Matt Montana is the favorite son of sleepy Maggody, Arkansas. With the voice of an angel and a smile as charming as that of the devil, he’s made a name for himself under the bright lights of Nashville and become one of the most famous faces in country music. Meanwhile, Maggody has sunk into the worst recession in years. So when Matt announces that he’s returning home to play a benefit concert, the locals do everything they can to cash in on Montana fever. The oddballs of Maggody smell a payday, and not even murder can stop them from cashing in.
As every shop in town stocks up on Matt Montana memorabilia, police chief Arly Hanks—the only sane woman in town—tries to keep her head down. But when one of Matt’s entourage turns up dead in a store window, it’s up to Arly to make sure this isn’t country music’s last act.
The Arly Hanks Mysteries have skewered topics from Hollywood filmmakers to right-wing militias to the greedy schemes of televangelists, and this take on country music superstars shows the town of Maggody at its best. Fans of cozy mysteries know that nobody does it better than Joan Hess.
O Little Town of Maggody is the 7th book in the Arly Hanks Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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O Little Town of Maggody
An Arly Hanks Mystery
By Joan Hess
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1993 Joan Hess
All rights reserved.
"You're a detour on the highway to heaven," sang Ruby Bee Hanks as she ran the dust mop across the minute dance floor of Ruby Bee's Bar & Grill. Her voice wasn't bad for a woman of modest years, she thought with a smile that lit up her chubby, well-powdered face. It weren't nothing like Matt Montana's, not by a long shot, but she carried the tune faithfully. That wasn't surprising since the song came on the jukebox every five minutes from noon till midnight.
There wasn't any question Matt Montana could sing, but nobody'd ever claimed he made the best scalloped potatoes west of the Mississippi. She'd bet her last dollar he'd never won blue ribbons at the county fair for his canned tomatoes and watermelon pickles. This last thought reminded her that she needed to check the apple pies bubbling in the oven, so she took the dust mop and went into the kitchen to get ready for the noon rush. Presuming there was one, for a change.
"I am lost on the back roads of sin," warbled the checkout girl at Jim Bob's SuperSaver Buy 4 Less. The proprietor, Jim Bob Buchanon, who also happened to be the mayor of Maggody among his other sins, gave her a dark look, then went out the door to the mostly empty parking lot. Beneath his noticeably simian forehead, his eyes were yellowish. Those were the two dominant physical traits that proclaimed his lineage in the Buchanon clan, although a geneticist would be quick to point out they were both recessive. There were about as many Buchanons in Stump County as there were varmints up on Cotter's Ridge. Some Buchanons were more intelligent (and less ornery) than these same varmints, but they were few and far between — and living elsewhere. Most of the rest regarded family reunions in the same fashion young executives did singles bars.
Jim Bob leaned against the concrete block wall and watched a lone pickup truck rumble out of view. Business was bad; there was no getting around it. The cash registers weren't pinging, and his bank balance was dwindling to a worrisome level. He shaded his eyes and looked across the highway at Ruby Bee's Bar & Grill, which didn't appear to be faring any better. Down the road, no one was filling up with gas at the self-service pumps, nor was anybody waddling into the Suds of Fun Launderette with a basket of dirty clothes. There weren't any cars or RVs parked in front of Roy Stiver's antique store, and he'd heard that Roy was threatening to close for the winter and go flop on a beach somewhere to write more of that highfalutin poetry he was so proud of. Jim Bob had written some in his day, although his had been calculated to melt comely maidens' hearts and soften their protests. Roy's stuff didn't even rhyme, and gawd help you if you tried to sing it.
Jim Bob figured he might as well be writin' poetry as standing in the parking lot looking at nothing. Like the ancient oak tree out behind his house on Finger Lane, the whole damn town of Maggody was in danger of crashing down in the next gust of wind. The best he could recollect, there were still 755 citizens living along the highway and on the unpaved back roads that led to other depressing towns or petered out up in the mountains. There were more citizens buried out behind the Methodist church, but nobody he knew of had been planted — lately, that is. More folks than usual seemed to have been murdered since Arly Hanks had skulked back home to become the chief of police (and the entirety of the department). But, Jim Bob added to himself, trying to be fair about it, it most likely wasn't her fault. She hadn't brought back a busload of muggers and rapists with her from her high-and-mighty life in Manhattan. No, she'd just brought her smart mouth and snippety way of putting her fists on her hips and staring like a goddamn water moccasin when she pretended to be listening to him. He couldn't think when he last made her blink.
