Cover image for Helen hath no fury : an Amanda Pepper mystery
Helen hath no fury : an Amanda Pepper mystery
Roberts, Gillian, 1939-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 2000.
Physical Description:
228 pages ; 22 cm
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In the stately nineteenth-century homes on Philadelphia's Delancy Street, the wilder passions scarcely ruffle the peace. Murder is unimaginable, particularly a murder involving an upscale book discussion group, of which schoolteacher Amanda Pepper is a devoted member. Nevertheless, on the day after a heated discussion of a fictional heroine's suicide, book group member Helen Coulter falls to her death from her roof garden. Helen's death is declared a suicide--a shocking end to a perfect life--but Amanda is skeptical. In the course of recording the group's memories of Helen, inconsistencies and questions arise--and Amanda becomes convinced that Helen Coulter did not take her own life. Why is this admirable woman dead? And if she was killed, who performed the heinous act? Helen's life was not an open book, but somewhere among its startling subplots Amanda believes she'll find the answers. Amanda's investigations will draw her into a zone of great danger, where Helen Coulter's ice-hearted killer is once more ready to strike. Like all Gillian Roberts's novels, Helen Hath No Fury is a lot like life--scary, fun, and fascinating. Roberts remains "the Dorothy Parker of mystery writers . . . giving more wit per page than most writers give per book." * *Nancy Pickard

Author Notes

Gillian Roberts is the nom de mystère of mainstream novelist Judith Greber. Winner of the Anthony Award for Best First Mystery for Caught Dead in Philadelphia, she is also the author of Philly Stakes, I'd Rather Be in Philadelphia, With Friends Like These . . . , How I Spent My Summer Vacation, In the Dead of Summer, The Mummers' Curse, The Bluest Blood, and Adam and Evil. Formerly an English teacher in Philadelphia, Gillian Roberts now lives in California.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Someone with no experience as a detective finds him-or herself thrust into a mystery that only he or she can solve. The variations on this theme are endless, so much so that many amateur-sleuth novels seem to be telling the same story. Fans of the subgenre tend to look less for blindingly original plots than for unique and appealing characters. It is in this respect that Roberts' latest Amanda Pepper mystery succeeds so well. When a well-liked member of a book-discussion group dies in an apparent suicide, her friend and fellow book lover, schoolteacher Amanda, has a hard time accepting that Helen Coulter took her own life; as readers will no doubt expect, Amanda decides to investigate and soon finds her own life at risk. Like a favorite blanket on a cold winter's day, this novel is warm and comfortable: a familiar story peopled by fresh and eminently likable characters. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a touching preface, Anthony Award-winner Roberts explains that her 10th mystery to feature spinster teacher Amanda Pepper is largely a tribute to a book group friend who died in a bicycle accident. In the novel proper, Amanda has belonged to a book discussion group for about a year when the unthinkable happens: one of the group's most vocal members, Helen Coulter, falls to her death from the rooftop garden of her grand, four-story house on Philadelphia's historic Delancey Street. When Helen's death is ruled a suicide, Amanda is suspicious, since Helen had just castigated the heroine of Kate Chopin's The Awakening for committing suicide. With the aid of her friend and fellow book group member Susan Hileman, Amanda discovers some disturbing facts about Helen's life. At the same time, Amanda is worrying about a 15-year-old student, Petra Yates, who has confided that she's pregnant and that her family will disown her if she tells them. Then Petra disappears. Torn by self-doubt over the wisdom of her actions, Amanda goes looking for Petra while seeking justice for Helen. Established fans will be happy to note that after Amanda's beau, homicide cop C.K. Mackenzie, finally reveals his first name to her, their relationship enters a new phase. Roberts skillfully negotiates some rather tricky emotional waters in this new addition to a series notable for its smooth mix of traditional mystery conventions with the darker underpinnings of modern crime fiction. Agent, Jean Naggar. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Schoolteacher Amanda Pepper seeks the person who killed a member of her book club the day after members discussed a fictional suicide. Amanda!s probes, of course, bring her dangerously close to the villain. A fine addition to the series. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



