Scrapbook of Murder by Lois Winston

Scrapbook of Murder (An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery) Cozy Mystery 6th in Series Self Published (October 2, 2017) Print Length: 171 pages E-Book ASIN: B075FCSCPL
Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but "normal" deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.
When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.


“Lupe called me at work this afternoon,” I told Zack. We had escaped after dinner to his apartment. Situated above my detached garage, it afforded us a spot out of earshot of my mother-in-law Lucille, whose contempt for Zack grew exponentially with each passing day. Being permanently saddled with the woman was hard enough on a good day. Today was not a good day.
Zack finished pouring two glasses of chardonnay and handed one to me. I wandered over to the sofa and curled up in the corner. He followed, taking a seat next to me. The seconds ticked by. He shifted his body to face me. I suppose he was waiting for me to say something further, but my brain had stopped sending signals to my mouth.
Zack continued to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Finally he asked, “Should I run an errand during this extremely long, pregnant pause, or are you planning to elaborate sometime soon?”
I heaved a sigh, then polished off half my wine before answering him. “She asked if she could come over this evening to talk.”
I speared him with my best duh! look. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“You have to stop blaming yourself, Anastasia. You’re not responsible for what happened.”
Right. And the captain of the Titanic wasn’t responsible for steering his ship into a giant iceberg. “Carmen is dead because of me. How can Lupe not blame me?”
Lupe Betancourt is Carmen Cordova’s daughter. She grew up down the street from me. Years ago she occasionally babysat my boys. Now they often babysit her kids. Or they did. I doubt Lupe will want any of us Pollacks in her home ever again.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago Lawrence Tuttnauer, my mother’s sixth and latest husband, was arrested for orchestrating the cold-blooded murders of two of my neighbors, Lupe’s mother Carmen and Betty Bentworth. He’d never met either of them. His hit man had chosen them at random because Lawrence wanted my attention diverted from the suspicious death of his daughter Cynthia. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d poked my nose into the wrong person’s business.
As it turned out, so had Cynthia, but she’d gone a step further and threatened her old man. So Lawrence did what any connected guy in New Jersey would do—he took out a contract on her. No Father of the Year Award for him.
Although I had no regrets over the role I’d played in bringing Lawrence Tuttnauer to justice, guilt consumed me regarding the deaths of Betty and Carmen—especially Carmen. Not that nasty Betty Bentworth deserved a bullet to the skull, but no one had shed any tears over her demise, unlike the neighborhood’s reaction to Carmen’s gruesome death days before Halloween.
It doesn’t help that every time I look at Lupe, I see a younger, thinner version of her mother. She’s a living reminder of my culpability in her mother’s death.
Mama and Lawrence married a month ago after a whirlwind courtship. She said he owned a commercial laundry. Turns out his enterprise laundered greenbacks, not linens, and he serviced only one client—the mob.
My name is Anastasia Pollack, and less than a year ago I led the life of a typical suburban, middle-class working mom. That all changed the day my husband dropped dead in a Las Vegas casino. I thought he was at a sales meeting in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I also thought we were debt-free with a comfortable nest egg squirreled away.
Instead, I discovered Karl Marx Pollack, now dubbed Dead Louse of a Spouse, had carried on a long-standing affair with Lady Not-So-Lucky. Karl not only gambled away our savings and our teenage sons’ college funds, he’d taken out a second mortgage on the house, failed to pay our taxes for the last few years, maxed out our credit cards, and allowed his life insurance policy to lapse.
Strapping me with debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan wasn’t the worst of his sins, though. Nor was the homicidal loan shark he’d stiffed for fifty thousand dollars who demanded I pay up—or else. No, Karl’s worst sin was sticking me with a communist mother-in-law from Hades.
I stared into my half-empty wineglass, avoiding eye contact with Zack, and forced my brain out of stall-mode. “I asked Lupe to meet me here.”
“In my apartment?”
“I hope you don’t mind.”
