"A charming series...Dereske has a sharp eye for the subtleties of small-town life."
All the Miss Zukas Mysteries
Miss Zukas and the Library Murders
The first book of the Helma Zukas series
The first installment in the Miss Zukas series. When a body turns up in the middle of the fiction stacks, the police are baffled. But Miss Helma Zukas is tracking some baffling questions of her own. With the aid of her not-so-proper best friend, Ruth, a six-foot-tall bohemian artist, the two are soon in hot pursuit of the truth.
From Chapter Two:
"We can expect the investigation to disrupt our lives for days to come," Mr. Upman continued. "I've given the police permission to investigate wherever and whenever they wish."
"My cataloging department's an open book," George Melville deadpanned.
Roger slapped the table and Eve giggled.
Patrice shuddered and tapped her glasses against her substantial chest. "When we allow people like that into our library, we have to expect murder and mayhem."
"We can't very well screen our patrons at the door," George said.
"That's right," Mr. Upman agreed. "Whether we like it or not, we are a public institution."
"I went swimming in a public pool in Ohio once where they inspected our feet before they allowed us into the water," Eve said. "That was a public institution."
Roger looked at Eve speculatively. George scratched his ear.
Mr. Upman cleared his throat and teeter-tottered his pencil between his fingers. "Just remember: in a time of crisis like this, we must never forget our patrons."
"Not that our patrons would ever let us," George Melville muttered.
Miss Zukas and the Island Murders
The second book in the Miss Zukas mystery series
An anonymous note in the morning mail reminds librarian Helma Zukas of her long forgotten promise to bring her high school classmates together for a twenty-year reunion.
From Chapter Fourteen:
Helma bent close over the steering wheel, staring futilely into the foggy night.
The sound beneath their tires changed and Helma hit the brakes. Ruth braced herself against the dashboard. "Now what?"
"We're at the road. You have to drive."
"I'm not driving."
"You have to."
"I can't. Why do I have to?"
"Because I left my driver's license in our room."
"Oh, for pity's sake, Helma. That's the least thing in the world we have to worry abaout. There are no police here, remember? And if there were, we'd be grateful to see their little flashing lights behind us, believe me."
"I'd feel better if you drove."
"I don't drive without my glasses."
"I thought those were just sunglasses."
"Well, they're not 'just suglasses,' okay?"
Helma turned on the engine. "It wouldn't matter. You can't see anyway."
Miss Zukas and the Stroke of Death
The third book in the Miss Zukas series - loosely based on the annual Ski to Sea Race in Whatcom County, Washington.
From Chapter Eleven:
"I'm going to die!" Ruth shouted.
Still holding securely to her upturned canoe, Helma stroked toward Ruth, reaching for the shoulder of her bright purple life vest.
"No, you're not. Hold onto the canoe. Stay down."
Ruth spluttered but frantically clutched at the wooden canoe, pulling herself upward, out of the water.
"Don't," Helma ordered. "Get back in the water."
"Hell, no. This water is ice."
With all her strength, Helma jerked Ruth off the canoe. "Are you trying to make yourself an easy target?"
"Oh," Ruth said, dropping beside Helma, letting her life vest hold her so only her head was out of the water. "Is this like hiding behind the dead cavalry horse?"
"At least until we know what's going on."
Ruth fiercely gripped the canoe with both hands, her knuckles white. She spit out a stream of water. "I know what's going on. We're being shot at."
"We're inside the city limits," Helma explained. "It's illegal to shoot guns inside the city limits."
Miss Zukas and the Raven's Dance
The fourth book in the Miss Zukas series
From Chapter Five:
"You wanted to see me?"
An exotic creature stood in front of Helma. A big woman dressed in bright blue leggings and a voluptuous tunic of gold, red, and black that hung to her thighs. Pudgy red-nailed hands that she waved gracefully in front of her like a music condutor in slow motion. Her black hair was dressed in corn rows, each tiny braid ending in a leather and bead tie. Her features were indefinable: brown eyes slightly tilted, flat cheeks, wide nostrils, and a wide mouth above a prim and girlish chin. Her skin was dusky, not quite Native American, yet not Black, either. She was more arresting than beautiful. She looked Helma up and down in mild curiosity.
