “Helen will be our presenter in October. She’s chosen Howard’s End by E. M. Forster. Remember, those who order the book here will receive a ten percent discount.” The words I don’t stay late every month for the fun of it hung, unspoken, in the air.

“The library has six copies. I checked.” Iris crossed her still-shapely legs and began rummaging in her handbag.

Why Iris enjoyed offending people—women, actually—Helen didn’t know, but she’d been that way since elementary school when she’d told everyone in the fifth grade that Suzie Wilson had wet her pants on the playground.

“Night all. Must dash.” Charles Fairweather clicked the clasp on his briefcase and headed for the door. He liked to give the impression he had pressing business waiting for him.

“Good night, Charles.” Iris was applying a fresh layer of red lipstick. She smacked her lips. “See you Saturday.” Turning to Helen, she whispered, “He’s certainly kept his looks, hasn’t he?”

“Yes, absolutely,” Helen agreed, wondering if Charles and Iris actually had a date on Saturday night. All evening Iris had been giving off strange vibes—smiling to herself as if she knew a secret. Once, in the middle of Philip’s excursus on the best methods for producing engine smoke, she’d actually giggled.

Gus O’Boyle, the craggy former police detective and recent divorcĂ©, pulled a ring of keys from his jacket pocket. “Can I give you ladies a lift?” It was a logical plan. On the way to his double-wide near the Walmart, Gus would pass right by Oak Haven Retirement Community where Helen and Iris lived, but in separate towers.

“Sweet of you, Gus.” Iris flashed him a radiant smile. “But it’s not far, and we like the fresh air—don’t we, Helen?”

“Yes, we do.” Helen shoved her arms into her moss green cardigan. A ride home in Gus’s Volvo had sounded nice, but long-ago Helen had learned that agreeing with Iris was the easiest thing to do.  

“I’ll take a raincheck, though.” Iris fluttered her eyelash extensions at him.

# # #

Walking the half mile to Oak Haven turned out to be chillier than Helen had anticipated. She pulled her cardigan around her thin body, wishing she’d thought to bring a jacket. At least she was wearing sensible shoes. How Iris managed to walk everywhere in those spikey heels, Helen couldn’t imagine.

“Who would choose a book on model railroading?” Iris snorted. “If Philip does something like that again, we’re going to have to change the selection process.”

 “We could make a list of books and then vote on them.”

 “Yes,” Iris said thoughtfully. “That’s an excellent suggestion, Helen.”

Helen felt an absurd sense of pleasure. Compliments from Iris were as rare as—Well, rare, anyway.

Turning right on Quarry Street, Helen saw the welcoming lights of Oak Haven. Tonight, in her small one-bedroom unit, she would take a hot bath, then climb into bed with a glass of wine and watch an episode or two of As Time Goes By on Prime Video.

Iris was humming.

“May I ask you something?” Helen said.

“Of course, dear.”

“You seem especially happy tonight. Have you had good news?”

Iris, looking coy, bit her lip. “Not news, exactly.”

“What then?”

Iris laughed. “When the time is right, you’ll be the first to know. For now, it’s a secret.” She blew Helen a kiss. “Night-night, dear. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

Still smiling that secretive smile, Iris headed for the special elevator that would whisk her up to the twelfth floor of the Anderson Tower, where the luxury condominiums were located.

It was the last time Helen would see her alive.

# # #

Connie Berry writes the award-winning and best-selling Kate Hamilton Mystery series, set in the UK and featuring an American antiques dealer with a gift for solving crimes. Connie was raised by antiques dealers who instilled in her a passion for history, fine art, foreign travel, and all things British. Her debut novel, A Dream of Death, was an Agatha-Award finalist, and her latest, The Shadow of Memory, has been nominated for an Edgar. A novella, Mistletoe and Murder (pub date October 2023) is currently on presale, and she’s hard at work on Book 5, to be published in 2024. Connie is a member of SinC, MWA, CWA, and on the Steering Committee for Guppies. She lives in Ohio and northern Wisconsin with her husband and adorable dog, Emmie. You can find her at



  1. And, we’re off! Iris thrives on offending others. Who can take it no more?

  2. Will Iris's secrets die with her? And who will benefit?

  3. How exciting -- what a way to kick things off, Connie!

  4. Terrific first chapter, Connie. You set the bar really high.

  5. What a great start! Well done, Connie.

  6. Iris, Iris, Iris....
    Great start, Connie!

  7. My curiosity is piqued! (And I love "enthusiastically boring". I laughed out loud. Great characters. Can't wait to see where the plot leads us... (A funny coincidence: the bookstore in my series is called A Likely Story, too.)

  8. Fun! Can't wait until tomorrow to see what happens next.

  9. Love the last line, Connie. Looking forward to the next chapter.

  10. What a great start! Had me totally hooked. I can't wait for the next one.

  11. This is off to a great start! I already feel engaged with Helen and the book club.