Of Books and Bones

Of Books and Bones, a Brighton Village Cozy Mystery cover

In a quaint bookstore, the walls are ripe with books and bones.

Of Books and Bones, A Brighton Village Cozy Mystery

Brighton, New Hampshire, is known for its festivals and fun…not for murder.

Ellie Hamlin is looking forward to early retirement and travel with her chief-of-police husband. Then her world turns upside down when an expansion at her sister-in-law, Page’s, bookstore uncovers bones.

Ellie’s daughter becomes falsely implicated in the murder, and her husband has to leave the investigating to someone else. With her daughter’s freedom on the line, Ellie can’t stand back. And Page, who’s always wanted to sleuth, insists on tagging along.

With Ellie and Page’s investigation, the number of suspects rise…and so does someone’s fear of discovery.

Then a terrible accident happens, redoubling their need to find the killer.

Amid a slew of tricks and treats and things that go bump in the night, can Ellie and Page solve the crime and bring a murderer to justice before one of them becomes the next victim?

Welcome to Brighton, a picturesque New Hampshire small town steeped in family, food, friendships and festivals. And now its first cozy mystery.

“As a reader, I found myself going down the rabbit hole along with Ellie, trying to help her solve the mystery. Can I help her find the clues? Can I see something she missed? Can I help her narrow down the suspects? Not a chance. Like her other intrigues/murder mysteries, Sylvie kept me guessing all along.

“I enjoyed the novella format…short enough to devour in one sitting. (Almost guilt-free reading since I didn’t have to stay up all night to finish it.) Only downside is that the novella format meant that the story was over too soon.”

–Joanne Demers

Excerpt

Chapter 1

When my sister-in-law, Page Hamlin, who owned The Purple Page Bookshop, got an idea into her head, it usually led to trouble.

She’d closed the bookstore an hour early on this Sunday afternoon to prepare for the construction work that would start in the morning. She was expanding her bookstore into the empty Chic Boutique space next door. Given this was Brighton, New Hampshire, where people were more apt to wear fleece and flannel than silk or sequins, the closure last September didn’t come as a surprise. What did was that it had lasted so long.

Midnight came and went. We’d created an area for the workers, giving them privacy with the bookcases while keeping the book browsers safe from falling debris by blocking access to the construction zone.

Page and I were dizzy with fatigue, not to mention over-chocolated. Page’s hair had gone from tidy tawny ponytail to a witch frizz. Dust streaked her cheeks, her “I’m with the Banned” T-shirt and her skirt. And she’d broken two of her pumpkin-decorated nails. I probably didn’t look any better. I felt every muscle in my body and longed for a hot shower and bed.

Page pushed a package of mint Tim Tams my way along the oak floorboards as we sat, appreciating our hard work.

 “One more for the road, Ellie?” Page asked.

“Ugh.” I pressed a hand over my aching stomach. “I don’t think so.”

“This would’ve been easier with Harlan’s help,” Page said with a tsk.

“You know your brother.” I hiked a shoulder, inevitable resentment crawling up my throat uninvited. “He took Lander’s shift today because Lander gave him some sort of sob story.”

I loved Harlan. We’d been married forever. We’d raised three children together and made a great team. But sometimes, he drove me crazy with his habit of always helping strangers first. He took the “Serve and Protect” motto of the Brighton PD too much to heart. I got that Brighton wasn’t crawling with cops to take up the slack. Harlan was in charge and felt he had to fill the voids himself. But still. You’d think that his own family would at least make the top three of the to-help list. At least he’d recently hired a new officer, so that was progress.

Page, hands at heart level, clapped in quick succession. “I can’t wait to open the café.”

“Do you think Maeve Carpenter will be upset about the competition?”

Page dismissed my question with a wave of her hand and a pfft. “A, her bakery’s at the other end of Main Street. And B, I’m not going to offer the same fare. Definitely not as fancy.”

“Um,” I grumbled.

“Don’t um me, Ellie. I’m going to keep it simple.”

I snorted. “Like you did when Lisa Gardner came for a signing.”

“Well…”

“You made twenty kinds of brownies.”

“She likes brownies, and I didn’t know what kind she liked best.”

“She would have liked any one kind.”

“She loved the gun-shaped ones.” Page smiled at the memory.

“Not the point, Page.”

Page stared at the right-hand wall as if she could already see the arch and through it the café with its tables and chairs and its glass case filled with goodies. “I’m just going to offer a couple kinds of cookies and muffins. Maybe a breakfast sandwich and a couple of lunch sandwiches. Coffee and tea. Maybe hot chocolate. Soup in winter would be good.”

Already her plan was mushrooming out of control. “Which will morph into a dozen different things because you hate to disappoint anyone. Then you’ll complain you’re overwhelmed.”

“I’m going to hire a manager,” Page said, running her hands down the gauzy folds of her amethyst skirt.