The apartment used to be my home office. Zack is an award-winning photojournalist. Possibly a spy. Probably both. Anyway, prior to moving above my garage, he lived in Manhattan. However, he’d suffered through one too many police raids due to suspicious neighbors claiming he was operating a meth lab in his darkroom. He was on the hunt for a quiet suburban location without shared walls; I was desperate for rent money. The apartment over my garage fulfilled both of our needs.
Less than a year ago we were complete strangers. Now we’re much more—the one and only good thing to come out of Dead Louse of a Spouse’s betrayal.
“Do you want me to stay, or should I go run that errand?” asked Zack.
“You really have an errand to run?”
“No, but I’m sure I can find something to do.”
“Are you kidding? Don’t you dare leave me alone. I need all the moral support I can get.”
Zack wrapped an arm around my shoulders and drew me closer. “You’ve got me, but have you thought about what you’re going to say to Lupe?”
Lupe and I hadn’t spoken since Carmen’s funeral, which occurred days before I connected the dots leading to Lawrence’s arrest. Once that line intersected directly through me, I morphed into a yellow-bellied coward. I didn’t exactly go out of my way to avoid Lupe, but I hadn’t reached out to her, either. “Like what? So sorry I got nosy, and to throw me off, my mother’s psychotic husband paid a homicidal maniac to kill your mother? What are the odds of that conversation ending well?”
“Slim to none.”
“Maybe the best thing to do is accept whatever verbal tirade she hurls at you. She has a right to be angry.”
“Of course, she does.” If our roles were reversed, and Lupe had caused Mama’s death, I’d want to throttle her. “But what if she wants to do more than scream at me?”
“Are you worried she’ll turn violent?”
“I’m more worried she might file a wrongful death lawsuit. She could, couldn’t she?”
Zack shrugged. “I’m not a lawyer.”
“Neither am I, but even if a judge tossed the suit out of court, I’d still have to hire an attorney.” I was barely making ends meet as it was. Paying down the Mount Everest of debt Karl had saddled me with took every discretionary penny I could claw out of my meager weekly budget. Damn him! After nearly a year, even with taking on a variety of moonlighting jobs, I’d only made little more than a miniscule dent, thanks to the devil known as compound interest. I couldn’t afford to add legal fees to my teetering tower of monthly bills.
“This is all Karl’s fault,” I said.
Zack raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“Don’t you think it’s a bit too coincidental that murder victims started showing up in my life shortly after Karl dropped dead? I’ve morphed into the Jessica Fletcher of Westfield, New Jersey.”
Zack attempted to cover up a chortle with a forced cough. He failed miserably. “A bit of a stretch, not to mention a whopper of a rationalization.”
“Is it?” I heaved a sigh and shrugged. “How about when all else fails, blame someone else?” Not that doing so made me feel any less guilty over Carmen’s—and Betty’s—deaths.
Our conversation halted at the sound of footsteps on the staircase leading up to the apartment. As Zack rose to answer the door, my pulsed raced. He opened the door at the first knock and said, “Come in, Lupe.”
I rose from the sofa as Lupe stepped into the living room. She hugged a large, worn suitcase to her chest. Her eyes darted around the room. When they landed on me, she said, “Thanks for seeing me, Anastasia.”
Normally I’d utter something like my pleasure or no problem, but in this case I anticipated a lack of pleasure and a multitude of problems. Still, not wanting to appear defensive, I forced a smile even if appropriate words failed me.
Zack came to my rescue. “Have a seat, Lupe. Would you like a glass of wine?”
She hesitated for a moment before settling into a chair opposite the sofa. As I resumed my seat, Lupe placed the suitcase on the floor beside her chair and said, “I’d love a glass. Thank you.” Then she heaved a shuddering sigh, not the body language I’d expect from someone with an antagonistic agenda.
I glanced at the beat-up suitcase, classic striped tweed from the nineteen-forties or earlier. The leather trim and handles were gouged and scuffed, the brass hardware pitted and aged to near black. Even though I’d never been on the receiving end of a lawsuit, I was fairly certain they arrived in thin envelopes from process servers, not in vintage suitcases from the wronged party.
For the briefest of moments another thought flitted through my brain. I gave myself a mental slap to dispel the unwelcome wave of paranoia. If Lupe wanted me dead, she wouldn’t blow herself up in the process. Besides, I sensed no evil vibe radiating from her, no invisible poisonous daggers shooting toward me.
