Can a whole town be evil?
Tulla Murphy’s life has unraveled. Spurred by a loss that forces her to rethink all her plans, she retreats to the town where she grew up, even though she vowed never to go back.
She soon discovers that Parnell is still the petri dish of old secrets and simmering resentments of her youth as she reconnects with her three childhood friends: Leo, Kat, and Mikhail. Their friendship once insulated them from the enmities of the schoolyard and the treacheries of the town, but Tulla isn’t sure if it can protect them again.
Then mysterious deaths start occurring — the first at the height of one of Parnell’s most ferocious storms. As the body count mounts, Tulla is plagued by a growing suspicion that threatens loyalties and makes her question her memories. Is it possible that her friends are more dangerous than the forces swirling around her?
About the author
Penelope Williams was born in 1943 and grew up in Carleton Place, Ontario, in the midst of a big family, the Findlays, which at one point took up almost a whole street. She studied at the University of Toronto, lived in Ireland for seven years and has always been involved in writing and editing, since 1982 with her own firm, PMF Editorial Services Inc., in Ottawa. Penny has two sons, Matt (22) and Sam (18). She lives in ottawa with her husabnd, Allen Sackmann, and again enjoys another widely extended family which includes four step-grandchildren to date.
Excerpt: Lies that Bind (by (author) Penelope Williams)
The people of Parnell knew a storm was brewing, even if the Weather Channel didn’t. It was September 21, and the equinoctial winds had been blowing hard for two days, stripping the trees of their leaves and bending branches upward like arms beseeching calm.
The storm started in a sudden stillness, a hollow in the sky that sucked the air out of the town. Pedestrians peered uneasily skyward and walked faster toward home, leaving their chores for another day. Vehicle traffic thinned out. In a field at the edge of Parnell, a tractor stopped midway through cutting hay, its driver shading his eyes and studying the sky. Nothing but a dome of bright breathless blue, but he’d grown up in Parnell and knew the signs. He steered his tractor back to the barn. A single car sped up Crow Lake Road toward the ridge, shimmering in the brightness like a giant black beetle.
* * *
Harriet Deaver and Agatha Breeze stood at the window in the town library. “Still clear,” Aggie said. “Not for long. Way too still.”
“It’s the wrong time of year for the Fist.”
“It’s happened before. The Farewell Belle sank in a September storm on her last trip of the season.”
“It was her last trip forever,” Aggie said wistfully.
They leaned toward each other, their shoulders just touching, and studied the sky.
“Lock up now, Aggie. No one will be looking for books this afternoon. Come back with me before it hits.”
Agatha Breeze, the town librarian for more than fifty years, and Harriet Deaver, a recently and reluctantly retired schoolteacher, were Parnell’s unofficial Greek chorus. They observed, commented, and predicted, and as was often the way of close friends, rarely agreed on anything, including the cause of the coming storm. Agatha held that a particular photo had a part in it. Harriet said fiddlesticks, superstitious nonsense. They agreed, though, that the Fist of God was about to strike again.
By 8:00 p.m., the regional TV stations that still had power were running a crawl warning of a storm on its way “with gusts exceeding a hundred and seventy-five kilometres.” For Parnell it wasn’t a warning; it was old news. The storm had already struck.
When Bobby “Dominique” Connolly flew out his front window, most of Parnell thought it was simply his comeuppance; Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported his death as a freak accident caused by a freak storm. Norbert “Nob” Tinsley, the police officer who was first on the scene, put it down to a direct punch by the Fist of God. And when Tulla Murphy phoned her father, he called it a by-blow of history. “Always look to the past for explanations, Tulla.”
“History can’t be held responsible for a tornado, Dad.”
His voice, oddly subdued, came again. “Trust me on this, Tulla. That boy did not go out the window all by himself.”
Which was true. “That boy,” forty-nine at the time of his death, had shot through the plate-glass wall of his two-storey living room in the company of an Italian leather sofa, two end tables, and a Tiffany lamp.
“It must be a shock for you, darlin’,” Tulla’s father said. “One of your old gang to die so young.”
She sighed. “Wrong on two counts. We’re not so young, and Dom was never part of our gang.”
“He wanted to be.”
Their gang of four had been exclusive and impenetrable, a carapace of friendship protecting them through childhood and adolescence in schoolyards that were often more battlefields than playgrounds. Mikhail Novak, the oldest, was the unacknowledged leader by virtue of his apparent composure in all circumstances and his unshakable opinions about right and wrong. Tulla was the youngest, a dreamy kid, lost in her own world of imagining. In between were Leo Harding, shaped by early loss, and Kat Kominski, wise beyond her years, street smart, and vulnerable.
At the end of high school they had scattered. Now, after nearly thirty years, Mikhail and Tulla were back. Kat, who had never really left, ran the Koffee Klatch restaurant, and Leo was still among the missing.
When Tulla returned to Parnell, Kat had told her, “Don’t know why you ever came back to this petri dish of a town. But thank God you did. I so need you here.”
Just before eight the morning after the storm, Kat Kominski’s cellphone rang.
“Hey, it’s me,” the voice at the other end said. “Are you okay? What’s going on up there?”
“Hi, Tulla. We’re fine, but what a night — wild. No power, lines down everywhere, trees uprooted, branches all over the place. One came through the roof of the garage next door. It sounded like a bomb.”
“Anyone see the Fist?”
“We didn’t, but the storm hit just after dark. Zero to one hundred and sixty in seconds. Like a freight train. The kids slept with me, though slept isn’t the operative word. We’ve already had a visit from Elvie and her band of volunteers checking house-to-house in the worst-hit areas. Says we’re not to go outside until they’re sure there are no live wires down. So, no Klatch today.”
Elvie Paterson worked at the police station and was occasionally assigned to tasks that didn’t just include answering the phone. She was a bit younger than Tulla but already had reached six feet tall by grade ten. She was the only kid back then who came to school with purple hair, for which she’d been suspended. Undeterred, she proceeded through the Goth and tattoo stages, the latter being fairly discreet, followed by a limited piercing phase until finally settling into adulthood and returning to her purple roots.
“The news report said someone was killed.…”
“Bobby Connolly, a.k.a. Dom, of course. To quote Elvie — ‘The storm targeted his house like a heat-seeking missile.’”
Tulla went silent, remembering. In grade three she’d played the lead in the school production of The Princess and the Swineherd, based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Kat said she got the role because she already had the costume: a pink floor-length gown, stiffened with poplin, crackling with age, that had been her grandmother’s. Her mother had curled her hair into fat ringlets, as stiff as her dress. Dominique — his name was Bobby then — played the swineherd. He was chosen not for his costume but for his beauty: glowing cheeks; eyes so brown they looked black, like his mother, Opal’s; curly dark hair and long eyelashes, the envy of every girl in his class.
Penelope Williams’s superb debut mystery is one of those books you don’t want to put down.