"I have got to get back on the four-lane," the checker was singing as he stomped back inside.
He was about to fire her on the spot, when he realized she wasn't all that unattractive, if you were willing to ignore her stained teeth and rabbity eyes and lack of chin, and concentrate on her undeniably round breasts.
"Malva, isn't it?" he said in a right friendly voice. "Why don't you take yourself a little break in the lounge? I'll get us a couple of cans of soda and a box of cookies, and then you can sing me some more of that pretty song."
Malva wasn't fooled one bit, but she was dim-witted enough to think she might get a raise (along with the rise) out of him. "Whatever you say, Mr. Buchanon."
His fingers tingling, Jim Bob took off for the Oreos.
"So that I can see Mama again," sang Perkins's eldest as she maneuvered the vacuum cleaner down the hallway and deftly turned into the living room, the electrical cord whipping behind her like a skinny black sidewinder.
"I wish she'd hush up," said Mrs. Jim Bob (a.k.a. Barbara Ann Buchanon Buchanon) as she came back into the sun-room with a fresh pot of coffee. Her hair was brown and sensible, her face devoid of the devil's paint, her eyes mostly brown with only a few flecks of mustard. She wore a blue dress and freshly starched underwear in case there was some sort of untimely disaster and she found herself submitting her resumé to the Lord.
Elsie McMay gazed solemnly across the table. "Did you hear those hippies what own the hardware store are talking about closing up and moving away?"
"It'd be a blessing if they did. They're lewd and lascivious, probably all sleeping in one bed. There's a fancy French name for what they do, but I'm too good a Christian to even know what it is. I told Brother Verber to go over there and give them a word of warning about eternal damnation, and he said he would just as soon as he had the time." Her thin lips grew thinner as she thought this over. "I seem to recall that was more than two years ago."
The mention of the pastor of the Voice of the Almighty Lord Assembly Hall led to a discussion of the latest uproar in the Missionary Society (too many ballots in the box) and several cups of coffee.
After Elsie left, Mrs. Jim Bob pulled on a sweater and went out to the front porch. It was a mite crumpy for November, maybe an ominous sign of things to come. If business was as bad as Jim Bob had sworn, then they were in trouble. He'd used all their savings to open the supermarket, even getting his hands on the nice little sum she'd inherited from Great-Uncle Arbutus Buchanon, who, for the record, was a Buchanon from her side of the family rather than Jim Bob's.
As befitting the mayor's wife, she had the finest house in all of Maggody, a two-story red brick structure on the top of a hill where everybody in town could see it, and a driveway that wound down to a gate with the letters J and B formed out of bricks and spanned by a wrought-iron arch. But if the store went broke, they'd be lucky to have a rusty mobile home at the Pot o' Gold.
Mrs. Jim Bob was shivering as she went back inside to rinse out the coffee pot and have a stern word with Perkins's eldest about the baseboards.
"When Mama lay a-dyin' on the flatbed," sang Estelle Oppers, although the words were muffled on account of the bobby pins wobbling between her lips. More were scattered across the counter among bottles of shampoo and conditioner, combs, hair nets, plastic and foam rollers, hair dryers, curling irons, and other accoutrements of the profession she ran out of her living room.
Eilene Buchanon frowned at her reflection in the mirror as Estelle caught a wisp of brown hair and pinned it back in place. "Can you make it less fluffier on top? My niece — the one on the drill team over in Farberville — she says it makes me look like a French poodle."
Estelle gave Eilene a hand mirror and swiveled the chair around. "I think this looks real sweet, Eilene. These teen-aged girls today all think they have to wear their hair so it looks like they were lined up to be the next bride of Frankenstein." She glanced in the mirror at her own fiery red beehive, today festooned with a row of spitcurls across her forehead. Yesterday she'd tried a two-tiered effect, but this was undeniably more becoming. "Amateurs don't know about the artistry of cosmetology. Just the other day I offered to fix Arly's hair — not that she's a teenager by a good fifteen years — but she ducked her head and said her school-marm bun was dictated by the police manual. If that wasn't a platter of barbecued Spam, I don't know what is!"