"H ave sex and die." Helen Coulter barely paused for breath. "That's what she's saying."???????????????? Helen's words produced the heavy silence of a collective held breath. Etiquette had been broached. My book group had been discussing Kate Chopin's The Awakening. More accurately, we'd been listening to another member discuss the research she'd done on the book and author when Helen charged in. My teacher muscles twitched, ready to chastise Helen for interrupting. I reminded myself that this wasn't a classroom, it was a living room, and its occupants, all ten of us, were adults. Helen filled the lull she'd created. "I'm sick of that literary staple--dark-haired women who lust and die." Helen tossed her own sleek cap of brown-black hair like one of those vixen heroines of old B movies. "Why was suicide her only option? Suicide is cowardly, too easy. She had her own house, her painting, friends like the piano teacher, her children--why do such a thing? No wonder the critics hated it." "Not because of that." Denise was the one who'd been interrupted. "They considered it pornography." Denise had a sheaf of printouts on her lap, and although she was being polite about being interrupted and misrepresented, she kept smoothing her skirt in a compulsive manner that suggested how much she wanted to do the same thing to the discussion. "Well, it makes this critic sick, too," Helen said. "Maybe a woman wrote it, but she's echoing all the men through history who decided that if a woman steps across their line in the sand--sexually--she has to be punished." At this, Denise stopped pressing her skirt and sat up, on alert, sensing a slur on her husband, Roy Stanton Harris, state legislator, candidate for Congress, and energetic advocate of "family values." In my family, values meant really good buys--low rates for strip steak or telephone calls--but it didn't mean that to him. Denise was a fairly recent bride. She'd retained her maiden and professional name since marrying Roy Stanton, as she always referred to him, but she'd merged identity and opinions with him and had become the perfect political wife. "Sorry," Helen said, not sounding at all sorry. "But that's how I feel. Sick and tired of men telling women what to do with their bodies." Denise looked on the verge of snapping back, but only for the smallest interval. And then her composed expression returned. "Could we talk about the book? About Kate Chopin's book?" she asked quietly. "About Edna Pontellier and her world?" In response, a chorus of voices. After a year in the group, I've given up wishing we'd be coherent or stay on track. We've twice voted down the idea of a formal leader, and instead took turns leading sessions. We are noisy and opinionated, sometimes chaotic, but I appreciate the emotion that's behind the clamor. A love of books propelled me into teaching, then made the job frustrating, because I can so seldom transfer my passion for words and stories to my students. So it's a treat to gather with literate women to whom ideas mattered, women who savored books the way they might fine meals. Or savaged them if they found them rancid, because their quality mattered to them. "Don't blondes also lust and die?" Clary Oliver asked. She was Helen's business partner and best friend, and together, they produced high-end children's clothing. Now she adopted a challenging stance and raised her eyebrows. "Hath not a blonde a sex drive?" she asked. Her own head sported a unique and expensive shade of beige. Her sister and shadow, Louisa, also blonde, laughed with a harsh "Ha!" that I was sure was supposed to convey lots of meaning, but Louisa's meanings were generally not worth figuring out. "Sorry, Clary," Helen told her partner, "but think about those famous sex-and-suicide girls--Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, and Edna, too. Not a single blonde." Susan Hileman, whose red hair and freckles could have been borrowed from Raggedy Ann, spoke up. "I read somewhere it goes back to the blonde Anglo-Saxons. The invading barbarians, the baddies, were dark, and we all know wild, sexy women are bad, right? So they're dark, too. Angels and babies are blonde, the pure and the innocent, unless the woman's a platinum blonde--an obvious fake, and thereby corrupt." Susan had been a lit major with me at Penn, and a year ago was my conduit into this long-established book group. She worked for a PR firm, tweaking images. But that was, she insisted, only her day job. Her true calling was as a writer, and she had a mystery in progress. There had been several earlier mysteries in progress. I wasn't sure she'd ever finished any of them. "Renegade blondes," she continued, "the obviously bleached kind--they drive a man to his destruction by making him kill for her. Except for Marilyn Monroe, who was perfect, because she was bleached but squooshy. Corrupt, but compliant." Susan pointed at her springy red curls. "As for me, my literary or film role is doomed to be as the sexless best friend." I wondered if there really was a pattern, and where my own brown hair--I like to think of it as chestnut, but really, it depends on the light--fit into the spectrum. Undoubtedly not in the province of heroines, and not even of sexy villainesses, more's the pity. "Edna killed herself," Tess said, quietly pulling us back to the subject at hand. "Drowning was certainly not her only option." Tess was a psychologist with short no-nonsense brown hair. I just knew there weren't any myths about the two of us. "Do you think society killed Edna?" I