Local customs: hunting, ice carving, casserole making, greeting neighbors using first and last name - always
Friendship is a quiet little place where nothing ever happens. That is until homecoming queen Ruth Fried is found murdered in a cornfield.
With residents desperate for a return to normalcy, Sheriff Staake makes a quick arrest, and almost everybody in Friendship breathes a big sigh of relief - you betcha.
But did he make the right call?
Likes: order, facts, notebooks, Diane Sawyer, and Davey Fried
Dislikes: hunting season, being alone, saying embarrassing things, living in Friendship, Wisconsin
16 year-old Kippy Bushman is still getting over her mother's death when her best friend Ruth turns up brutally murdered 100 feet from her backyard.
It doesn't take Kippy long to realize that the local police are hopelessly unprepared. And with a little help from Davey, who's recently returned from a special ops mission in Afghanistan (and with a missing finger, to boot, which he won't say a word about) she decides it's up to her to find Ruth's killer.
But in a tiny place like Friendship, where no one is a suspect, it turns out that anyone could be a murderer.
When homecoming queen Ruth Fried is found sliced up in a cornfield behind the Bushman's house, locks click shut like dominos down every street in Friendship. Nobody knows what to do or say, so neighbors start tending to the Frieds the only way they know how: casseroles in bulk.
"Ruth was such a beauty," they murmur at the grocery store.
"And you know, I heard she was a solid B student, too - a true delight."
But while the rest of the town's eulogy might revolve around Ruth being gorgeous, Kippy knows better. Sure, Ruth might have been pretty (like, really pretty - pretty enough to date the most popular boy in school, even though she was a surly non-cheerleader), but she was also easily annoyed by fakeness, and she wasn't afraid of feelings like other people in Friendship - and why can't people talk about how weird she was, and how great that was, instead of discussing her lovely hair?
As far as Kippy's concerned, Ruth was the only person who seemed to notice the important stuff. Heck, they'd been best friends since first grade.
Or had they? Soon, details of a secret life arrive in the form of Ruth's diary, and Kippy must decide whether she can handle seeking justice for someone who may have considered her an enemy.
Favorite quote: "Relationships are like garage sales: At a distance it looks like it could be interesting...up close it's just a ton shit you don't need."
On the football team, quarterback Colt Widdacombe is known as The Honeycomb, because girls at Friendship High flock to him like bees to honey.
Unfortunately, his way with women has left him with countless scorned lovers, and when he's collared for Ruth's murder, his former conquests are only too willing to come forward and speak against him.
As a high school guidance counselor, single father Dominic Bushman is pretty sure that he can protect Kippy from whatever psychological windfalls or "hormonal predicaments" might come her way.
But when Kippy's best friend Ruth shows up dead and brutalized in the cornfield behind their house, Dom finds himself way outside his pay grade. Will trust falls help? he wonders. What about a good old fashioned dose of the Oprah Winfrey Network? The more he tries to help, the more he drives a dangerous wedge between himself and his daughter.
Likes: videogames, collections, world records, and marshmallows
Dislikes: emotional moments, and talking about when he's going to go to college
Ralph has lived across the street from Kippy since the day she was born, and before his parents died last summer, they were basically family to her.
Overall he and Kippy have been through a lot together - four deaths, at this point, including Ruth's. He's pretty much her second best friend. So when Ralph finds out that Kippy's snooping around for a murderer, who everybody else thinks is already found, he can't help but worry. Is she slipping away again? - Getting wrapped up in fantastical obsessions like she did when her mom died? Or is she onto something? - In which case they should probably all worry, since it means Ruth's killer is still out there.
Davey's never been a talker. But when he returns to Friendship after almost three years in the military, he seems even quieter than usual.
It might be because he's back for his only sister's funeral - a tragedy like that would take the words out of anybody's mouth. Still, there's a darkness lurking under Davey's handsome exterior, and Kippy Bushman wants to find out what it is.
