Barb Goffman
Mystery Writer

Book Club questions for the stories in Don't Get Mad, Get Even


Mary Ellen dreams about a dragon stinging her. Only after seeing the tip of Brady's cigarette glowing in the dark does she realize the dragon represented her long-gone father, who used to burn her with his cigarettes. Do you ever have dreams that push you to remember parts of your past that you've tried to forget?

Brady starts out seeming like a good, protective older brother. By the story's end, you learn his protective tendencies are much darker. Were you surprised? Do you think Mama and Mary Ellen will ever break free from Brady, who wants to keep them all to himself?

Mary Ellen was rescued from the nightmare of physical abuse only to end up in another nightmare. If you were Mary Ellen, what would you have done upon finally seeing Brady for who he really is?

Bon Appetit

In this story, the federal government ultimately confirmed what scientists had been saying for months--that the world was soon going to be destroyed by an asteroid. Do you think our government would do the same these days? Or would the information be called fake news? Are there valid reasons for not confirming this information, such as avoiding mass panic? Would you want to know the truth?

In the Earth's final days, people in some cities came together in peace, while in other cities, rioting broke out. What do you think would happen in the final days if something like this were to actually occur?

Violet chose to spend her final night finally standing up for herself, then spent time reminiscing with her brother. Jenny spent her last day visiting with her best friend before cooking for her family. Duane spent his last day drinking before pushing his wife to have sex; he planned to be asleep to avoid the final awful moments. How would you want to spend the last few hours if you knew the world was going to end?

What did you think of the way Violet finally stood up for herself?

The Worst Noel

Gwen was a school principal and used to being in charge. Yet around her family, she was insecure and she allowed her mother to walk all over her. Did that surprise you? Do you feel you are a different person at your job in contrast to who you are around your family? How hard can it be to break out of family roles?

Gwen's mother gave her a gym membership, a treadmill, six months with a personal trainer, and a sweatsuit as gifts. Do you think her mother believed she was being nice and helpful with these gifts? Or was she purposely being mean, trying to body-shame her daughter? Should the parent of an overweight adult ever mention the issue? Can these types of gifts ever be appropriate?

Gwen hit her breaking point when her mother embarrassed her at work. What would you have done in that situation?

Have you ever dealt with a narcissistic person like Gwen's mother? How have you handled that person?

Compulsive Bubba

After living in her small town for thirty years, Amelia still was considered an outsider. Does his surprise you? What do you think a person needs to do to be accepted into the fold of a small town? Have you ever been in this position?

Have you ever known someone trapped in an abusive marriage? What would you have done in Amelia's situation?

When the time came for Amelia to put her plan to kill Jimmy into effect, she didn't hesitate. Could you have followed through if you were in her shoes?

Have Gun, Won't Travel

Jenna won't bring her child to her parents home because of her father's gun collection, even if he locked them up, out of safety concerns. Earl won't get rid of his guns, convinced Jenna is overreacting. What did you think? What would you do in Jenna's situation? Or in Earl's situation?

What did you think of Christine's decision to sell Earl's guns when he wouldn't?

Were you surprised by what happened at the end with Christine?

Have you ever purchased something at a yard sale that was worth a lot more than you paid? Did you think before you paid that it was priced too low? Did feel a duty to inform the owner of that?

When this story was written (and perhaps still today), guns could be sold at garage sales in West Virginia under certain conditions. Does that surprise you? What conditions do you think should be placed upon private collectors who want to sell their guns?

An Officer and a Gentleman's Agreement

What started out as a harmless prank turned deadly. Have you ever found yourself in Pete's position, in which a friend did something really wrong, putting you in a bad position? How did you handle it?

After deciding to turn himself and Jack in, Pete changed his mind when Jack threatened to blame Pete for the killing, making Pete fear he'd be expelled and his military career  ruined before it started, which would have disappointed his father (another military man). What would you have done in 20-year-old Pete's shoes?

Years later, Pete threatened to tell the Senate confirmation committee that Jack killed the goat. Do you think accusations of animal abuse or worse by a minor could derail a nomination for a high-ranking military or government position today? Should it? What if the perpetrator was college-aged? What kind of proof should there be?

Evil Little Girl

Cassie tried to ignore her bullies' mean remarks. She'd found standing up to bullies didn't work in the past. What do you think she should have done? What works with bullies?

Cassie's parents believed it important to teach their daughter not to be a quitter, to have a good attitude, and to learn how to fit in. They also thought Cassie must be exaggerating when she complained about having a miserable time. How should a parent balance a child's complaints of unhappiness with the need to teach lessons such as these?

When Cassie's parents learned she'd lied about being abused, they made her stay at camp as punishment because they knew she wanted to come home. Was this an appropriate punishment? What lessons did it teach? What would you have done in their position?

Because Cassie had lied about Jason before, no one believed her when she said that Jason had raped her. Jason then took advantage of the situation. What would you have done in Cassie's position at that point? Was her self-defense justified?

