Murder Bites the Bullet: A Gertie Johnson Murder Mystery

About Murder Bites the Bullet-
Sixty-six year old Gertie Johnson and cohorts Cora Mae and Kitty have a knack for stirring up trouble in what was once a quiet backwoods community in the heart of the Michigan Upper Peninsula. When Finnish resident Harry Aho (sometimes pronounced A-hoe) takes a bullet at his kitchen table, Gertie suspects it has something to do with the public shooting range he set up right on the property line next to a Swede. The Trouble Busters bring out the big guns to crack this one, including deer cameras, a riot gun, and faithful Fred, the semi-retired police dog.

What The Critics Are Saying


"Laugh-out-loud funny."


"For fans of Janet Evanovich, imagine Granma Mazur with orange hair and a shotgun."
Green Bay Press Gazette


"A hoot with a heart."
Cozy Library


"A wonderful story of the love of family and friends.”
Mysterious Review


"One of the most memorable heroines in recent crime fiction."
Lansing State Journal




Look for a list of other books by Deb Baker at the end of Murder Bites the Bullet.




A Gertie Johnson Murder Mystery)




Deb Baker




Word For The Day

FUDGE (fuj)

A soft rich candy found on Mackinac Island;

To fabricate;

A substitute for an obscene word.


Ever since my friend Kitty almost got shot to pieces, I’ve been determined to change my ways. It’s one thing to rush into a dangerous situation and accept the consequences for myself. It’s quite another when someone else is hurt because of my actions. So I promised myself from now on I would stay out of trouble, work my cases with my brains instead of risking my skin. Or anybody else’s.

I really had the best intentions.

So when Harry Aho (depending on who you’re talking to, pronunciation of Aho is either ah-hoe or ay-hoe) and Chet Hanson started feuding over Harry’s big idea to open a rifle range on his property right where it butted up to one side of Chet’s property line, I said to myself, “Gertie Johnson, you and your Trouble Buster Investigation Company are going to sit on the fence through this one.”

I had meant to
sit on the fence
figuratively, not literally, but here I was, hooked to Harry Aho’s barbed wire fence, with guns going off all around me and bullets whizzing by. Bales of hay were the only thing that stood between me and the shooting range, which explained why the riflemen couldn’t see me. Unfortunately, those bales didn’t slow down the bullets one speck. And the more I fought the barbs, the tighter they gripped the strands of hair on the side of my head. Ouch, I was stuck!

So much for staying out of the line of fire. But I didn’t have a choice after Chet Hanson showed up at my house and hired the Trouble Busters to dig up dirt on Harry Aho. He needed something damaging to hold over Harry’s head, something that would force him to shut down the range. Chet Hanson had actually put down a nice-sized deposit. Real, honest-to-goodness cash this time, not like the usual--a freezer full of chickens. Or free manicures.

So that’s what I was trying to do, get on the property for an initial investigation.

Here in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, where the Finns and Swedes blazed their way through the wilderness, nationality means a lot. Usually the two sides coexist just fine, although the Finns think the Swedes are drunks. And the Swedes complain that the Finns have superiority complexes, thinking they’re better than everybody else, when they put on their pants one leg at a time just like the rest of us.

Things go along fine for a while, then something like this issue comes along and triggers a feud. In my opinion, Harry Aho (a Finn) shouldn’t have turned part of his land into a rifle range without talking it over with his neighbor first. Not that Chet Hanson (a Swede) would have agreed anyway, but still...

I could see the Trouble Buster truck from where the barbed wire fence had grabbed me. Fred, my faithful German shepherd, howled from inside the rolled up window, watching intently as my dilemma grew more serious by the minute. He threw his black bulk against the door as though he might morph into Superdog. When that didn’t work, he howled again and stared at me with those red dagger eyes that expressed exactly what I was feeling – trapped and helpless.

Cora Mae, my best friend and one of my two business partners, barely made it out her side of the truck without him, slamming the door shut just in time to keep Fred safe from getting riddled with bullets.

Crawling on her belly, she inched toward me.

That’s exactly how I became ensnarled in the first place--crawling to make my getaway. “Watch out for the fence,” I said, seeing Cora Mae’s jet black mane of hair dangerously close to the barbs.

“Holy cripes,” she muttered when she reached me and assessed the tangled situation. Then she began whacking at my imprisoned hair with a buck knife she’d grabbed from the glove compartment of the truck.

“Fudge,” I said, finding an appropriate use for my word of the day without any effort at all. Tears of pain welled in my eyes from the pain Cora Mae was inflicting on me. If a bullet pierced my body at that exact moment, I was sure it couldn’t hurt any worse. As I started to actually
a rifle shot to my brain, the wire gave.

I was free.

We crawled away, digging our elbows into the ground, twisting along like garter snakes. Then we climbed into the truck. I squealed out onto Highway M35 with Fred practically on top of me, showing his relief for my narrow escape by giving me a slurpy face wash. I pushed him back into his proper place in the middle, swiping at dog drool with my hand.

That’s when I realized there wasn’t a bit of hair left on the side of my head. Two fingers came away tinged with blood.

“Cora Mae,” I roared in a mix of pain and anguish. “You didn’t have to scalp me!”

