If you have yet to discover Christin Brecher’s cozy mystery series, this time is perfect. Take a break from the headlines and dire predictions and lose yourself in the sights and sounds of Nantucket Island. In this outing, Stella Wright, owner of the island’s candle shop, Wick & Flame, faces an unknown and dangerous adversary as she tries to recover a secret formula. The appealing cast of characters that made their debut in Murder’s No Votive Confidence are back, including Tinker, the mischievous feline that Stella has now adopted.
Murder Makes Scents begins in Paris where Stella and her mother, Millie, who develops fragrances, are attending a perfume industry conference. After Millie agrees to speak on a panel, “The Art of Scent Extractions,” she suggests that Stella meet her in the city of light. Stella knows the invitation is Millie’s way to apologize for cancelling a summer visit to Nantucket, choosing instead a trip to the rainforest to learn about indigenous scents. For Stella, a trip to Paris is an opportunity to visit all the famous sights, as well as those related to her business – Diptyque, the famous candle factory, Quintessence Paris, run by a woman from a perfume family, and Cire Trudon, founded in 1643, remaining the oldest candlemaker in the world still in operation. (One delight about Brecher’s books, the reader learns a lot about candlemaking, fragrances, and, of course, Nantucket.)
Stella relishes spending time with her globe-trotting mom and sharing their love of all things olfactory. On the morning before their departure for the U.S., Stella finds her mother having breakfast at the Café Bonne Chance with Olive Tidings, a former literature teacher at an all girls boarding school in England who volunteered to run the coat check at the conference. After enjoying their croissants, they say goodbye to Olive and enter the conference hotel. But before they reach the grand ballroom where Millie’s panel will take place, chaos breaks out in the lobby. Stella’s knowledge of French may be limited, but she understands when someone cries out meurtre. Breaking through the crowd, she finds a man crawling towards her, stretching out his hand. Meeting his eyes, Stella quickly sums up that he’s ordinary in every way, except for one thing – the knife sticking out of his back. News reports identify the dead man as Rex Laruam, an anarchist dubbed the King of Shadows, who hoped to use the Peace Jubilee being held in Paris to disrupt a visit by a queen from a remote South Pacific island, celebrated as a symbol of global unity.
Murder and mayhem seem to follow Stella no matter where she goes, so it’s no surprise that the killer follows her to Nantucket. Stella is happy to be back at Wick & Flame – even tolerating her loyal yet annoying helper, Cherry Waddle. She’s also enjoying time with her boyfriend, Peter Bailey, a reporter for the Inquirer & Mirror, Nantucket’s local newspaper. That feeling of contentment doesn’t last, however. Turns out the murdered man was not Laruam, but a U.S. agent who placed in Millie’s leather bag a small vial containing a secret formula encrypted with a code. The real Rex Laruam is not only at large, but also on Nantucket, intent on recovering the vial. Stella begins to receive notes threatening her and Millie unless she returns the vial.
Since the real identity of Laruam is not known, Stella’s suspect list includes recent arrivals to the island. They include: Nathaniel Dinks, who claims to be an old school chum of Millie’s; Lennie Bartow, Nathaniel’s friend; Olive Tidings, who made a surprise trip to Nantucket; and Laura and John Pierre Morton, a couple from Canada. Afraid to place anyone else in danger, Stella keeps her sleuthing to herself, even leaving Nantucket Police Officer Andy Southerland, an old flame, out of the loop.
Stella is smart and resourceful so we know that she will unmask Rex before he can harm Millie or anyone else. There are several close calls before that can happen, but like all cozies, Murder Makes Scents is heavy on atmosphere and character development, light on violence. A perfect book to curl up with during these uncertain and stressful times.
Murder Makes Scents
Top Bigstock photo: Catamaran passes by Brant Point Light on Nantucket Island, in Massachusetts.