Nantucket Arts

Chaos & Crime at Christmas Stroll

a new novel by Francine Mathews

by Suzanne Daub

When describing Nantucket’s annual Christmas Stroll celebration, most people think of Main Street lined with Christmas trees, Santa Claus arriving by Coast Guard cutter, people in matching costumes wearing elaborate holiday headgear, and the iconic Christmas tree in Killen’s dory bobbing peacefully in Nantucket Harbor.

Murder is not usually a part of this idyllic island scene.

But murder is often on the mind of author Francine Mathews, who has just released her most recent book: Death on a Winter Stroll.

This novel is the latest in Mathews’ Merry Folger Mystery series, all set on Nantucket Island and all revolving around unexplained deaths…unexplained until Detective Meredith Folger solves each crime.

In this fast-paced police procedural, main character and skilled sleuth Merry Folger is now Chief of Police on Nantucket, and she leads her team through twists and turns, mysterious motives, and surprising subplots to a satisfying ending that won’t spoil your holiday spirit. This is an ideal quick read to escape the pressures of the holiday season—a well-plotted, gripping novel that you won’t want to put down once you start.

Francine Mathews published her first book in 1994, responding to a dream and dare. At the time she first put pen to paper on her path to becoming an author, she had finished her studies at Princeton and Stanford and was working as an analyst for the CIA. “My husband told me ‘don’t quit your job: see if you can write it first’. I sold that book, left the CIA, we moved to Colorado,” Mathews explained.

Death on a Winter Stroll is Francine Mathews’ seventh Merry Folger Mystery, but it is her 30th published book. Mathews has written six standalone novels under her given name. In addition, under the pen name of Stephanie Barron, she’s written three standalone novels and fourteen Jane Austen Mysteries, with one final book in that series expected out in the fall of 2023.

While her Jane Austen books tend to be written in first person, Mathews writes her Merry Folger series and most of her standalones in third person: this style gives me “a wider cast, simultaneity of action, and complex choreography. I love writing them because of the juggling, the plot, and the pace.”

All the books she’s written to date are suspenseful and thrilling, each filled with crime or espionage, mystery and murder. “I grew up reading and loving detective fiction. I felt I could successfully create high-quality entertainment and enjoy it,” said Mathews. Her fans agree: each of her novels has met with acclaim, and her last Jane Austen mystery is highly anticipated.

“What I love about detective fiction is resolution to conflict in an idealized community. Stresses from the outside and an arbiter in the form of justice who can take the tensions expressed in the form of murder, resolve it, and restore harmony.”

When asked what makes our island the ideal setting for murder, she replied: “Nantucket is an isolated small community, but because it has such a wide appeal, everyone who comes here feels like they own it…There’s a sense of investment in the community and how it responds to outside influence. And that investment in Nantucket: the money from off-island plus the community that forms the backbone here and a lack of communication between… it all makes a great conflict.”

Meet Francine Mathews at her book signing for Death on a Winter Stroll hosted by Mitchell’s Book Corner from 1 to 2pm on Christmas Stroll Saturday, December 3 at 54 Main Street.

Articles by Date from 2012