Some of the most popular mystery series fall into the subgenre called “cozies,” where the sex and violence are minimal, the setting small and often picturesque, and the detective an amateur whose connections in the community give her access to the locals who may know something that leads to the apprehension of the killer. Cozy authors include icons like Agatha Christie, Lilian Jackson Braun, and Rita Mae Brown. Newcomer Christin Brecher’s first offering, Murder’s No Votive Confidence, has all the elements that are sure to win her a loyal following.
Like so many cozy detectives, Brecher’s main character has a day job. Stella Wright is the owner of Wick & Flame, a candle shop located on Nantucket Island’s Main Street. Stella doesn’t just run the shop, she creates the candles, putting a great deal of thought into scents, color, and composition. No wonder that Stella’s candles are sought after by brides to bring light and fragrance into their celebrations. This time around the bride is Jessica Sterling whose wedding to Joe Handler will take place at the historic Melville Inn on Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kick-off to summer. As the centerpiece for the wedding ceremony, Stella has designed a two-foot tall unity candle to symbolize the couple’s love. Unfortunately, the candle comes to represent something else – murder – when the bride’s Uncle Simon dies after being struck on the head with Stella’s creation.
There’s no shortage of suspects. Jessica’s mother, Mrs. Sterling, still blames Simon for the death of her husband, Henry. “If it wasn’t for this good-for-nothing brother of his, he might still be alive,” she tells everyone, even as Simon lies dead in the Melville’s Sun Room. Chief Bellamy, who happens to be visiting the island from the Cape, focuses on a card game attended by Simon, Joe, and the best man, Tony Carlson, while the Melville’s bartender, Bill Duffy, served drinks. Suspicion quickly settles on Duffy who admits to hitting Simon after the card game and is found with $2,500 in his pocket. Stella, however, believes Bill is innocent and over the objections of Nantucket’s Chief of Police Andy Southerland, begins her own investigation.
Simon’s cat, Tinker, becomes Stella’s unofficial deputy. Although not a cat lover, Stella soon bonds with the feline, who seems to turn up whenever a clue is about to surface. Simon’s death means that Jessica has no one to walk her down the aisle, but the wedding will go on as scheduled. That means Stella must fashion a new unity candle. Rather than a tall one, she convinces Jessica that a unity wreath, representing the four seasons will be perfect, fitting into one of the readings from Ecclesiastes – “to everything there is a season…”
Emily Gardner, the island’s sought after event planner and Stella’s best friend, is eight and a half months pregnant. When the doctor orders Emily to stay off her feet, Stella steps in to handle the wedding’s other details. She also finds time for her candle making classes at the Wick & Flame, featuring an eclectic group of locals (a must element in a cozy), the standout being Cherry Waddle, who is tolerated because she’s one of Stella’s best customers. Cherry pronounces Bill guilty, something Stella is determined to disprove.
Aiding Stella in her sleuthing is someone new to Nantucket, Peter Bailey, who took a job as a reporter for the island’s weekly newspaper, The Inquirer & Mirror, aka The Inky Mirror. There’s romance afoot, with Peter planning picnics for him and Stella, while Andy, Stella’s old flame from high school, seems ambivalent about his new girlfriend and once again attracted to Stella.
While the wedding and, of course, the murder, have the island’s attention, the presence of a true Hollywood star, Gina Ginelli, also has everyone buzzing. Gina tells Stella she’s there to do research for her new film. But Stella discovers that’s not the real story. Gina is soon added to the list of suspects.
Brecher certainly knows Nantucket, having spent time there as a child at her family’s summer home. Her descriptions bring the island to life. You can almost smell the salt air, feel the sand between your toes, and experience being jostled by the influx of day visitors tolerated by the locals for the business they bring to restaurants and shops. We also learn a great deal about candle making and, at times, even swear we can smell the various scents, from lavender to lilies to tobacco. And Brecher is not unaware of the dangers of leaving a lit flame unattended, including in an appendix a common sense guide for candles.
Following Murder’s No Votive Confidence, there’s a sneak peak at the second in the series, Murder Makes Scents, which will be available in March, 2020. (Clever titles are a must for cozies.) Brecher has established the groundwork for a popular series with characters that are likable and certain to be even more so as they are fleshed out in future books.
Don’t be surprised after reading Brecher’s mystery that you find yourself shopping for candles or perhaps planning a weekend on Nantucket.
Murder’s No Votive Confidence
Top photo of Nantucket: Bigstock