Murder at the Gardner

Murder at the Gardner

by Jane Langton

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“Langton brings back the Golden Age Murder with style, wit, and charm” as scholar/sleuth Homer Kelly finds Boston’s famous museum has become a crime scene (Tony Hillerman).
 There are frogs in the pond at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. A balloon has been tied to one of the sculptures in the small museum’s hallowed halls. And, worst of all, someone has moved paintings while no one was looking. At most museums these pranks would be an annoyance, but at the Gardner—whose founder stipulated that the museum be disbanded if the original collection is ever disturbed—they could spell disaster. The Gardner’s board hires Harvard professor and former police lieutenant Homer Kelly to investigate the mischief. Hardly an art lover, Kelly has trouble taking the threat seriously at first. But when a museum patron is found dead after catching the prankster in the act, Homer springs into action. He may know nothing about art, but murder is something he understands all too well.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781453247617
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 03/06/2012
Series: The Homer Kelly Mysteries , #7
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 358
Sales rank: 318,048
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Winner of the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award, Jane Langton (1922–2018) was an acclaimed author of mystery novels and children’s literature. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Langton took degrees in astronomy and art history before she began writing novels, and has set much of her fiction in the tight-knit world of New England academia.
She published her first novel, The Majesty of Grace, in 1961, and a year later began one of the young adult series that would make her famous: the Hall Family Chronicles. In The Diamond in the Window (1962) she introduced Edward and Eleanor, two New England children whose home holds magical secrets. Two years later, in The Transcendental Murder, Langton created Homer Kelly, a Harvard University professor who solves murders in his spare time. These two series have produced over two dozen books, most recently The Dragon Tree (2008), the eighth Hall Family novel.
Winner of the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award, Jane Langton (1922–2018) was an acclaimed author of mystery novels and children’s literature. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Langton took degrees in astronomy and art history before she began writing novels, and has set much of her fiction in the tight-knit world of New England academia.
She published her first novel, The Majesty of Grace, in 1961, and a year later began one of the young adult series that would make her famous: the Hall Family Chronicles. In The Diamond in the Window (1962) she introduced Edward and Eleanor, two New England children whose home holds magical secrets. Two years later, in The Transcendental Murder, Langton created Homer Kelly, a Harvard University professor who solves murders in his spare time. These two series have produced over two dozen books, most recently The Dragon Tree (2008), the eighth Hall Family novel.

Read an Excerpt

Murder at the Gardner

A Homer Kelly Mystery

By Jane Langton

Copyright © 2002 Jane Langton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-4761-7


The bulrushes beside the water in the Back Bay Fens were like a jungle. Wandering among them looking for a lover, Edward Fallfold amused himself by envisioning tigers and elephants trampling the tall reeds, and livid green parrots flapping up into the gray Boston air.

But there were no tigers, no elephants, no parrots, and no lovers either, even though the weather on this day in late March was springlike and mild. The bulrushes were ten feet tall, with dry stalks that creaked and swayed as Fallfold parted them, trying this pathway and that. Bulrushes here, bulrushes there. The bulrushes reminded him of Titian's painting of The Rape of Europa in the museum, and he made a mental pun. The bull rushes at Europa and carries her off. But Edward Fallfold didn't want Europa, that portly wench with the heavy thighs. He wanted someone like the young man approaching him now.

"Hello," Fallfold said, giving the boy his charming smile, putting an arm around his broad shoulders. "What's your name? Look, why don't we go across the street to my room?"

Later he discovered that his young friend was looking for a job and a place to live. The boy was blond, strong, and tall, and Fallfold was immensely taken with him. "I think I can help you," he said, trying not to sound too eager. "Speak to Mrs. Garboyle. She's got an empty room. Another kid just moved out. And I'll bet I can get you a job as a guard in the museum."

"The museum? What museum?"

"The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It's just down the road along the Fenway. I'm a trustee." Fallfold didn't bother to explain that he had very nearly been named director of the museum. Last year when the former director had been called to Yale, Fallfold had applied to become his successor, and he had come very close. There had been interview after interview. But at last, to his disgust, they had set him aside and chosen young Titus Moon instead. Fallfold had been offered the consolation prize of a place on the unpaid board of trustees.