“That is a great idea.” She needed someone to keep her wild ideas in check.

“I’ll be right back.” Page scrambled up and headed toward the restroom.

Being around Page for any length of time tended to make me lose sight of common sense and act like a kid. I should have insisted on a proper meal. But this had been fun. A nice diversion from my not-so-pleasant thoughts about my future.

“Look what I found!” Page giggled like a schoolgirl when she came back. She struggled to lift a sledgehammer. She swung it around with barely any control. Where had it even come from?

I moved out of range. “I think you should put that down before you hurt someone, i.e., me.”

Her eyes blazed with what I recognized as a bad idea. “Let’s do it.”

“Do what?”

She twisted like a manic jewelry box ballerina toward the wall. “Crack a hole in the wall.”

Yep, a really bad idea. I reached for the hammer, but she wobbled out of reach. “Isn’t that why you’re paying Aaron the big bucks?”

“Ah, come on, Ellie. It’ll be fun. We’ll inaugurate the new space. I want to show you what I want to do.”

“I can see the outline of the arch.”

“Inside.” She lifted the hammer again, then almost dropped it on her foot. “Forgot,” she said, speed walking like a duck, dragging the hammer, toward the checkout counter where she picked up her reading glasses. “Safety first!”

“Don’t you have a key?”

Eyes scrunched, she aimed the wobbly hammer at the wall. “This is going to be way more fun.”

She lifted the hammer over her head and took a few steps backward with the weight of it.

“What if it’s a retaining wall?” I asked, knowing Page well enough to understand that trying to stop her would just create more problems.

“Aaron said this was the area he was going to open up.” With the hammer, she traced the pencil line on the wall, showing the placement of the arch. Then with a huff and a heave, she loosed the hammer at the wall. Plaster, drywall and wood splinters flew.

She pushed her glasses up her nose. “Good thing I was wearing these.”

“Reading glasses are not meant as construction-area eye protection.”

She swung again and this time hit something that didn’t sound like any kind of wall material. When the plaster stopped falling, a piece of black nylon webbing snaked through and hung like a noose.

“Looks like he was wrong,” I said, stepping closer. “There’s something in there.”

Page stuck her head in the hole in the wall. “I don’t see any weight-bearing beams or anything. It just looks like some sort of bag. Like luggage or something.” She stuck a hand out. “Get me a flashlight.”

“Be careful.” This building was old. Who knew what kind of germs and bugs lived there. “And, no, I won’t get you a flashlight. I think we should go home.”

She tugged on the handle, but the bag refused to move. “Give me a hand with this.”

“Why don’t we leave it for the workers?”

She turned on me, eyes feverish. She loved a good mystery and had always wanted to live one. “What if it’s a treasure? You know this area has a long and checkered history, don’t you?”

I’d heard local legends about the robber barons, the magical angel and the twisted trees. All of them seemed more about luring tourists into the Brighton fantasy than actual fact. “You forget, I’m a newbie. I’ve only been around for thirty years.”

Page snort-laughed. “Newbie. A baby Brightonian. Just a widdle baby Brightonian.”

Okay, that was enough. I tried to lead Page away from the wall. She obviously needed rest. “Let’s look at it in the morning.”

“Nooooo!” she cried like an overtired child about to have a tantrum and kept yanking on the handles until a chunk of wall fell away. The bag, the size of an army duffel, popped out, knocking Page over. She landed on the floor on her rump with a dull plop. I rushed over to help her.

“What do you think’s in there?” Page asked, scrambling into a crouch beside the bag. “Money? Bonds? Oooh, jewelry? Do you think it’s finders keepers? I mean, it’s in the wall, so technically it could be mine just as well as Lillian’s, right?”

Dust grayed the black heavy-duty canvas of the bag. It reminded me of Harlan’s duffel bag when he and Lander went on camping trips to supposedly fish. “How did all that even fit in the narrow wall?”

“It’s heavy,” Page said, reaching for the zipper.

I placed a hand over hers. I had a bad feeling. “I think we should wait.”

“I don’t.” With a flourish of hand, she yanked on the zipper. White powder puffed out, filled my nostrils, made them burn. The sides of the bag sagged, exposing something dirty beige, speckled with bright red dots. My stomach heaved, churning all those Halloween M&Ms and mint Tim Tams into a sour mash.

Page reached inside but I grabbed her wrist. Blood drained from my face. I was going to be sick. “Don’t. You don’t know what that powder is. For all we know we’ve just been poisoned.”

“Come on, Ellie! Stop being such a downer.”

I squeezed her wrist tight, my heart racing faster than if I’d run a marathon. “We need to call Harlan.”

She tried to tug free of my grasp, but I held on firm. “He couldn’t bother to help, so why should he get to have fun?”

I looked Page straight in the eyes, so she would see my dread. “I think these are bones.”

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