The light had gone out of Lupe’s once-luminous dark eyes. Her hair, normally lustrous ebony waves that bounced upon her shoulders, hung flat and limp against her head. Her face showed only sadness, certainly understandable considering she’d recently lost her mother to a violent crime. But a crime she could justifiably lay at my feet.
I should learn to mind my own business. Yet how could I have known the lengths Lawrence would go to protect his secrets? Ignoring the red flags may very well have put my family in danger. After all, the man had married my mother. If he was willing to kill his own daughter, how safe were the rest of us?
As heartbroken and guilt-ridden as I was that Carmen had paid the ultimate price just for living down the street from me, my actions may have saved countless other lives. Cold comfort but it was all I had at the moment.
Zack returned with a glass of wine for Lupe, along with the open wine bottle. He refilled my glass and topped off his before joining me on the sofa. “How are you holding up?” he asked Lupe.
She took a sip of wine before saying, “I think I’m still too numb to process my emotions.”
I knew I had to shake off that proverbial cat that had snatched my tongue. My silence had grown awkward. I took a swig of chardonnay for fortification, then asked, “Is there anything we can do to help you?”
Lupe glanced down at the suitcase. “Actually, that’s why I’m here. I’ve been sorting through Mami’s possessions, getting the house ready to sell.”
“That must be hard for you,” I said, knowing Carmen’s murder occurred in her home.
“Extremely.” Her eyes filled with tears. “All the love that filled that house, all those memories, they’re now forever tainted by such horrific evil. I can’t wrap my head around it. So for now I push it aside and keep busy sorting through everything, deciding what to keep, what to toss, what to donate. The day I walk out of that house for the last time will be the day I give myself permission to start dealing with my grief and hopefully begin healing.”
I inhaled a ragged breath. “You shouldn’t have to take care of the house on your own, Lupe.”
“Strangely enough, the busywork and minutia keep me from dwelling on the murder. I suppose I’m still in the denial phase. I have had help, though, from my husband, my aunt and a few other relatives.”
She hoisted the suitcase off the floor and placed it on the coffee table between us. “I can handle sorting through kitchen cabinets and bookcases, even going through Mami’s clothing and jewelry, but I came across something I can’t handle. Not now. Maybe not ever. That’s why I’m here, to ask a huge favor.”
A huge favor? No accusations? No lawsuit? I could do a favor, the huger the better. Heck, I’d do a dozen huge favors for Lupe. A score. A hundred, even. Whatever it took. Not that any amount of favors would ever eradicate the guilt I felt over Carmen’s death.
“I found this suitcase up in the attic.” Lupe leaned forward, released the latches, and opened the lid. The suitcase was brimming with yellowed newspaper clippings, tattered envelopes, and old black-and-white photographs, some square, some rectangular, all with white deckled edges.
“From what I can tell,” said Lupe, “these are family photos and assorted papers from before Mami and her family fled Cuba after the revolution. Mami led me to believe they left with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. I had no idea any of this existed.”
“Have you gone through the contents?” I asked.
Lupe shook her head. “I couldn’t bring myself to do more than glance at a few of the snapshots on top.”
Zack picked up a photo of a young couple, both dressed in crisp white linen, the man in a suit, the woman in a sundress. They stood under a palm tree against a background of ocean waves lapping a sandy shore. He flipped the photo over and read the inscription. “Maria y Miguel Ortiz, 1947.”
“My mother’s parents,” said Lupe.
“What is it you want me to do?” I asked.
Lupe inhaled a deep breath, releasing it in a rush. “I know it’s asking a lot, Anastasia, but I’d be so grateful if you’d organize all of this into a scrapbook for my children. It would provide them a connection to their Cuban heritage.”
I stared into the suitcase, admittedly overwhelmed by the prospect of making sense of the contents. Where did I even begin? “How? I have no idea who any of these people are.”
“I’m hoping most of the photos are labeled. The ones I looked at were.” She rooted in her purse, pulled out a folded sheet of paper, and handed it to me. “My aunt created a family tree a few years ago. I made a copy for you.”
I perused the ancestral genealogy, which went back generations prior to the invention of photography. According to what I could decipher with my rusty high school Spanish, Lupe’s relatives originally hailed from northern Spain and arrived in Cuba in the late eighteenth century. I’d only have to deal with the family members whose images filled the suitcase. Still, the task was daunting and would take weeks, if not months, given my limited free time.