After all, closeness might not be Davey's forte, but Kippy's father is a trained psychologist, so she knows a thing or two about emotional interrogations.
As a teenager, Bob Staake barely graduated from Friendship Highschool. But he went to the nearest police academy, came back, and managed to stick around town long enough to be promoted to Sheriff. Little did he know that most of his days would be spent handing out speeding tickets and luring lost dogs into his squad car with ham. Protecting Friendship isn't exactly the episode of Law and Order he'd hoped for.
So when local teenager, Ruth Fried, shows up dead in somebody's cornfield, Staake puts on his best outfit and prepares for instant fame. Someone in town had to have done it, he tells himself - and in fact he's got his sights set on that asscake, Colt Widdacombe, who pranked his Sheriff's department enough times to drive anybody crazy. When evidence emerges that supports his hunch, Sheriff Staake arrests Colt and calls it a day.
He's about ready to throw himself a party and take the family on vacation when that dead girl's friend, Kippy Bushman, shows up asking nosy questions.
Can Staake get this stubborn weirdo off his tail, or is he gonna have to teach her a lesson she won't forget?
Meet Jim Steele (AKA "Uncle Jimmy") aspiring taxidermist, and Friendship's only attorney at law. While he's not exactly known for his bedside manner (he's got a temper that locals chalk up to his having spent so much of his career in New York City), Jim's the one you call for everything from tickets to public intoxication. Colt Widdacombe uses his services a lot.
As far as most Friendshipians are concerned, there's something missing from Uncle Jimmy's social life ("A nice looking guy like that, with a good career to boot? Where's the wife?"). But the girls at Friendship high know enough about Uncle Jimmy's taste for fresh young things to flock to his offices, looking for a job.
Did he know Ruth Fried better than he's letting on?
Known around Friendship as "Klitch-the-witch," Doris Klitch is more interested in filling her yard with homemade sculptures than fitting in.
But when local quarterback Colt Widdacombe is arrested for homecoming queen Ruth Fried's murder, Mrs. Klitch might be forced to step into the limelight. She's been keeping an eye on things from her front yard for some time now, and has a thing or two to say about the night in question.
Favorite quote: "If God gave it to you, it's only Christian to flaunt it."
Libby Quinn might have been the type of hyperactive kid to cut your hair off while the teacher's back was turned - then climb the bookshelf screaming, "MY PRETTY HAIR, IT'S MY PRETTY HAIR NOW." But folks in Friendship pretty much forgot about all that as soon as she grew double D's. Now everyone in town thinks she's some charming Christian girl with a good head on her shoulders, and nobody but Kippy seems to think it's annoying that she insists on saying "Gah" instead of "God," and talks about Him constantly.
But when Ruth dies, and Libby immediately starts acting like they were best friends, it's pretty obvious there's an ulterior motive at play.
Kippy for one has a feeling there might even be some guilt behind the whole charade.
After dealing with some of her own issues surrounding physical contact (hugging always seemed to lead to wanting to lovingly strangling whomever she felt cuddly toward), Miss Rosa set up shop in the basement of Friendship's church, and has been teaching Non Violent Communication to violent offenders from all around Wisconsin ever since.
Will her group of wife beaters and explosives experts turn out to be good security guards against the killer prowling Friendship's streets, or are they themselves potential suspects?
"Will make readers both cringe and chuckle…sweetly amusing…the last few pages are nail-biters" - Publishers Weekly
"Most people know me for my New Yorker covers, but that's about to change now that Kathleen Hale has recounted my exploits as a small town Wisconsin sheriff in her hilarious murder mystery. HOW Ms. Hale even knew of my former life in law enforcement, THAT'S the real mystery here." - Bob Staake, New Yorker cover artist
"A super-duper mystery...snort-inducingly funny, from start to finish" - Booklist
“Can a murder mystery be funny? You betcha!” - Kirkus starred review