Cover image for The doctor makes a dollhouse call : a Doctor Fenimore mystery
The doctor makes a dollhouse call : a Doctor Fenimore mystery
Hathaway, Robin.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur, [2000]

Physical Description:
272 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Emily and Judith Pancoast, elderly sisters, are the owners of a priceless dollhouse that is an exact replica of their Victorian home in a small seaside resort near Philadelphia. The dollhouse is inhabited by dolls that the sisters crafted to resemble each member of their family.On Thanksgiving Day, just before relatives arrive for dinner, Emily Pancoast discovers that the dollhouse dining room table, set in miniature of the real one, is in total disarray and the doll representing their niece Pamela is lying facedown in her dessert plate. When Pamela's death soon follows, the sisters turn to the physician detective, Dr. Andrew Fenimore.

Author Notes

Robin Hathaway won the SMP/Malice Domestic Competition for Best First Traditional Mystery Novel in 1997 and the 1998 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. She divides her time between New York City and Philadelphia.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

One of the members of the Pancoast family is murdered on Thanksgiving day, beginning a macabre series of holiday deaths that threaten to decimate the clan. Each death is foreshadowed by a portrayal of the crime in a large, antique dollhouse in the family's Jersey shore mansion. Doctor Fenimore, the family physician and an amateur sleuth, hopes to find the clue to the killer's motive in the Pancoast family history. The first half of Hathaway's novel--the second in the Doctor Fenimore series--is extremely slow, despite the rash of murders, but there are compensating pleasures. Fenimore and Mrs. Doyle, his Watsonlike nurse, are realistic yet appealingly quirky characters; the whodunit puzzle is genuinely difficult to solve; and the digressions on dollhouses prove surprisingly interestingly. Hathaway also makes good use of the inherent creepiness in his off-season resort setting. Slow but sure for cozy fans. --John Rowen