I glanced up at Lupe. She sat on the edge of her chair, worrying her lower lip as she awaited my answer. How could I say no? Hadn’t I just told myself no favor would be too huge an imposition, given the amount of guilt I carried with me?
“You realize this isn’t something I can accomplish in a few days,” I said.
“Take as much time as you need. And I’m more than happy to pay you, Anastasia.” She paused for a moment before adding, “Rumor has it you’ve had some financial setbacks since Karl died.”
My jaw dropped. I’d worked hard to keep my neighbors from finding out about the mess Dead Louse of a Spouse had dumped on me. “How did you—?”
“Your mother told Mami what happened.”
Thank you, Mama! How many other people had she blabbed to about my indebtedness? Heck, she probably took out a full-page ad in the Westfield Leader, which I never would have known because I’d cancelled my subscription as one of my many cost-cutting measures.
As if reading my mind, Zack squeezed my hand. I’d deal with Mama later. She’s just lucky she’s no longer living with me or there would be fireworks at Casa Pollack tonight.
“Will you do it?” asked Lupe.
“There are people who specialize in this sort of thing,” I said.
Lupe shook her head. “I can’t trust total strangers with this. They didn’t know Mami. To them this would be just another job. You were my mother’s friend. I trust you, Anastasia, and with your crafts background, I know you’ll create something beautiful that my children will treasure.”
I carefully leafed through some of the papers and photos in the suitcase, taking care to avoid touching the newspaper clippings. They looked so brittle I feared they’d disintegrate in my hands. Many of the photos weren’t in much better condition. Few people had knowledge of archival preservation back when one of Lupe’s relatives dumped all of these memories into a suitcase. Time and the chemical composition of the suitcase interior had faded and yellowed the photos. Many bore brown spots from residual fingerprints. Being stored in a non-climate controlled attic for decades had added insult to injury.
Lupe sat on the edge of her chair, her eyes pleading, as she waited for my answer.
“Of course, but given the fragile nature of most of these items, I’m not sure how long a scrapbook would last.” I gently picked up a church program from Carmen’s first communion. As careful as I was, a corner flaked off in my hand. “See what I mean?”
She nodded.
Zack peered into the suitcase and sighed. “Anastasia is right. Unfortunately, most of the originals won’t last much longer. Another few years in the attic, and you probably would have opened the suitcase to find a pile of confetti.”
“Is there anything you can do?” asked Lupe.
“We could scan the originals to create printed photo albums,” said Zack. “That way we could also remove some of the discoloration.”
We? I turned to him. “You’d be willing to help?”
“If I don’t, I won’t see you for several months.”
“You two are the best,” said Lupe. A tear slid down her cheek. “I can’t begin to tell you how much this means to me.”
“Anything for you, Lupe,” said Zack, but when he squeezed my knee again, I knew his offer was more about me than Lupe. The God of Second Chances had certainly smiled down on me the day Zachary Barnes decided to rent the apartment above my garage.

Anastasia Pollock is the type of woman who never quits. She has inherited the most dysfunctional family and has friends with the most unusual difficulties. Fortunately she also has the world's best tenant, her new boyfriend.
Any book with murder in the title should forewarn of something dark and unpleasant. However a cozy mystery often implies a more light-hearted treatment of evil and danger. I can not say that is true this time. While Lucille and her communist girlfriends are a distraction, overall this is a darker story than the previous ones I have read in the series.
Several mysteries overlap as Anastasia finds herself digging into a cold case. This is nothing new for her. The mysteries take on darker tones as more secrets and connections fit together. Well written, with interesting characters, I was intrigued whether the unknown sibling referenced would be found. Difficult decisions must be made, opening up a discussion about and consideration of the "butterfly effect."

About the Author
USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.
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  1. Sounds like a great cozy mystery. I like the scrapbooking storyline.

  2. Thanks, Dianne!

    And thank you, Laura, for featuring Scrapbook of Murder on your blog and for the lovely review.


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