"As a matter of fact," he said to his new young friend, whose name was Robbie Crowlie, "there's a meeting of the trustees this morning. Come on, I'm on my way there now. I'll introduce you to the security chief. He can always use a new guard."

"Well, okay," said Robbie Crowlie cautiously, "thanks a lot."

Fallfold beamed, and they went off together down the street, strolling along the Fenway past the dorms of Northeastern University, past the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, in the direction of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

In the jungle of the bulrushes Edward Fallfold had found a new love.


Homer Kelly was on his way to the meeting with the Gardner trustees. The truth was, Homer was in the dark about the history of painting and sculpture. But it was this very ignorance that was taking him there this morning.

It was all his wife's fault. If Mary Kelly had not thought her husband an ignoramus about art, she wouldn't have given him a membership in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum before she went off to New York City to take a course at Columbia.

If she hadn't given him a membership, he wouldn't have gone to the reception for new members. And if he hadn't attended the reception, Homer would never have met Titus Moon, the director of the Gardner Museum. And then he would never have been asked to go to the next meeting of the trustees, to discuss the museum's peculiar troubles and harassments.

But Mary Kelly did think her husband an ignoramus about art, and therefore she had set in motion the train of events that propelled him now, on this warm misty morning in March, in the direction of the Gardner to meet with the director and the seven trustees.

As Homer strode along the drive from a distant parking place, a fog hung over the Fenway, curling among the feathery fronds of the giant bulrushes on the shores of the sluggish little stream, draping itself over the dead stalks of the brussels sprouts and tomato vines in the public garden plots, wreathing over the curving road. Homer bowed his head against the blowing grit, and scattered the pigeons waddling across his path. The grit, he knew, was not important grit, not grit that counted for something. The pigeons were insignificant pigeons. In a way they were symbols of the neighborhood itself. Back at the turn of the century when Mrs. Jack Gardner had bought the land for her Venetian palace, Frederick Law Olmsted's emerald necklace of parkland was only beginning to emerge from hundreds of acres of heaped-up muck along Stony Brook and Muddy River. Mrs. Jack had expected fashionable Boston to follow her from Beacon Street with new ranks of lofty marble town houses. But fashionable Boston had gone elsewhere, and now the elaborate dwelling she called Fenway Court stood by itself.

Other public buildings had sprung up along the Fenway—the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Simmons College and Wheelock and Emmanuel—and eventually the vacuum around them had been filled with blocks of houses. But they were not the sumptuous residences Mrs. Gardner had surely foreseen. Instead this whole sweep of road had a seedy and neglected air. Around the corner at the end of Avenue Louis Pasteur, the hospital complex was a choked mass of looming buildings, narrow streets, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and teeming pedestrians. And beyond the hospitals spread the ruined streets of Roxbury, thick with suffering life. But along the meandering artery called the Fenway, from one end, where you could hear the crack of a bat in Fenway Park, to the other, where the massive tower of Sears, Roebuck dominated a tormented intersection, the sidewalks were nearly empty. Homer was alone.

The Gardner Museum was a tall monument of pale brick with a tile roof like that of a villa on the Mediterranean. Homer walked in the front door and introduced himself to the girl at the desk.

"Oh, yes, Mr. Kelly. The trustees are meeting in the Dutch Room. Go to the right around the courtyard, then up the stairs, and right again. They'll be expecting you."


The party for the benefactors was in progress in the east cloister as Homer made his way around the flowering courtyard. Hungrily he glanced at the plates of tidbits on the white tablecloths, the little cakes, the carafes of coffee, the pineapples impaled with morsels of fruit on toothpicks. But Homer had been invited to a meeting, not a party. Regretfully he climbed the stairs.

The reception in the east cloister was only the beginning of a festive day for the benefactors of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. After their coffee and snacks, they would attend a lecture in the Tapestry Room and tour the greenhouses, then sit down to a grand luncheon in the Spanish Cloister.

All the benefactors were wealthy men and women, but in the Renaissance mind of Titus Moon, they fitted into categories. Some of them were cultivated lovers of art whose appetite could only be fed by looking at monuments of ageless splendor, by gazing at the green faces of fourteenth-century saints, or the marble folds of Greek and Roman draperies, or the painted skies of eighteenth-century landscapes. And of course there were scholars among the benefactors, learned men and women lost in their own specialties, with strong opinions about Flemish tapestries, or new theories about the cinerary urns of ancient Rome.