Publisher's Weekly Review

This entertaining mystery heralds the return of Dr. Andrew Fenimore, Philadelphia physician and amateur sleuth, along with that of his loyal nurse, Mrs. Doyle. Not only does this doctor make house calls, but he also finds time to tackle deadly murder cases. Fenimore is called to the small town of Seacrest, when two elderly patients, Judith and Emily Pancoast, request his help investigating the poisoning death of their niece, Pamela, on Thanksgiving. Pamela's murder seems to be tied to the sisters' antique dollhouse, an exact replica of their Victorian house down to miniatures representing each member of the family; moreover, Pamela's doll was found facedown shortly before her death. Fenimore's greatest challenge lies in discovering why Pamela's death and the successive murders all occur on or around holidays, and why they are always heralded by an enactment in the dollhouse. Hathaway's nimble prose provides quick, enjoyable reading, and her setting of the small coastal town verges on perfection. Also of note are her varied characters, from the streetwise teenager Horatio, who helps in Fenimore's office, to the members of the geriatric karate class, led by Mrs. Doyle, that meets in Fenimore's cellar. An unexpected conclusion, mixed with charm and tragedy, tops off this expert tale. Agent, Laura Langlie. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One NOVEMBER Judith, was that a car?" Emily no longer trusted her hearing.     "I believe it was. Oh, Emily, will you let them in? I have to check the turkey."     The two sisters, Emily and Judith Pancoast, were preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the rest of the Pancoast family, which was about to descend on them. They did this every year. It was a family tradition. And even though they were getting older--Emily eighty-two and Judith seventy-nine--it never occurred to either of them to ask the rest of the family to help. (And it never occurred to the rest of the family to offer.)     Emily looked out the front window and down the street toward the village of Seacrest. Not a car in sight. False alarm. She turned back to the parlor and glanced around. Everything was in place, just as it had been for the past one hundred years. The china shepherdess smiled pertly at the conch shell on the glass-topped mahogany table. The lace antimacassars gleamed snow white on the backs and arms of the overstuffed chairs. And the thick volume, Songs for the Holidays , lay on the music rack above the piano, waiting to be flipped open to the "Thanksgiving Hymn." We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing ...     Emily hummed the familiar tune as she made her way down the hall. When she came to the dollhouse, standing in its place of honor at the base of the stairwell, she paused as she always did and peered inside. The miniature parlor was just as it should be--an exact replica of the real parlor she had inspected a minute ago--down to the tiny songbook open on the music rack. But when her eyes moved on to the dining room, she gasped and felt a sharp pain in her chest. "Judith!" she cried. "Come quick!"     Judith came rushing out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. "Are they here?"     "No." Emily pointed at the dollhouse. "Look."     Judith looked. The miniature dining room table, which they had meticulously set the night before to exactly match the setting of the large table in the real dining room, was in total disarray. The china and silverware were scattered every which way. Many of the tiny, neatly rolled linen napkins were on the floor. The crisp brown turkey was upside down. And the Pamela doll, the one that resembled their niece by the same name, had fallen off its chair and lay face down on the carpet.     The sisters stared at each other.     "Who ... ?" Emily began.     "Mice?" Judith suggested.     Emily's face relaxed. "Of course."     Once before, mice had invaded the dollhouse and eaten all the play food because it was made of salt dough, which they love. Since then the sisters had switched to a synthetic concoction called polymer. It must have been something else that attracted them.     "Oh, dear." Judith frowned. "That means traps."     "Oh, must we?" Emily looked anxious.     Again, they stared at each other in dismay. Both sisters were fond of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Two Bad Mice , and they hated traps.     "We'll ask Edgar to do it," Judith said firmly.     The doorbell rang.     Judith hastily put the small dining room back in order, while Emily went to answer the door.     Emily looked through the frosted glass panel, but all she saw was a bunch of giant yellow chrysanthemums. As soon as she opened the door, Edgar poked his head around the plant and cried, "Happy Thanksgiving!"     Edgar was the younger brother of Emily and Judith, by fifteen years. Because their mother had died when he was born, the two sisters had helped raise Edgar and they were devoted to him. His bow tie, a trademark he had adopted in college and never relinquished, was a seasonal pumpkin orange. Today, it was slightly askew. His two sisters (by now, Judith had joined them) gently fought to adjust it.     "Here, stop you two," Edgar laughed. "I'll drop this plant."     "I'll take the plant," said Marie, coming up behind him.     When Edgar had married Marie, it had been the talk of Seacrest. The aristocratic Edgar marrying the daughter of a poor itinerant artist. But her pretty face and cheerful disposition had soon captured them all. Even their father, Captain Caleb Pancoast IV, the crotchety seaman, had been won over by her.     After hugging Marie, the sisters drew the couple inside.     "Where are the children?" asked Marie, looking around. Edgar and Marie had three children: Tom, Pamela, and Susanne. They were all grown now, but to a mother, her offspring are always "the children."     "They aren't here yet," Emily said.     "You're the first to arrive," Judith said, ushering them into the parlor.     Emily had no sooner deposited their coats, scarves, hats, and gloves in the hall closet, when the bell rang again. She had no trouble hearing its harsh clamor. (Neither sister would dream of replacing the old bell with newer, more melodious chimes.)     This time it was their nephew, Tom Pancoast, and his family. Tom had once played fullback for Brown, but today instead of a pigskin he had a folded Pack 'n Play tucked under one arm and a canvas bag bulging with baby paraphernalia over his shoulder. His wife, Mildred, held the baby. Molly and Tommy Junior, both husky children who took after their father, accepted a brief kiss from the aunts before rushing pell-mell down the hall to the dollhouse.     "Let me have the baby while you take off your coat," Judith offered.     "Thanks. Careful though," Mildred warned as she handed him over, "he's getting heavy."     "Nonsense. My, what a big boy," Judith crooned as she cuddled him.     Removing her coat, Mildred revealed a startling ensemble of purple and gold lamé Her long dark hair hung free, and large gold hoops flashed among the strands. Fearful of the tag "housewife," she always dressed with a dramatic flair--as if she had just blown off Broadway.     Emily stowed their coats deep in the closet. Tom stashed his baby burdens in the hall and made his way to the parlor where he knew there would be sherry--the only alcohol the aunts ever supplied. The two older children ordered their mother over to the dollhouse.     "Look, Mommy--a pumpkin," Molly cried.     "And a turkey," Tommy Junior shouted.     Again the doorbell. This time it was the Turners. Adam and Susanne. Susanne was the youngest niece. Her honey-colored hair fell loosely over her tweed coat collar and her dark eyes sparkled.     "We've brought you a present." She handed Judith a tiny package wrapped in tissue paper. Amanda and Tad, her two children, watched expectantly as Judith opened it.     "Oh, my," Judith exclaimed, holding up a tiny cluster of Indian corn tied with gold ribbon.     "How nice," Emily said.     Judith carried the corn over to the dollhouse and attached it carefully to the front door just above the brass knocker.     Returning to the vestibule, the aunts greeted Susanne's husband, Adam, who had quietly followed his family inside. Adam was their favorite nephew-in-law. A physics teacher at a local boys' school, he was also a handy carpenter, plumber, and electrician. It was he who often helped them with emergency household repairs when Edgar was too busy. He was also a fine sailor. In winter he stored his sailboat in their carriage house. (After a lengthy search, the aunts had found a toy sailboat and stored it in the carriage house of the dollhouse.)     "You grow younger every day," he told them.     "Tush," they said, but beamed as they took his coat and scarf.     "Any leaks or squeaks to report?"     "Not today," Judith said. "Today is a day of rest."     "For everyone but you two," Adam grinned.     "Oh--we do have one problem," Emily murmured, and told him about the mice.     "No problem, I'll take care of it," he promised and moved into the parlor.     The doorbell.     "Pamela," the aunts said in unison.     Pamela was always late. The eldest niece, she was a dedicated career woman with a Ph.D. in psychology and her work was so important and her time--so valuable. They opened the door to find her poised on the top step, trim and erect, with an almost military bearing.     "Hello, Aunts," she said gruffly, giving them each a quick peck on the cheek. "Sorry I'm late," she added, not sounding a bit sorry. She handed her coat to Emily, her stylish paisley shawl to Judith, and glanced toward the parlor. "I see the clan has gathered."     "Yes, dear. They're all in there," Emily said.     "Go in and warm yourself with some sherry," Judith urged.     The voices of "the clan" blurred into an indistinguishable din as the cut-glass sherry decanter was emptied. The aunts did not believe in hors d'oeuvres on Thanksgiving. "It's a sin to spoil their appetites before a big dinner," they reasoned.     After about half an hour, Emily came to the parlor door with a little brass bell. She had to ring it several times before the guests relinquished their glasses and made their way into the dining room.