By the story's end, Cassie has changed from a girl who is simply a victim to one who is eager to use violence against people who have hurt her. What do you think of the new Cassie? Do you think she can be deterred from a life of violence? Or is it too late for her?

Murder at Sleuthfest

The main character wanted help with dying. Our society generally doesn't allow this, even if you are very sick and in pain. End-of-life assistance is available only in a few states if a doctor certifies you have a terminal condition with just a few months to live. Should the government regulate such decisions?

When the main character's was stolen, she didn't tell anyone about her plan with the hit man, even though--if she had--she might have saved the thief's life. What did you think of her decision? And would you have believed her if she had alerted the authorities?

Truth and Consequences

Cara's mother forgave her father for his affair and accepted the time he spent with his son.  Could you continue with your marriage knowing that your spouse was having a child with someone else if you believed the affair was over and your spouse was recommitted to you?

Cara's mother demanded that Cara not be told about her brother until she was old enough to handle the information. How would you have handled this situation? At what age do you think Cara and Michael should have been told about each other?

At the story's start, Cara thought "victimless" crimes, such as marijuana use and prostitution, should be decriminalized if participants are consenting adults. What do you think?

Volunteer of the Year

When Gaylene realized her husband was a pedophile, she moved into a separate bedroom and made him promise to stay away from children. They were married in name only. As she said, "In the 1960s you didn't talk about things like that. And you didn't leave your husband." What would you have done had you been a twenty-one-year-old girl in this situation in 1964? What about now? Would you call the police on your spouse?

After forty years of marriage, Gaylene realized her husband had "resumed his extra-curricular activities." So she killed him in order to keep children safe. What do you think of what she did? Why didn't she call the police instead? What would you have done?

The Contest

John created his own bad news to cover so he could increase circulation at his newspaper and land the full-time job. Does he seem farfetched? How far have you seen others go to land a job in a bad economy? Crime? Petty crime? Non-criminal sabotage? What would you do?

Do you read your local newspaper? In print? On the computer or a tablet? Do you gravitate to bad-news stories or good-news stories? Why?

John was able to arrange Potter's accident because Potter was predictable, bicycling on the same hilly road each morning. Are you predictable? If someone wanted to get you out of the way, have you made it easy for him or her?

The Lord is my Shamus

Anne doesn't want a lot of relatives at her wedding. But her mother feels compelled to invite relatives who just attended her husband's funeral, even if it results in more wedding attendees than Anne wants. If a parent is paying for a wedding, should they get a say in the guest list? What do you think of Anne's mother's position?

Job asked Saul if it's a sin to do something wrong if you're doing it to protect someone you love from the consequences of their actions. What do you think? If you knew your parent, child, or grandchild had killed a member of your family, would you cover it up? Would it matter why the killing had happened?

Decades after being starved in a concentration camp, Saul eats pretzels all the time, as if he's afraid of running out of food. Were you surprised to see the horrors of World War II still affecting him after so many years? Both with his snacking and how he reacted to the argument between Marjorie and Bruce?

Did this story make you want to learn more about Job or the Holocaust?

Biscuits, Carats, and Gravy

Is there someone in your family who cooks a particular holiday dish each year that everyone hates? Have someone tried dissuade this cook? Did it work?

Dotty thought her mother's engagement ring should be given to a granddaughter, not a granddaughter-in-law. What do you think? Should family heirlooms stay with blood relatives?

Dotty chose to steal the ring rather than confront her sister over what she felt was a bad decision. What would you have done? Would you have kept quiet? Said something? Or, like Dotty, would you have taken action that you hoped would get you what you wanted without rocking the boat?

Dotty let her dining room be destroyed rather than have everyone learn she'd stolen the ring. What would you have done in her situation? At what point might you have fessed up once you saw things getting out of hand?

Does your family make cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving or do you eat the canned variety? What's your preference and why?

The food fight in this story was inspired by the food fight in an episode of the old TV show Cheers. Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving movie or a favorite TV show episode involving Thanksgiving?

Christmas Surprise

Were you surprised to learn Santa's workshop has a department of human resources? :) And not some elves are not happy to work there? If you think of Santa's workshop as the equivalent of a family business, does that make Robbie's position more tenable?

Robbie wanted revenge so badly, he returned home--a place he despised. Have you ever wanted to make someone pay for doing you wrong? How far would you go to get revenge?

Lisa likes to think of herself as a good person, but when she realized she and her little girl would never be safe from Robbie, she took steps to end his life. What do you think of her decision? What would you have done in her situation? Does it matter if you thought you likely could get away with it?

Suffer the Little Children

Sheriff Wescott told John Amblyne that, after exhuming his wife's casket, her team would look inside for the missing boy and then rebury the casket right away. That wasn't the full truth. If the boy weren't in the casket, reburial would immediately happen. But if he were, the casket would be removed for investigation. Given the number of missing boys in her county, do you think the sheriff was justified in not telling the full truth to keep John from trying to stop the exhumation?

Sheriff Wescott thinks darkness can often hide behind a gleaming smile. Have you ever met someone who came across as nice but really was very different underneath? How did you learn the truth?