But many of the benefactors were rich women who favored the museum because it was a safe and attractive charity, worthwhile but not upsetting, unlike welfare associations or pressure groups for civil rights. In a casual way they admired the sculpture and the paintings, but best of all they loved dropping in with their friends to exclaim at the blossoming courtyard and eat lunch in the café.

Flower ladies, Titus called them in mild contempt, but he was well aware of their value to the museum. And he was grateful for the magnificent floral effects his head gardener had produced in the courtyard, where blue cinerarias were blazing now among trees of yellow jasmine, pots of arum lilies and pale narcissus, where throughout the year the garden burst into magnificent bloom with extravagant displays of lilies and orchids, cyclamen and azaleas.

"It's always so peaceful here," the flower ladies would say to one another, failing to notice the scenes of the Passion on the wall behind them, or the tragic marble head of Apollo beside the jar of Easter lilies, or the slave in the claws of a lion, above the container of sweet-smelling jasmine.

This morning the naked boy on Pesellino's panel painting, the cruel youth called Love, was sharpening his arrows for Titus Moon, and he was busy among the benefactors as well, drawing his bow and taking careful aim.

His new victims were Beryl Bodkin, the wife of an impossible husband, and Fenton Hepplewhite, the husband of an impossible wife. Somehow these two unhappy people, crushed as they were in the grip of their wretched marriages, had stumbled upon one another in a nook between a Roman sarcophagus and a flowering jade tree. John Bodkin, the impossible husband, was absent at the moment because he was attending the trustees' meeting upstairs, and Madeline Hepplewhite, the impossible wife, had abandoned her husband in order to barge all over the galleries with one of the flower ladies. Thus Beryl Bodkin and Fenton Hepplewhite suddenly found themselves alone together.

Beryl and Fenton had never before exchanged a personal word. The noisy locomotives to which they were attached had always dominated their encounters with huge noises of CHUFFA-CHUFFA-CHUFF and furious whistle blasts. Towed along in the rear, they had never been shunted onto the same railway siding. Now, stunned, they greeted one another and began to talk, stuttering in their excitement, fearful of the return of Madeline or John.

For the moment they were safe from interruption. The meeting of the trustees had only just begun, upstairs in the Dutch Room, and Madeline Hepplewhite was at this moment dragging her friend, one of the new benefactors, through all the galleries on the upper floors.

In the absence of his wife, Fenton Hepplewhite expanded like a paper flower in water. His bowed shoulders straightened, his nervous laughter sobered, his sinews loosened their rigid grip on his bones. And Beryl's eager face was bright. She was finding all sorts of things to say; she was astonished at the things that were in her, waiting to be said.

It was a Monday, and therefore the museum was closed to ordinary visitors. "I'm sorry," said the guard to Madeline Hepplewhite as she charged past him up the stairs. "The galleries aren't open today."

Madeline continued to sail upward. "I am one of the principal benefactors of this museum," she said, grasping the arm of her nervous friend, urging her along. "I think I have a right to go anywhere I please."

What could he do? He couldn't engage in physical combat with a benefactor. Swiftly the guard checked in at the watch desk, asking to be replaced at his post, then galloped up the stairs two at a time to follow Madeline Hepplewhite wherever she went.

Madeline was eager to play a proprietary role, to show off her treasures, her Velásquez, her Rubens, her Fra Angelico. "We'll just take a little whirlwind tour," she said to her friend, Viva Mae Biggy.

But the tour went on and on, exhausting the energy of the new benefactor, who wasn't really very much interested in art. By the time they reached the third floor, Viva Mae's eyes were glazed, she was glutted with masterpieces, she could absorb no more.

But in the Veronese Room she perked up. In the middle of the floor stood a solid object that was neither a painting nor a piece of sculpture.

"Oh, look at the sedan chair," she said, summoning a last spark of interest. "Imagine being carried around in that thing!"

"Muddy streets," explained Madeline Hepplewhite. "Filth everywhere. No standards of hygiene. Raw sewage running in the gutter."

"Oh, ugh," said Viva Mae, and then she gave a soft shriek. "Oh, Madeline, there's someone in it. Look, there's a man inside."

