Review: Death on a Winter Stroll by Francine Mathews

Review: Death on a Winter Stroll by Francine MathewsDeath on a Winter Stroll (Merry Folger #7) by Francine Mathews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: holiday fiction, mystery
Series: Merry Folger Nantucket Mystery #1
Pages: 288
Published by Soho Crime on November 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

No-nonsense Nantucket detective Merry Folger grapples with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and two murders as the island is overtaken by Hollywood stars and DC suits.

Nantucket Police Chief Meredith Folger is acutely conscious of the stress COVID-19 has placed on the community she loves. Although the island has proved a refuge for many during the pandemic, the cost to Nantucket has been high. Merry hopes that the Christmas Stroll, one of Nantucket’s favorite traditions, in which Main Street is transformed into a winter wonderland, will lift the island’s spirits. But the arrival of a large-scale TV production, and the Secretary of State and her family, complicates matters significantly.

The TV shoot is plagued with problems from within, as a shady, power-hungry producer clashes with strong-willed actors. Across Nantucket, the Secretary’s troubled stepson keeps shaking off his security detail to visit a dilapidated house near conservation land, where an intriguing recluse guards secrets of her own. With all parties overly conscious of spending too much time in the public eye and secrets swirling around both camps, it is difficult to parse what behavior is suspicious or not—until the bodies turn up.

Now, it’s up to Merry and Detective Howie Seitz to find a connection between two seemingly unconnected murders and catch the killer. But when everyone has a motive, and half of the suspects are politicians and actors, how can Merry and Howie tell fact from fiction?

This latest installment in critically acclaimed author Francine Mathews’ Merry Folger series is an immersive escape to festive Nantucket, a poignant exploration of grief as a result of parental absence, and a delicious new mystery to keep you guessing.

My Review:

The Nantucket Stroll sounds like a lovely holiday tradition. Setting this mystery at the time of the 2021 Stroll, just after the President’s own traditional visit with his family, the first visit and first ‘regular’ Stroll as everyone hopes the worst of COVID has passed grounds the mystery into the here and and the now.

(No, the President, whose identity is screamingly obvious – and also quite real as he and his family did visit Nantucket for the 2021 Stroll and do have a family tradition of attending – is not an actual part of this story. But the Secretary of State, who is very much and very obviously fictional – certainly does.)

After the President and his Secret Service detail leave the island, Police Chief Folger faces not one but two invasions. There’s the Secretary of State, her husband, his restless, shiftless adult child of a son, the Secretary’s security detail, her staff, her childhood on the island and her husband’s big ego and bad memories of the place.

Pretending that they are on the island for a happy family vacation is just a bit of a stretch.

Then there’s the even bigger incursion from Hollywood filming a direct-to-streaming TV series on the sprawling estate of THE local tech billionaire. Between the director, the co-stars, the producer and chief financial backer and all the other members of the cast and crew – not to mention their egos and outsized personalities, the horde at the property known as Ingrid’s Gift is even bigger than the gang that SecState brought home with her.

Not that all is exactly well in either of the invading “armies” but their problems are not Merry’s problem – at least not until the first dead body turns up, with links to more of the visitors in both parties than could possibly be explained by the long arm of coincidence.

Which Police Chief Folger, being a very good cop, does not believe in. At all.

Escape Rating A+: In spite of its small-town setting, Death on a Winter Stroll is not a cozy mystery, even though it’s a setup that could easily lend itself to one. But Merry Folger isn’t a cozy sort of person – and I like her a lot for that – and the murders she has to solve, at least in this outing – are far, far from cozy. Not so much the murders themselves – as cozies manage to cozy up all sorts of ways that people shuffle off this mortal buffalo. But the motives for these murders and the slime that is revealed in their investigation are simply not the stuff of which cozies are made.

But if you like your murder mysteries seasoned with the nitty-gritty of real life and real people – even really disgusting people – Death on a Winter Stroll is absolutely excellent. And Merry Folger is a terrific avatar for competence porn. She’s very human – not superhuman – but she’s extremely good at her job and not afraid to display it – especially to people who think she’s less-than because she’s relatively young, because she’s a woman, because she’s a small-town police chief and not a big city cop or federal agent – or just because they’re assholes used to throwing around their power and privilege.

Death on a Winter Stroll turned out to be a one-sitting read for me, I sunk right into it and didn’t emerge until I was done three hours later. I was completely absorbed in the mystery, the setting and the characters, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything at all, in spite of this book being book SEVEN in an ongoing series that began with Death in the Off-Season. Whether it’s because this is the first post-pandemic book in the series, or whether the author is just that good at keeping things self-contained, I got what I needed about Merry’s past – including the loss of her grandfather to the pandemic – without having read the previous books.

Howsomever, I enjoyed this so damn much that I am planning to get them all. This series has all the hallmarks of an excellent comfort read, and I need more of those. Doesn’t everyone these days?

In addition to liking Merry as a character, and being able to identify with her in all sorts of wonderful ways, I appreciated the way that the mystery in this story worked, and that it dealt with real, important and ugly issues without either sensationalizing them or trivializing them.

One of the things that also made this story work for me is that the red herrings were more than tasty. There was one character who started out in a hole – or at least a whole lot of suspicion – and couldn’t seem to stop digging himself deeper. It would have been an easy solution to make him the murderer – or to have the cops attempt to pin it on him. The actual solution was much more devious and it was great the way the investigation didn’t fall into the trap of zeroing in on the obvious suspect first.

There was both compassion and redemption for a lot of the people who got caught up in the mess. None of the solutions were easy, most of them included a lot of pain and either past or present trauma. But the characters felt real, Merry and her family, friends and colleagues most of all.

In short, I loved this mystery, am so, so glad that I joined this tour and was introduced to this author, and can’t wait until I have the chance to dive into the rest of the series. And I’m utterly gobsmacked that the author also writes the Jane Austen Mysteries as Stephanie Barron. I think I hear my virtually towering TBR pile piling up another turret!

About the Author:

Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written thirty books, including six previous novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-SeasonDeath in Rough WaterDeath in a Mood IndigoDeath in a Cold Hard Light, Death on Nantucket, and Death on Tuckernuck) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the pen name Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Death on a Winter Stroll by Francine Mathews

      1. LOL! I am also glad I read ebooks! and I am definitely going to have to find a way to read this book (usual sticker shock), so will look in the library! But now I’m feeling the urge to go back and re-read the Jane Austen books.

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