“No, I didn’t,” she replied. “Should I have left you stuck to the fence to take your chances with Harry Aho’s rifle range shooters? Would that have been a better idea?”

Since Cora Mae still had the buck knife in her hand, I decided to thank her for the rescue instead of complaining any further.

Besides, I’d done it again. Put a friend in a dangerous situation.

“Don’t worry,” Cora Mae went on. “I can fix you up good as new. I have a doll with hair almost the same shade of red as yours. I hate to do it to her, but what are friends for? I’ll cut off some of her hair and superglue it to your head. No one will ever know the difference.”

Inwardly, I groaned.

Cora Mae has taken care of my hair needs for as long as I can remember. And I never have had the heart to tell her what an awful beautician she is, in spite of the fact that her own hair is hot-mama stuff ever since she’s grown it out longer. Although now that I think back, when she accidentally dyed my hair red, I liked it enough to keep the color, so it hasn’t been all bad.

By the way, my name is Gertie Johnson. And I’m here to tell you that aging isn’t anything to be afraid of. Being young isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As I age, or rather mature, I get quite a few interesting surprises along the way. For example, at sixty-six years old, I’ve started a new investigative business with the help of Cora Mae and Kitty, another of my best friends, the one who got shot up on our last assignment. That happened during the manicure case, and it wasn’t worth what we had to go through. Thankfully, Kitty has recovered and is as good as new.

Another pleasant surprise as I head for the big seven-o is that, after being left a widow by Barney when his waders filled up with water in the Escanaba River and he went under for good, I’m in a relationship with a hot sexy man, one who has been a family friend forever and now is my “special” friend. George and I go together like bread and butter. Like mashed potatoes and gravy.

Life is almost perfect. Or it would be perfect, if I had all my hair.

And if I could get Grandma Johnson out of my house. On that blackest of black days, when I saw her standing outside my house, wearing her favorite pillbox hat and surrounded by mismatched suitcases, why had I been foolish enough to answer the door?

Normally it isn’t in my nature to dwell on the past, so I snapped back into the present to find myself still driving along M35 with my best dog friend and my partner, who was blowing bubble gum bubbles and filing her nails.

Isn’t that something, how you can be driving along and suddenly you get inside your head, thinking thoughts, and pretty soon you’re where you were going without really remembering how you got there?

I slowed down, turned off M35, and made a quick stop at Cora Mae’s house to pick up a few hair supplies along with the doll that was about to improve my looks at the expense of her own. Then we took off again for my house.

As soon as I pulled into my driveway, guinea hens came flapping from all directions. In the beginning, I kept a few around to help keep the bug population down, which tends to mushroom out of control at certain times of the year in the small town of Stonely, Michigan where I live. The guineas do a good job of keeping ticks and ants under control, but now I have more hens than I know what to do with.
become the overpopulated pest problem.

Not only do they make a ton of racket, acting as guards against any invading enemies, which include every kind of vehicle, but they hate Fred. Fred looked out the front window while they surrounded the truck. Then his eyes swung to Grandma Johnson, who was waiting at the door with her nasty little flyswatter, the one she uses to “keep that wild wolf dog in line.”

I went on guard against potential trouble.

Fred is a big bad retired police dog, but he’s henpecked by Grandma and the guineas, and he actually puts up with their abuse. I try to tell him he could get the upper hand with a little growling and fang showing, but he hasn’t listened so far.

I spotted George’s truck parked near my sauna. He’d offered to repair a hole in the outer wall. Saunas are popular in this part of the country thanks to the Finns. Sometimes we use our saunas as social events, getting all our friends together to sweat it out. Other times we use it as a romantic interlude. George and I like to meet there at the end of the day to get steaming and see what develops. But the damage to its wall was deterring us from one of our favorite pastimes.

I couldn’t see my main man from the driveway, but he knew I was back because I heard him whistle for Fred, having witnessed the poor guy’s ongoing plight many times. When I opened the truck door, Fred soared out and hightailed it in George’s direction with the hens running full out right behind him.

“Let’s get this hair repair job over with,” I said to Cora Mae. “Before George sees me like this.”

Grandma Johnson hid the flyswatter behind her back, because she knows I hate that thing and have tried to throw it away every chance I get.

I might never forgive Barney for dying and leaving his mother for me to handle alone. She’s ninety-two, with skin as shriveled as a mummy’s, and a mind that stopped firing on all cylinders a long time ago. She and I are locked in a war over kitchen dominance, since everybody knows whoever controls the stove rules the entire roost.

“What happened to your head?” she said, taking a step back to let us inside the house. “And is that Cora Mae with you? You know I don’t like that hussy.”

“She can hear you, you know,” I pointed out, since Cora Mae was less than two steps behind me. Actually I was relieved to have any kind of respite from the old woman’s biting tongue. Cora Mae could handle Grandma’s verbal poison. She was almost as used to it as I was. As useless as the gesture was, I said, “And Cora Mae is a guest in our home, so mind your manners.”

“I’m calling the dog catcher to pick up that violent dog,” Grandma announced, which didn’t mean a thing, since George is the town’s official dog catcher and he will ignore her.

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