"Good heavens." Madeline moved forward and stared courageously into the sedan chair, mindful of her reputation as a fearless woman who had once climbed a tree at a garden party. "So there is."

The big man in the sedan chair was asleep. He lay cuddled on his side, his hands under his chin, his long knees drawn up.

Imperiously Madeline summoned the guard. "How, may I ask, did he get in here? What on earth has happened to the security of this institution?"

The guard too peered into the sedan chair. "Oh, no, not again," he said. "That's Tom Duck."

"What do you mean, again?" said Madeline Hepplewhite. "Do you mean this sort of thing has happened before? Who in the world is Tom Duck?"

"He's just this old bum. He's a friend of Titus Moon's. He keeps coming in off the street. He likes it here, that's the trouble. I don't know how he does it, but he gets in somehow. I'll call the watch desk. You ladies better get back to your reception."

"Well, all right," said Madeline. "But I'm really quite shocked. To think something like this could happen in an institution devoted to the protection of so many valuable things. I mean, Viva Mae was really quite frightened." Madeline frowned at the guard, regarding him as the visible representative of the establishment at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. "I really am beginning to doubt whether this museum cares for what it has. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't change my will."

At last, to the guard's relief, Madeline and Viva Mae rejoined the rest of the benefactors, who were now touring the greenhouses. Thrusting her way along the narrow greenhouse aisle, Madeline looked for her husband Fenton. She couldn't find him anywhere. Where had he gone? At last she discovered him deep in conversation with Beryl Bodkin, the two of them sheltered by a gigantic rubber plant.

Shrewdly she guessed at the damage done in her absence. Swiftly she swept him out of danger.


In the Dutch room, the trustees sat on two sides of the long Tuscan table, with director Titus Moon at one end and Homer Kelly at the other. Around them hung some of the most famous paintings in the museum—three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Rubens, a pair of Holbeins, a Dürer. Even the illumination in the lofty chamber was Dutch. It fell on the table as if it were slanting from seventeenth-century windows, modeling in light and shade a gathering of solid men and women of Amsterdam. Above their sober clothing their faces glowed, and the air around them was dark and shimmering. Their names might have been Hoogstraten or Droochsloot or Schimmelpenninck.

But the seven trustees were not Dutch. Most of them were Bostonian. Their names were John Bodkin, Fulton Hillside, Preston Carver, Shackleton Bowditch, Peggy Foley, Edward Fallfold, and Catherine Rule. Edward Fallfold was a Virginian, and Peggy Foley had the pleasing blunt features of a middle-aged woman of Irish descent. But the rest were Anglo-Saxon Yankees with narrow faces that betrayed their inner convictions. Recognizing the tragic nature of earthly existence, they worked hard against the night that was coming, smiled with all their might, and saved leftover pieces of string. In repose, their features relaxed into melancholy. Their smiles, therefore, were triumphs of will. Their speech was a whiffle of whee-whahs.

Sitting together around the Tuscan table in their seven chairs, they were a study in the two ways Bostonians grow old—

1)they turn ever more pinched and shriveled, like plump fruit shrinking and withering;

2)they become ever more heroic and splendid like ancient trees.

Chairman John Bodkin was tending in the direction of the former, although he still had many years to go.

Carver and Hillside were too young to display either tendency. Their cheeks were round, their faces unformed and bland.

Catherine Rule was one of the latter. And Shackleton Bowditch, too, was a monument, grand and spreading like a white ash tree, even though his ancestry was not altogether pure. One of Shackleton's grandfathers had been an explorer, a seeker after rare Tibetan shrubs, and he had come home to Boston with a wife from a very different gene pool. Thus there was an unexpected streak of impish fancy in Shackleton Bowditch, a breadth of outlook, an insistence on querying the very foundation stones upon which Bodkin, Hillside, and Carver so staunchly stood.


Excerpted from Murder at the Gardner by Jane Langton. Copyright © 2002 Jane Langton. Excerpted by permission of
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Murder at the Gardner (A Homer Kelly Mystery) 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Liked the art and history. Didnt like that victim was named in first few pages but death was much much later. Didnt like that ideantity of murder was obvious very very early. Authors style very different. Wont read any more of hers
Guest More than 1 year ago
Murder at the gardner was the first book I ve read in years. Once reading the first chapter I was hooked couldn't put the book down.