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First 6 Mysteries

First 6 Mysteries

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Immerse yourself in French village life

cozy mystery

Read a description of the series

Boston girl Molly Sutton moves to a village in France to heal after a divorce--but then a girl goes missing. Follow the intrepid expat as she uncovers secrets and chases down murderers in charming Castillac, eating a few pastries along the way.

Read chapter 1

2005

She was being ridiculous, no question about it. Yes, it had been years since she had studied French, and she hadn’t exactly been a top student. But having moved to Castillac just three days before, surely she could muddle along well enough to buy a pastry to have with her afternoon coffee. The shops were there to sell their wares, not judge her accent, right? And with that thought, Molly Sutton jammed a brand new Panama hat on her wild curls and marched down her short driveway and into the village, determined to get her first éclair.

Three days had not been long enough to learn her way around the rabbit warren of narrow streets, but Molly had a good sense of direction, and she was having one of those moments of elation expats sometimes experience when they are not in the grip of their adopted country’s bureaucracy, or finding out they have just eaten something like lark pie. The golden limestone of the buildings was warm and lovely. It was the end of summer but there was no chill in the air, and she kept up a brisk pace, peering into windows and backyards, drinking it all in. She had no idea where to find a pâtisserie, but steered toward the center of the village. 

Interesting how everyone seems to hang all their underwear on the line—doesn’t it dry hard as cardboard, she wondered. She stopped at the stone garden wall of one house, stepping on a rock so she could see over.  Clothes were strung out on the line, dancing rather gaily in the breeze. She was tempted to reach in and touch a pair of those expensive-looking panties to see just how soft they were, but maybe trespassing to touch the neighbor’s underthings might not make the best first impression. 

She could see that the underwear was La Perla. Soft, well-cut, très cher and probably worth every penny, she mused. I think if I had underwear that nice, I wouldn’t hang it out in the baking sun. It deserves hand washing at the least and should be, I don’t know, dried by the beating of hummingbird wings or something.

Molly stood at the wall, looking at the three bikinis and a cami, neatly clipped with wooden clothes pins. The alley was so quiet. No sound but the steady hum of cicadas. She looked to see if anyone was around and slowly leaned against the wall and reached her fingers toward a pair of bikinis with a pink ribbon running around the top. 

Someone shouted something she didn’t understand. Molly jerked her hand back and looked around to see who had spoken. The man next door had come into his backyard and was talking to his neighbor over the fence between their houses. 

Quickly she ducked her head and trotted around the next turn. A street of shops was just ahead. A bustle of people out doing errands, having a midmorning petit café, and gossiping with neighbors. Molly wandered along looking at the unfamiliar shapes of the rooftops, at the signage in windows; listening to French but not catching a single word; smelling roasting chicken that smelled so good it brought tears to her eyes. 

Everything was not what she was used to, and she loved everything if only for that.

The street curved around to the right, and then straight ahead was a large fountain. Several students from the art school were perched on the rim with drawing pads and serious expressions as they sketched. Molly walked up and sat on the rim, people-watching until she remembered the éclair and went off to look for a pâtisserie in earnest. She had loads of work to do; the cottage on her property was nowhere near ready for guests, and she had her first booking coming in a matter of days. She should have been shopping for sheets and pillows, and giving the place a good scrubbing instead of wandering around hunting for sweets. But she was feeling indulgent: after the couple of years she had just been through, she was in France seeking pleasure and calm. And she was going to wallow in it, savoring every delicious moment.

Ahh. Yes.

She found herself in front of a small shop painted on the outside in red enamel, with gold lettering over the doorway in a flourishing script: Pâtisserie Bujold. The smell of butter and vanilla practically grabbed her by the shirt and pulled her inside.

Bonjour, madame,” said a small man behind the counter.

Bonjour, monsieur,” said Molly, her eyes wide. Under the glass, row after row of pastries so beautiful they looked like jewels. Delectable, mouthwatering jewels, arranged by a true artist, color-coordinated and symmetrical as a parterre. Should she go for the mille-feuille, with its bajillion layers of crisp pastry sandwiched with custard and  swirly icing on top? She leaned forward, nearly pressing her nose against the glass. The strawberry tarts looked amazing, but berries were out of season and probably didn’t taste as good as they looked. The cream puff with whipped cream spilling out of it was calling to her. But she had so dreamed of an éclair…

“Madame?”

Molly snapped out of a sort of trance. She took a deep breath and gathered her courage. “The pastries, she pretty,” she said, wincing at her horrible French.

The man smiled and stepped out from around the counter. His eyes went straight to her chest and lingered there. Molly sighed.

Then, so quickly as to verge on rude, she made her choice, paid, and left with a small waxed bag and a silly grin on her face.

She was in Castillac, her new home, about to eat her first real French éclair in almost twenty years.

I’m finally here. Finally in France, for good.

* * *“Yes, mademoiselle, how may I help?” asked Thérèse Perrault, who had joined the tiny Castillac police force a few months ago. 

“It’s, well, I’m at Degas,” the young woman said, meaning the prestigious art school in the village.

Perrault waited. She was already so weary of dealing with nothing but traffic violations and lost dogs, she hardly dared hope this call would turn into something more intriguing.

“My roommate is—she’s missing. I haven’t seen her since yesterday, I’m getting worried.”

“May I ask your name?”

“Maribeth Donnelly.”

“American?”

“Yes.”

“And your roommate’s name?” 

“Her name is Amy Bennett. She’s British. She just wouldn’t run off without saying anything to anyone.”

Perrault was scribbling notes. “I understand. Have you notified anyone at the school?”

Professeur Gallimard. She didn’t show up to his class.”

“Exactly how long has she been missing?”

“She never came back to the dorm last night, and I haven’t seen her all day.”

“It’s not even twenty-four hours,” said Perrault, her tone sympathetic. “I’m afraid the gendarmerie only actively searches for missing minors—can you tell me how old Amy is?”

“She’s nineteen. I’m sorry,” said Maribeth. “I don’t know what the procedures here are or anything. I don’t want to sound like a flake, officer—but I…I have a bad feeling.”

Officer Perrault told her that almost always these situations resolve themselves happily. She asked if Amy had a boyfriend, if she had a car, if she had access to money—and she carefully wrote down Maribeth’s answers.

Before calling her boss, Chief Dufort, on his cell, Thérèse Perrault took a moment to think through everything Maribeth Donnelly had told her. It was only an impression—but Perrault trusted her, and did not think she was a flake. Then, in quick succession, she grinned and looked chastened, thrilled that something had finally happened in the village of Castillac now that she was on the force, and then guilty for being so excited about someone’s else’s potential tragedy.

Everyone in the village knew about the two other women who had disappeared without a trace. The first one, Valérie Boutillier, had been part of the reason Perrault had pursued a career in law enforcement. Thérèse had been eighteen when Valérie disappeared, and while she had not known her personally, in the usual way of Castillac, she had friends who had known her, and family members who knew Valérie’s family. Perrault had followed the investigation closely and tried to puzzle out what had happened. She still thought of it from time to time, and wondered whether new evidence would someday turn up that would allow the young woman’s abductor to be identified.

No body had ever been found, nor even any evidence of wrongdoing. But Thérèse had no doubt someone had killed Valérie Boutillier—no doubt at all.

Valérie had not been the only one. And now there was another.

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