AS THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CRUMBLES
(Beyond the Page, fall 2021; originally published by Midnight Ink, June 2018)
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Available in audio through all your usual sources.
The Agatha-Award winning Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries continue.
From the cover:
Erin is one smart cookie, but can she keep the holiday spirit—and herself—alive till Christmas?
In Jewel Bay, Montana’s Christmas Village, all is merry and bright. At Murphy’s Mercantile, AKA the Merc, manager Erin Murphy is ringing in the holiday season with food, drink, and a new friend: Merrily Thornton. A local girl gone wrong, Merrily’s turned her life around. But her parents have publicly shunned her, and they nurse a bitterness that chills Erin.
When Merrily goes missing and her boss discovers he’s been robbed, fingers point to Merrily—until she’s found dead, a string of lights around her neck. The clues and danger snowball from there. Can Erin nab the killer—and keep herself in one piece—in time for a special Christmas Eve?
Includes delicious recipes!
Praise for AS THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CRUMBLES
“Budewitz’s finely drawn characters, sharp ear for dialogue, and well-paced puzzle make Jewel Bay a destination for every cozy fan.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Clean-as-a-whistle dialogue, endearing characters, and a solid plot make this cozy a winner.”—Publishers Weekly
“A loving family and a family pulled apart come together in this terrific cozy mystery.”—Escapes with Dollycas
“Cozy readers will relish the small-town, Christmas time-frame accompanying details of frenzied wedding planning and running a family food business. And, of course, recipes, too.” — Booklist
“I have loved this series from the beginning. How could I not immediately be drawn to it? A story set in a small Montana town? Just like home! But this series is more than just a great backdrop in a beautiful location…this series has amazingly crafted characters with robust relationships.” ~The Montana Bookaholic
“There are twists and little surprises that add to the spicy fun of a well-plotted storyline . . . Get your copy and chill this summer!” ~Rosepoint Publishing
“. . . the story progressed with lots of little clues, holiday whimsy, a touch of romance, and more. I especially liked the ending.” ~Books a Plenty Book Reviews
“As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles is an excellent cozy mystery that goes on my favorites list – well written, charming small-town setting, character depth, and well-plotted mystery.” ~The Power of Words
“Oh, pooh.” I pointed at the label on the big gray tub of Christmas lights at my feet. “This box goes to Jewel Bay Antiques. ’Spose they got ours instead?”
“Does it matter?” Adam, my sweetie, asked.
“Yeah. We have a wider storefront than they do. Plus ours are the new LEDs. How about you get the ladder and stretch out the garland, and I’ll go swap them for our lights.” Instinctively, I rubbed the colored stars tattooed inside my wrist for luck.
“I’ll go along to see their window,” my mother said. “Taya creates the best displays in town.”
“Don’t let Tracy hear you say that,” I replied and picked up the rubber tub.
We wound our way through clusters of Elves—the villagers of Jewel Bay, Montana, in disguise—working the magic that transforms our town every December. Elves had gathered last weekend for Bulb Turning Day to unkink strings of lights, check bulbs, and tie new red bows to replace those inevitably lost to wind and weather. Tree Elves had cut saplings to be lashed to every post and pole. This morning, volunteers ran power lifts to hoist garland up to second-story eaves and decorate our old one-lane bridge, while on the streets, each business added its own festive touches to the Christmas Village theme. Fresh-cut pine scented the air.
“Hey, Erin. Good morning, Fresca,” merchants and volunteers called as we passed by. Nearly everyone calls Francesca Conti Murphy Schmidt “Fresca,” although I sometimes mess up and call her Mom at work. At sixty-two, six months remarried after a long widowhood, she rocks a Santa hat.
In the next block, Walt and Taya Thornton stood outside Jewel Bay Antiques and Christmas Shop, studying their window. A big tub of lights stood on the sidewalk next to a pile of garland.
I set my tub down next to theirs, happy to be rid of the weight. Actually, I set their tub down next to ours—they hadn’t yet noticed Murphy’s Mercantile written on the lid.
“Oh, Taya,” my mother said, taking the elfin woman’s arm. “It’s perfect.”
She was right. Inside the Thorntons’ big front window stood an antique Father Christmas, nearly five feet tall. He wore a flowing maroon velvet robe and a fur cap so luxurious it could have been mink, trimmed with a sprig of fresh holly. Around him were gathered miniature woodland creatures, from a mischievous red fox and a white ermine to a pair of majestic reindeer, each so realistic I half expected them to glance up at me. Last year, my first Christmas back home in Jewel Bay, the Village Merchants Association had debated starting a window decorating contest, but in the end, we’d happily agreed that the Thorntons would always win, so why bother? And this display proved us right.
Tracy, my shop assistant and design expert—I’ve dubbed her Creative Director—would make sure the Merc’s double windows brimmed with good cheer. They would be bright and fun and make shoppers smile. But this—this was the display everyone would remember.
“Isn’t zee village zee most beautiful?” Our local French chef appeared on the sidewalk, bearing a tray of pastries.
“So is that,” I said, my mouth watering at the sight of a fruit-topped lemon cream tart. I am on close personal terms with all the pastries from Le Panier, my closest village neighbor. The chef’s wife, baker Wendy Taylor Fontaine, approached, the new baby in her arms sporting a tiny knitted elf hat and a green sleeper trimmed in red fleece. “Oh, that outfit is adorable.”
“A gift from Sally Grimes,” Wendy replied. Even Sally Sourpuss, owner of the children’s shop across the street, could be sweet when it came to babies.
“Ah, la bébé. Elle est si belle, quand elle dort,” her husband said. Ever since the little one’s arrival a few weeks ago, his excitement at fatherhood had increased his occasional lapses into French. But the beauty of a sleeping baby, I understood.
A shout behind me drew my attention from the pastry tray.
“Go away,” Taya Thornton yelled. “You’ve shamed us enough.”
My mouth dropped open. I hardly recognized the woman who’d been my beloved kindergarten teacher, her skin now flushed, her lips twisted. Behind her and half a head taller, her husband Walt looked confused, his kind eyes uncertain whether to focus on his wife or the fair-skinned blonde in the cherry-red ski jacket and Santa hat who stood a few feet away.
Merrily Thornton. Their daughter, a few years older than I. “I came to help you decorate.”
“We don’t want your help,” Taya snapped.
“Taya.” My mother reached out, but the other woman shook her off.
“Surely we can work this out.” Walt’s voice was thin and strained. He took off his Santa hat and ran a hand over his nearly bald head. “It’s Christmas.”
“We gave you everything, and how did you repay us?” Taya shouted. “Why couldn’t you be more like your sister?”
I felt as if I’d been slapped, and the words weren’t even directed at me. Merrily’s shoulders sank and her round cheeks fell, her eyes small behind her tortoise-shell glasses.
Fresca slipped an arm around Taya’s narrow shoulders and turned her toward the door of the antique shop. My mother is slender and unfailingly gracious, but she can be quite forceful.
Walt took a step toward his daughter, hand outstretched, palm down. “It’s best, for now, if you stay away.” He dropped his hand and shuffled after his wife.
Only then did I notice the villagers who’d stopped their decorating to watch, silent and horrified. Across the street, Sally stood, coatless, on the sidewalk in front of Puddle Jumpers, one hand over her mouth.
I turned toward Merrily, the good cheer gone from her face, and looped my arm through hers. “Come decorate the Merc. I never say no to a good elf.”