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Murder of a Snake in the Grass.

Updated on April 11, 2015

The Fourth Scumble River Mystery

Murder of a Snake in the Grass is the fourth book in the Scumble River Mystery series.

I have also written a general introduction to the entire series.

I do intend to review each book separately, as I read it. I don't want to go too fast though. I like to savor them.

Scumble River Bicentennial Celebration

Skye is helping Uncle Charlie with the planning of the Scumple River Bicentennial Celebration, featuring special appearance by Gabriel Scumble, whose ancestor, Pierre, founded Scumble River.

Six Feet Tall, Three Hundred Pounds

At the beginning of the first chapter, Skye is in the parking lot of the Up a Lazy River Motor Court, owned by her godfather, Charlie Patukas, usually called "Uncle Charlie" by Skye, even though she is not related to him by blood.

Skye Denison stood in the up A Lazy River Motor Court parking lot, slapping mosquitoes and trying to keep an eye on her godfather, Charlie Patukas. Not that he was hard to spot--- at six feet, three hundred pounds, with a voice that could be heard two counties over, he was about as easy to miss as the Sears Tower in the Chicago skyline.

Don't forget to take the Sherlock Holmes poll, below. It's fun, and easy.

What is Wrong with The Scumble River Bicentennial Committee ?

Charlie was one fourth of the Scumble River Bicentennial Committee, all of whose members were all up on the grandstand, milling around.

To Skye, they looked like fish in an aquarium: first they all darted to the right side of the stage; then they all charged to the left.

. . .
It was obvious that something was going on, but what? With each passing minute, the committee was getting more and more agitated. While other committee members appeared merely irritated, Charlie looked apoplectic. At seventy-three, with high blood pressure and a Type A personality, he was a stroke waiting to happen. And that was what worried Skye.

. . . Should she go up there and try to calm him down, or would that just annoy him more? There was a fine line between helping and making the situation worse. As a school psychologist, she often had to figure out when to cross that boundary. Too bad practice didn't make perfect.

The other three members were Fayanne Emerick, owner of the Brown Bag Liquor Store, Eldon Clapp, the mayor of Scumble River and Miss Letitia, the only real historian on the committee.

No, the girl had come to her. She'd spent the last two years getting the kids at her schools to trust her, so this was not the time to ignore a plea for help.

— From chapter one.

She tries to decide whether to intervene . . . or not?

While she watches and listens to the fracas on the grandstand, trying to decide what to do next, standing with one foot on the grandstand's bottom step, she hears a voice saying, "Ms. Denison, they're going to kill those kids this time."

Sky turned to see a girl she recognized from the high school, whose name she did not know. Skye asks the girl who are the killers, and who the "killees" (victims).

The girl just says, "They're over behind the parked cars. You need to do something right now!"

Skye wonders if she should send someone else to tend to the fracas in the parking lot, while she decides what to do about the fracas here at the grandstand.

"No, the girl had come to her. She'd spent the last two years getting the kids at her schools to trust her, so this was not the time to ignore a plea for help"

Grady Nelson Bullies the weak and helpless.

Skye has the misfortune of witnessing a heartless display of cruelty toward the little kids, who are smaller and weaker than Grady.

The only reason Skye knows his name at all, is that he was in her office for counseling and testing the week before.(Skye is the school psychologist, in the elementary, middle and high schools.)

Skye does her best to break it up. She finds an old Chevy with an open window, in case she needs to use the horn for help --- or to get the kids' attention.

Before Skye left with the smaller kids, Grady poured lighter fluid into a glass bottle, and stuffed his handkerchief headgear inside.

She finally lures the smaller kids --- the victims --- away for a dog and pop, by using her last $20 to feed them. She only wants to get them away from Grady's influence, though. As they left with Skye for the pop and dogs, Grady ridiculed them, implying they were too babyish to "play" with a big boy like him.

A classic bully move.

No Hair Dryer -- If Only that Were Skye's Biggest Problem

At the beginning of chapter eighteen, while Skye gets ready for work, her hair dryer quits, "accompanied by a puff of smoke and a shower of sparks."

She did not know what to do about the hair dryer. She could not be late today, because there was a big meeting with Grady's parents and school staff. Just then Bingo, her cat, began to yowl for food, and the phone started ringing.

"She knew she shouldn't have skipped her her morning swim. The exercise gods were punishing her."

She finally gave in to Bingo's caterwauling, but decided to let the phone go to voice mail. She would find out later, whatever it was.

She had a big meeting with Grady's parents, and others on the high school staff regarding Grady's eligibility for special education.

Multidisciplinary Conference by Another Name?

"For years this type of gathering had been called a multidiscipllinary conference, but now it had become an eligibility meeting. Skye had been allowed to go to one all-day class to learn the new process, but she still felt on shaky ground."

Frannie and Justin have no luck starting up a school paper.

For one thing, the principal, Homer Knapick refuses to give them permission to start the paper.

They are doing some undercover assignment at the bandstand, hoping to convince the principal into allowing them to start up a school newspaper. Trixie Frayne is the school librarian and Skye's best friend.

Trixie and Skye both like the idea of a school paper, but do not feel too hopeful about Mr. Knapick's permission.

Axed to Death

While Frannie and Justin were doing the investigative snooping, they find something they had not expected: The dead body of Gabriel Scumble with the ceremonial pickaxe sticking out of his chest.

The first thing they do is run to find Skye, because she is helpful, knowledgeable and caring.

They also tell her that Fayanne Emerick, the owner of the Brown Bag Liquor Store, had punched the mayor in the face earlier, and that there had been quarreling among Fayanne, the mayor, and Gabriel Scumble.

