Things are scarier since that black day in September that shook Manhattan and the world. But across the river in Hoboken, New Jersey, community college professor Bel Barrett intends to live without fear, despite her honey Sol's newborn wish that they retire and escape to somewhere remote.
So Bel turns her attentions to home renovation, civic matters, and to an increasingly bitter battle for scholarship money, a contest she and three others must ultimately decide. Then one of the other judges is found dead on the mean streets of Hoboken a woman who lived a strange double life as academic by day and stripper by night.
Unsure whether the solution to her friend's murder lies in the hallowed halls of learning or the smoky dens of flesh and fantasy, Bel decides to investigate both. But education and titillation could prove a most volatile mix and a murderer may be closer than she thinks.
About the Author
Jane Isenberg taught English to urban community college students for close to thirty years. She has been writing mysteries ever since she experienced her first hot flash. Her copies of Modern Maturity are delivered to her new home in Amherst, Massachusetts, that she shares with her husband Phil Thompkins.
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Hot and Bothered
A Bel Barrett Mystery
Re: block party rsvp
Date: 10/01/01 10:20:16
Thanks for the invitation to the block party. It's cool that it's happening regardless of the attack on September 11. I'm really proud you all decided not to let the terrorists cause you to break with neighborhood tradition. The block party is sacred! We kids used to wait all year for that one day when everybody moved all the cars off our street and closed it to traffic. Luci Aquino and I roller-skated for hours trying not to crash into all the little kids zooming around on their big wheels. It was totally happening.
I remember one year when some lame oldies band started playing "Earth Angel" and you and Daddy tried to dance. Ohmigod, that was so mortifying I wanted to move. And remember the time Mark ate too many hot dogs and threw up all over our stoop? And the year you had to take him to the ER because he broke his wrist skateboarding? I wish we had parties like that out here. No, what I really wish is that I could come back to Hoboken for the block party and bring Abbie J. But I have work and classes, so ... you and Sol should party for us. Say hi to all the neighbors for me especially Luci if she comes back.
E-mail from my daughter never failed to dislodge whatever people and events had been preoccupying my mind before I read it. My students at River Edge Community College in Jersey City, New Jersey, faded into a sepia-stained blur in the background of my consciousness. They were displaced by an image of Rebecca's blond hair and green eyes shining as brightly as those of her daughter, Abbie J. My only grandchild appeared as a color-splashed collage of purple jelly stains on a yellow shirt, grass green overalls, and her red fireman's hat. Abbie J would have loved the face painting at the block party! As a little girl, Rebecca had always asked for whiskers and cat eyes. Her brother Mark had insisted on smearing camouflage colors over his freckles himself. As I reread Rebecca's messsage, even concern about my beloved partner Sol became muted, displaced by the memory of his grin after he scored the winning point in the volley ball game at a long-ago block party.
But before I got too lost in my memories of block parties past, the doorbell chimed. I heard it during a momentary lull in the screech of the electric sander in the kitchen. This sound, somewhere between the screams of mating cats and an ambulance siren, had been the background music for our daily life since the kitchen renovation began during the past summer. Picking my way carefully through the array of power tools and stacked lumber that now filled most of the downstairs of our row house, I opened the door to Professor Eunice Goodson -- colleague, student, neighbor, and secret stripper.
As the noise assaulted her through the open door, Eunice, a stern-looking, stocky, and bespectacled young woman in her late twenties with a persistent tan, stuck her fingers in her ears in the time-honored manner of seasoned New York subway riders hearing a train enter the station. Eunice was one of the few people I know who could look dignified with her fingers in her ears. Eyes bright behind her metal-framed granny glasses, she smiled and said, "Hi, Bel. Am I early? Remember, I promised I'd stop for you on my way to the meeting?" Signaling for her to wait, I went back inside, grabbed my purse and the folder next to it, stuck my head into the kitchen area, and waved goodbye to our carpenter. In the few seconds of silence that accompanied his mock salute, I said, "Ed, be an angel and let Virginia Woolf out of the bedroom when you leave." As soon as Ed arrived each morning, I incarcerated my favorite feline in the bedroom, where she spent the day ensconced in a basket of unread New Yorkers.
My duty done, I joined Eunice on the stoop, pulling the front door shut behind me. "Sorry about the din. We're renovating our kitchen," I explained. "Thanks for rescuing me. Another two minutes in there and I'd be stone deaf." I shook my head as if doing so would exorcise lingering echoes of the shrill noise. "So, Eunice, how's the apartment working out?" I asked as we began to walk.
"Bel, I can't thank you enough for that lead. I had hoped to room with my sister, but ... "Without finishing her sentence, Eunice said, "The place is perfect. As soon as I get settled, I'd like you and your husband to come over." I didn't bother interrupting Eunice to explain that although Sol was the love of my life, he and I had not chosen to formalize our long-standing living arrangement. "I am just so grateful," she continued. Eunice's gratitude was understandable. Affordable apartments in Hoboken were still rarer than a bag of M & Ms at a Weight Watchers' meeting. But a couple of weeks earlier my old friend and neighbor Felice Aquino had mentioned that in the wake of the terrorist attack she had a vacancy. The occupant of her basement studio apartment was moving to south Jersey where his company, whose former address had been in Tower 1, now planned to relocate permanently. I suggested that Eunice call Felice. Then I called Felice myself and put in a good word for Eunice.
"Felice is pretty pleased too," I said. "She's so glad you're quiet and don't have a lot of rowdy company or play loud music. Her last tenant tried to recreate that special frat house ambiance by hosting raucous parties till all hours. She says she never hears you."Hot and Bothered
A Bel Barrett Mystery. Copyright © by Jane Isenberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fully tenured professor Bel Barret is giving a Faculty Development Seminar to new teachers on how to cope with their new students. At same time she is organizing the neighborhood block party and helping Sol, her significant other, cope with post-traumatic stress syndrome after seeing the World Trade Towers destroyed. Finally, she along with new neighborhood resident Eunice and two other neighbors, decide who is going to be awarded this year¿s scholarship for a semester at River Edge Community College in Jersey City. Not too long after the block party, Eunice who moonlights as a stripper, is murdered. The police are looking at the nineteen-year-old student who didn¿t win the scholarship as a viable suspect. Sol wants Bel to figure out who the real killer is, as does the Dean of RECC and she gladly accommodates them because she doesn¿t want to see her young neighbor go to prison. Most of HOT AND BOTHERED takes place in Hoboken, NJ one month after the events of Sept 11th and the people of that city can see where the two towers used to be. It affects everyone in a deep way but they all feel isolated and fearful. The heroine, who is in the process of major home repairs, does not want to leave the area and move to a quiet and isolated village as Sol keeps urging her to do. The investigation she conducts keeps her mind off her personal worries and involves her in something that she loves doing. Jane Isenberg knows how to write an excellent amateur sleuth novel with so many red herrings that reader will actually be totally shocked when the killer¿s identity is revealed. Harriet Klausner