Updated: Nov 29, 2022
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.
REVIEW by Christina Boyd
The latest offering in “A Merry Folger Nantucket Mystery" series, Death on a Winter Stroll is a multi-layered intrigue. Bestselling author Francine Mathews ramps up the tension from page one, introducing a large and diverse cast of Hollywood elite, Washington DC power players, and some seemingly lost souls. One murder on posh, historic, and curious Nantucket is unexpected, but two on the isolated island seems as unprecedented as the COVID-19 pandemic the world has only emerged from.
The clues seemed perplexing red herrings, and as Sheriff Merry Folger and new detective Howie Seitz uncover the evidence, I tried to decipher the mystery alongside them.
She picked up her phone and called a number she memorized years ago, to the summer house of a long-lost friend, who had lived with her grandmother on Hulbert Avenue each July and August. A woman who would never take her calls if they popped up on her secure cellphone—but who might just pick up a landline. Because only people she trusted knew how to call it.
While some whodunnits often are told through one limited viewpoint, Death on a Winter Stroll is seen through many lenses. Of course, I had my favorite characters, ever hopeful they weren’t the bad actors, so to speak.
“Here I was resenting your spa day,” she exulted, “and all the time you were thinking of me.”
“I have loved none but you. For you alone I think and plan,” he proclaimed. “Jane Austen’s Persuasion Wentworth’s letter. Like you, Poppet, a classic.” —movie star Marni LeGuin and her dresser, Theo Patel
Yet the more I discovered the intricacies of each character, the less I knew who to trust. Even when the surprising killer was exposed, the inspired and authentic character arcs endured to the satisfying ending.
His parents wanted him to get a degree; he wanted to paint. The pandemic had made it easy to avoid going back to college, all that remote learning. He realized he’d been acting like Mary Alice: hiding in plain sight, concentrating on what he could see. She used a lens to hyperfocus; he used a brush. Both of them missed what went on outside their careful frames. That felt safe to Ansel. But it wasn’t a life.
The bold and sophisticated plot of Death on a Winter Stroll is skillfully executed—a perfect mystery to settle in with a warm cuppa during the holiday season or the coming winter. As a longtime fan of all Francine Mathews' aka Stephanie Barron's world-building research and deft writing, I expected nothing less.
• “This fast-moving mystery packs in a lot, but never too much, and will work for fans of coming-of-age stories, police procedurals, and romance.” —First Clue
• “Fresh, well-wrought prose brings the setting of Nantucket to life. Mathews consistently entertains.” —Publishers Weekly
• “Christmas and death come to Nantucket . . . Plenty of fascinating characters and myriad motives make for an exciting read.” —Kirkus Reviews
• “Mathews consistently places relationships at the forefront of her mysteries, and Merry's unique blend of tenacity and humanity makes her a heroine to root for.”—USA Today bestselling author Karen Odden, author of the Inspector Corravan mysteries
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-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death 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.