Huge Meeting about Grady

Skye decides she will have to get a new hair dryer later that day. Meanwhile, there is not much she could do with wet hair, except " . . . put it in a French braid. A time-consuming style, but it allowed her mind to think about other things as she worked."

Skye finished braiding her hair, then stood before her closet and contemplated her wardrobe. What was the appropriate outfit in which to inform parents they had raised the spawn of Satan? , , , If Grady was a son of the devil, maybe his folks were the parents from hell. . . . things could get mighty hot.

She fingered a taupe tank dress with a matching cropped jacket. It was a blend of that new material, Tencel, and cotton, and was supposed to be lightweight and wrinkle-resistant. Teamed with nude hose and bone pumps, she'd be set for anything . . .

In chapter eighteen, Skye holds an evaluation meeting with Grady's parents, his aunt Ursula, the school nurse, the principal, the special education teacher, a regular teacher, the speech pathologist and the principal, Homer Knapik.

School district policy held that the special education coordinator was to chair meetings when the results of a case study were shared with parents. But the coordinator was employed by the coop and covered six or seven schools, so more often than not Skye was the one left to moderate, do all the paperwork, and explain the results of her findings.

Luc St. Amant of New Orleans

". . . I answered the phone, and it was my ex-fiancé."

"Luc St. Amant?"

"How many ex-fiancés do you think I have?"

"Just checking." Simon rose from the floor in one fluid motion and settled on a chair facing the sofa.

No way was she sitting at his feet like a supplicant; she also moved into a chair. "I hung up on him as soon as he identified himself.

"But that wasn't the end of it?"

Not only was that not the end of it, but Luc actually knocks on the door a few minutes later, with Skye's prior permission.

How does Simon react to that visit?

Where was Simon? She looked around and saw that he . . . was sitting on a patio chaise lounge facing the river. He was surrounded by a gray blanket of fog that had rolled in off the water, making him almost invisible. Skye raised her voice, "Simon, come meet my ex-fiance."

. . . "Why don't you two settle things by yourselves first.? Don't worry . . . I'm not going anywhere."

Simon is the funeral director and county coroner.

The psychologist is the conscience of the school . We have to say the words that people don't want to hear and expose the truths that people would rather deny.

— Skye Denison, school psychologist

While Skye and Luc converse and Simon waits outside, we (finally!) learn the mysterious story of what happened to get Skye fired from her job in New Orleans, followed by losing her apartment and credit cards. There were references to this in the first mystery, Murder of a Small-Town Honey, but not a complete explanation.

It had to do with a teenage girl whose wealthy, influential father was molesting her back then in New Orleans.

The girl had gone to Skye for help. Skye believed her and did try to help, but ---- as happens frequently in real life ---- the dad used his influence to coerce the daughter (possibly with the support of certain other well-placed medical professionals and their Rx pads?) to recant.

Skye always knew the recantation was fake.

"You could see that, but I couldn't , because I didn't want to. All I could see was that you had done your duty. You made your report. The accusation was investigated and determined to be unfounded. There was nothing more you were obligated to do . You could have let it go. . . . I wanted you to let it go."

"But I couldn't. The psychologist is the conscience of the school . We have to say the words that people don't want to hear and expose the truths that people would rather deny. We are the advocates for the children, and believe me, that is not always a very popular position."

Wow, Skye's response there is my favorite part of the whole book --- and I do have many favorite parts. This makes me want to stand up and cheer though.

She is just amazing!

I love reading about her.

Simon Says . . .

Luc claims to have no place in town to stay, because all the hotels are booked up due to the bincentennial. It seems this is a ruse for pressuring Skye to let him sleep over at her house.

Simon offers Luc a place to stay. At least that would be better than having him continue to pressure Skye.

Mistaken Identity, borrowed $$

Mr. Luc St. Amant is questioned by police after an organized crime connection turns up from New Orleans. He asks Skye to get him a good criminal attorney.

"Loretta was Skye's sorority sister and one of the best criminal attorneys in Illinois. A couple of yeas ago, Loretta had defended Skye's brother against a murder charge. Skye had provided the lawyer with two other Scumble River clients since then."

It was in the first Scumble River Mystery, Murder of a Small-Town Honey, that Loretta had defended Skye's brother, Vince. The other two clients must have been from the second Scumble River Mystery, Murder of a Sweet Old Lady, or third, Murder of a Sleeping Beauty, or both.

Later in the series, Loretta and Vince become more than client and attorney.

Classic Holmes Element

If you are a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, you might notice an element from A Scandal in Bohemia in this story.

How do you feel about Sherlock Holmes?

Are you familiar with "A Scandal in Bohemia" by Arthur Conan Doyle, the Sherlock Holmes mystery mentioned in this Hub?

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Simon is the best.

This is the only Scumble River Mystery I have read so far where Simon is Skye's main squeeze all the way through.

Actually, Simon is my favorite of all the men in her life. I was grateful for this chance to know more about him.

For some reason, I have never really liked Wally. He seems a little flat and shallow. (Not to mention gay.)

Murder of a Snake in the Grass convinces me even more that Skye and Simon were really meant for each other.

And, I always also thought it was completely unfair and cruel of Skye to break up with Simon, just because he happened to have a half-sister that he (and Skye) had not known about. (And, he did not want to betray the confidence of his mom, Bunny.) That is what happened in Murder of a Botoxed Blonde.

Ever since, I've been wishing Skye would get away from Wally long enough to at least try to pick up where she left off with Simon.


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