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by Francine Mathews
Soho, November 2022
288 pages
ISBN: 1641292741

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's Christmas season, and the pandemic has let up enough to let Nantucket celebrate in its traditional fashion, with a weekend of giddy holiday festivity, attracting tourists and VIPs alike. Normally, Merry Folger would enjoy the event, but now that she's the Chief of Police, she's busy with security for the crowds as well as for the newly appointed Secretary of State, who is staying on the island with her husband and troubled stepson, a veteran of rehab clinics who can't seem to stay out of trouble or out of the headlines.

Added to the island's temporary population is a film crew for a crime drama, installed at the island retreat of a wealthy tech entrepreneur, filming scenes on the beach when the weather permits. The cast includes a famous movie star, his anorexic social media influencer daughter, and a powerful but toxic producer. Not far from the filming, a nature photographer has taken up residence in a derelict house, building a portfolio while guarding her secrets from the world. Merry and her detectives will have to untangle the complex relationships shaping all of these characters' lives when murder strolls in.

Mathews takes her time unfolding her story, developing multiple storylines with deeply-realized characters, connected through the budding friendship of the diplomat's stepson and the film stars' daughter, and through an unexpected family relationship that brings the detectives additional complications. But the pacing is steady as characters are established and the murders approach. One of the victims is a classic: a person so annoying there are limitless suspects. A second victim is not, and because that character is so vividly drawn, some of the heart of the story goes out as soon as the body is discovered.

It's quite a juggling act to manage such a large cast of characters living in different worlds, but Mathews pulls it off. Though she includes local color and holiday touches that would please cozy lovers, her style is solidly traditional, with attention to the kind of stage-setting and casting that feels classic. Readers of Dame Ngaio Marsh's "golden age" Roderick Alleyn series would find themselves at home on Mathews' Nantucket. That said, this story is solidly anchored in the twenty-first century, addressing more than one contemporary issue. Though the solution to the mystery may not come as a total surprise to avid mystery readers, the journey is absorbing.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, October 2022

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