asked. "In the sense that it had no place for her. She had two affairs. She didn't much care about her kids. She no longer fit anywhere." "Thank God times have changed," someone softly commented. "Nothing's that changed," Helen said. "Because of the Ednas. Edna could have stood up for herself, lived a Bohemian life, defied them, but she didn't. That's the same today. Most people won't take a stand--a stand that might put them in a bad light." "It was harder then." The incongruously babyish voice belonged to Helen's neighbor, Roxanne Parisi. Roxanne struck me as a woman reinventing herself, at least outwardly. Her current image seemed costumed rather than dressed, in gauzy layers and noisy jewelry, and all of it topped by hair dyed the color of fine Bordeaux. But her voice seemed left over from an earlier incarnation. "It's hard now," Helen said. "Hard to take a stand. Be defiant." "Don't you just love the ruined woman!" Susan said with her customary verve. "Ruined! As if we're pill bottles with warnings: Do not use if seal is broken--contents may have been tampered with." "How come you can't ruin a man?" somebody muttered. "Can we get back to this book?" Poor Denise. She had assiduously prepared for the evening, and here we were, being especially unruly. "What about her children?" Helen demanded. "Didn't she have an obligation to them?" "She didn't really like them all that much." "The art! Everybody's forgetting the art and the piano teacher--Madame--what's her name?--remember how independent--" "The book's a hundred years old--you have to remember the cultural context--Victorian, for God's sake--against which--" "That's right--why aren't we looking at her as a woman of her times and her specific world?" We were into the verbal free-for-alls that drove us crazy but never stopped. "After all, the book was banned, libraries wouldn't take it, Chopin never published another book--" "I guess the book is relevant," Helen said. "Because it's so pathetically predictable. Women having sex voluntarily. Men deciding what to do about it. And one hundred years later, nothing's changed except the language of it." The chorus swelled, disagreeing, agreeing, addressing the group, herself, the woman next to her, as many verdicts as voices. "What about her affairs?" Clary asked. "Aren't they relevant? What about her morality? Does everybody here think what she did is all right?" "You're right--the book's about marriage, isn't it? About how oppressive and confining it is." "Was." "Hah!" Half the time, the married members proselytized for marriage. One of us was a young widow, two were divorced--one who'd already run through three husbands, another two--and yet another had been engaged for ten years. And then there was me. I. Amanda Pepper, spinster teacher. I didn't have an ex and I didn't have long-term commitments with the man I lived with. I was therefore the focus of their missionary zeal. As if my mother had trained them. They never seemed to notice that when they weren't touting that hallowed institution, they were trashing it, but I did. "Wouldn't you have an affair if you were married to that man?" "The book's called The Awakening, after all--" "I think it means more than sexual awakening. I think it means--" In the din, the only voices we could hear were our own. It was one of those moments when you don't want the male of the species to happen by our "discussion" and have his every disgusting macho prejudice confirmed. But no man was likely to stroll by. Helen's husband, Ivan, was out of town, in Cleveland, foraging for shopping centers, parking lots, and office buildings. I don't completely understand what he does, but I do understand that it's lucrative, as witness the house he and Helen had been renovating for nearly a year. Philadelphia's Delancey Street where Helen lived is interesting. The blocks alternate between large homes and huge homes. It's said that originally one block was for the wealthy, the next, meant to house their servants. I'm not sure that's completely true, but Helen's house was definitely of the lord-of-the-manor variation with four stories of spacious high-ceilinged rooms, plus a solarium and roof garden currently being installed as a finishing touch. I wondered if the small family of three ever crossed paths in the enormous house. Earlier, we'd toured the renovations, oohed and aahed over the new fireplace in the master bedroom, the Jacuzzi tub, the supersleek and expanded kitchen, the brick patio behind the house, the enlarged rear window, the skylighted bathroom. We'd even done anticipatory oohing at the potential roof garden, at the chicken-wire fencing, the bags of dirt, and stacks of bricks. I could imagine the solarium, the flower garden, the bricks turned into a privacy wall. It was going to be magical up there on a summer's night. "She was a baby-making ornament." The voice brought me back to the living room and poor drowned dark-haired Edna Pontellier. "Think that's so different from half the marriages you know today? She was an early trophy wife, is all." From the Paperback edition. Excerpted from Helen Hath No Fury by Gillian Roberts All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.