"I'm Julianna and before you bust your brain figuring out how to politely inquire about my background I'll tell you my mother was black and Samoan and my father was more or less northern Paiute. I was raised in Cleveland until one day my daddy took me to Albuquerque where I spent one miserable year at the University of New Mexico on a scholarship. I'm racially confused and I'm currently exploring my Native American roots. I'm employed here because it's to my advantage. I rarely do anything that's not to my advantage."
Julianna stopped and closed her mouth, hands still gently moving, eyes blatantly challenging Helma to lay the groundwork for their future relationship. This moment was crucial.
"That's very interesting," Helma said carefully. "But can you type?"
Out of Circulation
The fifth book in the Miss Zukas series
From Chapter Seven
Then, creeping up at their backs, the snow overtook them, enveloping them in white. Miniature tender flakes that softened their grunts and struggles and clung to their clothes and hair like powdered sugar.
Helma's compass hung on the same chain as her silver whistle and every ten steps she paused, wiped it off, and checked their direction, correcting their rightward descent and hoping they were aiming for the emergency cabin.
Suddenly, a sound rang out below them and Ruth screamed, tripping first, then falling and letting go of her end of the tarp. She lunged for the material but caught her boot on the hem of her skirt and stumbled into the snow while Helma tried desperately to hold on, falling backward, struggling with the slick material.
But the fabric slipped helplessly through her hands and she watched in horror as Henry Lanyon slid away on the blue tarp, gathering speed as he raced down the glacier and disappeared into the falling snow, the bear bells gaily ringing.
The sixth book in the Miss Zukas series
From Chapter Four
"Who's Lukas?" Helma asked.
Aunt Em set her glass down so hard, whiskey sloshed onto the counter. Helma wiped it up with her napkin.
"I don't know any Lukas," Aunt Em told her.
"You said that was his suitcase, with the flamingo."
"Long ago," she said slowly, as if she were forcing up memories, "he was a good friend, the best of friends." She clasped her hands together and tightened them once to illustrate. "Like you and Ruth, only he was a man, but we didn't...you know." She made incomprehensible motions with her fingers.
"In Michigan?" Helma sked. "A friend of yours and Uncle Juozas's?"
"No," she said, picking up her glass again. "Before that. Before Michigan."
Aunt Em had lived her entire life in Michigan; how could there possible be a "before Michigan"?
Miss Zukas in Death's Shadow
The seventh book in the Miss Zukas series
From Chapter Three:
"Smut, I said!" Quentin Vernon Boyd, the newest member of the Bellehaven Public Library board shouted, his mouth twisting and eyes bulging, an overlong strand of silver hair falling onto his forehead. "Smut is harbored here and disseminated to the unsuspecting public."
The other four board members leaned aware from him, their faces pained and embarrassed. Ms. Moon, the library director, fingered the crystal that hung on a long gold chain around her neck and then rolled it rapidly between her palms, her head bent downward.
Helma alone rose to face Quentin Vernon Boyd. "There is no smut in this library," she told him in her silver-dime voice. "There is human experience and discourse, reflecting varied beliefs and persuasions, but not smut."
"Have you read every book in this library?" he demanded, rising from his chair and pointing an index finger at her.
"Have you read any book in this library?" she asked in return, ignoring Ms. Moon's gasp.
Miss Zukas Shelves the Evidence
The eighth book in the Miss Zukas series
From Chapter Fifteen:
"Are you going to keep this from the police?" Helma asked.
"If I tell them now, it looks suspiciious," Mary Lynn said in a small voice. "Doesn't it?"
"If you do inform them," Helma suggested, "the police can investigate and relieve your mind of keeping secrets."
"Secrets can kill you," Ruth said. She picked up a framed watercolor of tulip fields from the floor and tipped it from side to side, critically eyeing it. "You forget which is a secret and which is public knowledge and you confuse it all and get yourself and everybody else in hot water. Trust me."
"Do believe her," Helma added. "She's had experience."
"Thanks, friend," Ruth said.