"She still moping around the police department?" Eilene asked as she handed back the mirror and stood up, wondering in the back of her mind if she didn't look just a tiny bit like a dog that answered to Gigi.
"Moping like a wet mop. I can't tell you how many times Ruby Bee and I have tried to talk some sense in her. We might as well be arguing with a box of rocks. Arly says she's perfectly happy to spend her days at the police department and her nights in that shabby one-room apartment, except when she's wolfing down biscuits and gravy at Ruby Bee's or slurping cherry limeades from the Dairee Dee-Lishus. The most exciting thing that's happened to her in the last month was stopping a silver Mercedes for speeding out by the remains of Purtle's Esso station and finding out the guy was a state senator."
"She give him a ticket?"
"In a Noow Yark minute, and still giggling about it."
Eilene paid Estelle and booked her next appointment. "Kind of sad, isn't it? Arly ain't bad looking, but she isn't going to find herself a man in this town. At the rate things are going, this may be a ghost town afore too long. Earl keeps busy repairing burst pipes and unstopping toilets, but he hasn't had a subcontracting job in months. He heard Ira Pickerell down at the body shop had to fire his own first cousin Jimson on account of business being so poor. I guess folks can't afford to get their dents fixed when they have to worry about rent and groceries. Christmas is gonna be real bleak this year, if you ask me."
Estelle went out to the front walk and stood watching as Eilene backed her car onto County 102 and drove away. As if she didn't know business was poor these days. All she had scheduled for tomorrow was a trim for Joyce Lambertino's little niece after school let out. She'd heard about the hippies leaving, and she wasn't all that surprised about Ira having to get rid of Jimson. More times than not, Ruby Bee's Bar & Grill was half-empty at noon, and happy hour was downright gloomy these days. The poultry plant in Starley City had cut back the night shift. The used-car lot was nothing but a field of weeds. Everybody was hurting.
Out by the ditch, the sign that read ESTELLE'S HAIR FANTASIES creaked in the bone-chillin' wind. What paint that hadn't flaked off was nearly illegible, and one corner of the sign drooped where a screw had fallen out. With a sigh, Estelle went back inside, switched on the television to her favorite soap, and settled back for an hour of somebody else's misery.
"She warned me not to truck with girls like you," sang Dahlia (nee O'Neill) Buchanon. She had a sweet voice, but at the moment she was so depressed that the words were oozing out like molasses on a winter morning. Her eyes kept overflowing with tears that ran down her chunky cheeks and leaked into the cracks between her numerous chins. She was slumped on the sofa of what her new husband kept describing as "our little love nest," but anyone with a pittance of a brain could see it was nothing but the same house where she'd always lived with her granny. Her granny'd put up quite a fight when Dahlia made her move to the county old folks home; lordy, how she'd covered her ears and squawked like a chicken whenever Dahlia tried to reason with her about how nice it would be to sit with the other old ladies on the porch every day. She was still clamming up when Dahlia visited every Sunday afternoon, but she'd stop being a crybaby sooner or later.
Dahlia heaved all of her three hundred pounds to her feet, wiped her face, and trudged into the kitchen to make supper for Kevin. Marital bliss sure wasn't the way they showed it on television. The honeymoon had been one disaster after another, and then they'd come back to find out that Kevin had lost his job at the supermarket and Ruby Bee couldn't afford the salary for one barmaid, not even part-time.
Spilling a can of beans into a saucepan, she wondered if she'd done the right thing getting married in the first place. Kevvie'd talked about a cozy cottage and going to the picture show every Friday night, but he took the first job he could find — selling fancy vacuum cleaners in Farberville — and hardly ever got home before ten o'clock at night. Just what was the new Mrs. Kevin Buchanon supposed to do all day?
She popped a couple of cookies in her mouth and imagined herself on the Grand Ole Opry stage next to Matt Montana, whose photograph she kept tacked to the wall in the living room and whose face had been known to invade their double bed on those rare nights Kevin didn't stagger through the door and fall asleep in the recliner. In her daydreams, she was always as thin as Ronna (but with Dolly's bust), with Barbara's exquisite seashell blue eyes, with Wynonna's cascading blond hair, with Katie's stark and mysterious cheekbones. She was dressed in a white sequined gown and cute little cowgirl hat, and her boots were dainty as ballet slippers.