Bookmarked to Die
The ninth book of the Miss Zukas series
On the morning of Miss Helma Zukas’s 42nd birthday, she awakens to discover her world precariously out of kilter, an unaccustomed state of affairs, for certain! One disaster piles on top of another. Ms. Moon, the library director blackmails Helma into attending self-help groups, Wayne Gallant appears to be having a crisis of his own, murder stalks Helma’s well-laid plans for a local authors’ collection, and worst of all, Boy Cat Zukas disappears. Mix in the return of her troubling friend Ruth, running from love-gone-wrong, and things can only get worse.
From Chapter Five:
“Another author killed her?” Ms. Moon’s voice rose. She clasped her hands to her bosom, her eyes staring into the shocking middle distance. “Authors killing authors in our library?”
“Nah,” George said, “Authors killing authors on our streets.”
Glory Shandy suddenly appeared beside George, touching his arm and rendering him momentarily befuddled.
“We all knew Molly as a regular patron,” Glory told Ms. Moon who appeared ready to swoon. “Helma’s right, it was an unfortunate accident that had nothing to do with the library.”
“I hope not,” Ms. Moon said darkly, recovering herself. “It would be an untenable situation if a murder were connected in any way to the Local Authors project, or to any library sponsored program. That would naturally mean the end of the program.”
“A death knell, so to speak,” George agreed, nodding gravely.
“Wasn’t it exciting?” Glory said. “All those writers in one room? I could hardly breathe being so close to them all.” She shoved her hands into the pockets of a girlish pink jumper and gazed at Helma. “The whole project is fantastic: you and everything you know about the community and the library. Your institutional memory is such a help to all the younger people hired after you.”
Helma nodded, deciding it was best not to examine Glory’s fulsome admiration too closely.
“The death was accidental, wasn’t it?” Glory asked, her forehead wrinkling. “A real writer would never kill another writer, would they?”
“Why ever would they?” Helma asked, rhetorically of course.
Catalogue of Death
The tenth book in the Miss Zukas series.
A sudden blizzard brings Bellehaven to its knees, but Helma Zukas is determined to keep the library open. Not only does she gather in a passel of stranded souls, but in the midst of the blizzard an explosion destroys the new library site AND Franklin Harrington, the billionaire who generously presented the site to the City of Bellehaven.
From Chapter Three:
A few times more, Helma felt blasts of icy air, as if the front doors had opened. Each time she checked, no one was there, and she glanced apprehensively at the heating vents.
“Look. It’s getting worse,” Glory said. “The flakes are bigger.”
“Actually,” Helma said, drawing on her Michigan background. “That’s an indication the air is warming up.”
“Oh.” Glory’s face fell. “It’s not stopping already, is it?”
Helma felt a rumbling sensation and looked up at the ceiling. But the sound came from outside, muffled by the snow. Before Helma could stand, a flash of light shot through the snow, through the room. The building shook and a tremendous boom shattered the morning. The windows shimmered and bulged.
Glory screamed. Everyone else jumped or gasped or froze.
“Oh, Faulkner,” Helma said, already hurrying to the window where Glory still stood, gazing into white. As was Helma’s habit during any unusual or calamitous event, she glanced at the time. The clock above the circulation desk read 11:08.
“Is this the Big One?” George asked behind her. “Are we finally getting the monster quake?”
“It came from up there,” Glory said. “Where they’re building the new library.”
Index to Murder
The eleventh book in the Helma Zukas series
When two of Ruth's latest paintings disappear - each depicting an ex-lover who met an untimely and mysterious end, digging around for the missing paintings turns up an angry ex-sife, a jealous fellow artist, and a rampaging group of subversive tree huggers.
From Chapter Five:
"He was funny, for an academic." Ruth picked up a paintbrush and swirled the fibers against her palm, smiling as if the sensation was pleasurable. "Vincent Jensen: say that three times as fast as you can. Why would somebody take those two paintings: Vincent and Merriwether?" She frowned. "Stop that."
"You're messing up my paint tubes."
Without realizing it, Helma had begun arranging Ruth's oils in alphabetical order: Aborgine, Chestnut, Crimson Blue. She clasped her hands in front of her. "How did they die?"
"Live by the chainsaw, die by the chainsaw," Ruth said. "Merriwether was up in a maple tree, cutting off a burl to make into a table or something. He fell. From on high. With the chainsaw." Ruth grimaced, scrunching up her eyes. "Don't think about it."