"But I was caught in the glare of your headlights," she recommenced to singing, this time in perfect two-part harmony with Matt, "and went joyriding just for the view."
"Your curves made me lose my direction," sang Brother Verber as he stood in the doorway of his trailer parked beside the Voice of the Almighty Lord Assembly Hall. He dearly hoped the highway he was gazing at wasn't the one in the song, because it wasn't clogged with cars and trucks heading for the Pearly Gates. A cadaverous hound was asleep on the dotted yellow line, threatened only by an empty beer can rattling across the road.
The collection plate was getting lighter every week, which meant not only were the little heathen orphans in Africa missing out on the opportunity to be enlightened (as soon as he got their address), but also that he'd been obliged to quote a verse from the Good Book to that sassy young woman who'd called that very morning. "'The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?'" he'd demanded of her. She'd suggested the rural electric cooperative.
Religion ain't immune to recession, he thought bleakly as he went to the kitchenette to pour out another tumbler of wine, and then lay down on the sofa. Why, he couldn't find the energy to change out of his pajamas and bathrobe, and it was already early afternoon. Hanging over the end of the sofa, his bare feet looked like a pair of dead fish. All in all, at the moment even he would admit he wasn't the epitome of evangelical inspiration.
Brother Verber got up long enough to turn on his television to one of those talk shows where people seemed eager to tell the whole world about how they'd lusted after their household pets or dressed up in leather underwear and performed degrading acts on the kitchen floor, or both. Brother Verber didn't approve of this kind of thing being shown on television, but he figured watching it fell into the realm of better preparing himself should a sinner come a-knockin' on the rectory door.
It occurred to him that he might could charge a small fee for eternal salvation, maybe even run some kind of special at Christmastime.
"But you were just one more roadside attraction," sang Kevin Buchanon as he walked up the sidewalk of a house in Farberville, "and it's been ten thousand miles since I prayed." He wore a dark suit and a tie, and despite the fact that his trouser cuffs failed to hide a good three inches of white socks, he was sure he looked like a bright young businessman. After all, his manager, Mr. Dentha, had slapped him on the back and told him that exact thing at the regular morning sales meeting at the Vacu-Pro office.
Kevin tightened his grip on the case containing the body of the vacuum cleaner and its thirty-five attachments. The proud owner of a Vacu-Pro could not only clean her carpet but also shampoo upholstery, sand wood, spray-paint walls, dust Venetian blinds, strip furniture, and so many other useful things that it had taken Kevin more than a week to memorize the list. Now he could rattle 'em off in under a minute. And who wouldn't want the finest vacuum cleaner on the market, a contraption on the cutting edge of the technological revolution? Sure, a Vacu-Pro was expensive, but so was a jet airplane — and try to scale a fish with one of them!
His shoulders squared and his chin held so high that anyone in the neighborhood could see his throat rippling, Kevin pushed the doorbell.
Excerpted from O Little Town of Maggody by Joan Hess. Copyright © 1993 Joan Hess. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fasten your seat belt! The holidays are known for being a bumpy ride, but with Arly and Ruby Bee on the prowl, this Christmas is bound to be filled with bumps, laughs and a body or two before the season is over! Arly Hanks, Maggody Chief of Police, is once again called in to work, this time to find the lost relative of singing superstar, Matt Montana. When Matt and his entourage decide to come home for the holidays, Maggody (pop. 755), swells to the breaking point and the crazy locals are hot after the almighty dollar. Another side splitting adventure in the Maggody series, Joan Hess does it again. Bringing the lovably annoying denizens to life once again, we are treated to a rollicking ride through the holidays to search for missing Aunt Adele, figure out why, why, why Dahlia has confessed to murder, and nearly get a leg chewed off by Raz Buchanan's prize pig, Marjorie. Will Brother Verber get it together and find the perfect orphan for the benefit concert? Grab a burger at Ruby Bee's and crack open Joan Hess' O Little Town of Maggody to find out!