“Magic, Merlin, and murder are a great mix for this fun debut cozy.”
—Lynn Cahoon, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
“A charming, must-read mystery with enchanting characters.”—Rose Pressey, USA Today bestselling author
“Spellbinding, with magical prose, a wizardly plot, and a charming sleuth.”
—Janet Bolin, Agatha-nominated author of the national bestselling Threadville mysteries
This spells trouble . . .
The New Camel Day Fair is a fun-filled event for residents of this upstate New York town. Kailyn Wilde, a modern-day witch of ancient lineage, leaves her potion shop, Abracadabra—and her feline familiar, Sashkatu—to attend with her fortune-telling Aunt Tilly. Joining them is legendary wizard Merlin, who’s discovering new pleasures of time-traveling to the modern world, including curly fries and kettle corn—but the appeal of the Tilt-a-Wheel is beyond his mystical imagination.
The real wild ride begins later, when neighboring sweet shop owner Lolly rushes into Abracadabra with news about a dead body. The victim has one of Lolly’s fudge knives stuck in her back, but in spite of the sticky evidence, Lolly is only one of several suspects with ample motive and opportunity. Meanwhile, Merlin’s research into old family scrolls and electromagnetic ley lines is causing some unusual mix-ups. As the two investigations collide, Kailyn will have to do everything in her power to prevent disaster…
“Pape has a sure-handed balance of humor and action.”
—Julie Hyzy, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Sharon started writing stories in first grade and never looked back. She studied French and Spanish literature in college and went on to teach both languages on the secondary level. After being diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in 1992, she became a Reach to Recovery peer support volunteer for the American Cancer Society. She went on to become the coordinator of the program on Long Island. She and her surgeon created a non-profit organization called Lean On Me to provide peer support and information to newly diagnosed women and men.
After turning her attention back to writing, she has shared her storytelling skills with thousands of fans. She’s won widespread praise for her Portrait of Crime and Crystal Shop mysteries as well as the Abracadabra series. She lives with her husband on Long Island, New York, near her grown children. She loves reading, writing, and providing day care for her grand-dogs. Visit her at www.sharonpape.com.
Read an Excerpt
"That infernal machine is naught but an instrument of torture," Merlin grumbled as he staggered toward us. "What possessed you to allow me on it?" With his long white hair that had come untethered during the ride and his rats' nest of a beard he looked more like a wino than a legendary sorcerer from the kingdom of Camelot. He stumbled over his feet and pitched forward into the frothy layers of my Aunt Tilly's lavender muumuu.
"We tried to stop you," I said. "'You won't like it, Merlin,' we said. 'Don't do it, Merlin,' we said. 'Please believe us, Merlin.' Does any of that sound familiar?"
"Well yes, but you must admit everyone on the ride seemed delighted."
"Some people love rides like that," Tilly said.
"In that case, I can refer them to a beefy chap who works in a dungeon and is quite skilled in all manner of torturous devices."
Tilly held him away from her, hands on his shoulders. "Let's see if you can stand on your own without falling over." Merlin wobbled a bit before finding his equilibrium. "There," she said, letting go of him. "Are you at all queasy?"
"Not in the least."
"Count yourself lucky," I said, not having been as fortunate my one and only time on that ride. "I couldn't look at food for hours."
"You appear to be fine," Tilly said to him.
"I am not fine. The whole ordeal has left me famished," he said, as we walked away from the Tilt-a-Whirl. We were in the thick of the forty-fifth annual New Camel Day Fair, elbow to elbow with a few hundred people. Moving from one attraction to another was largely a matter of joining the stream of people heading in the direction we wanted to go. If we weren't careful, we could wind up back on the line for Merlin's nightmare ride.
"You've already had three hotdogs, curly cheese fries, lemonade and two root beers," I reminded him.
"And yet my stomach demands more."
"Does it have a particular request?" Tilly asked dryly.
"Cotton candy," he said without a moment's hesitation. "And a candy apple. I've never tasted either." There ensued a debate on the wisdom of Merlin eating the apple. A quick inspection of his mouth revealed he was missing a number of teeth and many of the remaining ones were chipped or broken. I explained that he could lose the teeth he had left with one bite into the sticky coating. Tilly suggested kettle corn instead, which proved to be a winner.
Two pounds of sugar later, we headed over to the booths where New Camel's merchants displayed their wares. My family had always participated, stocking our booth with our most popular health and beauty products, and Tilly held a drawing for a free psychic reading and English tea. It was a lot easier when my mother and grandmother were alive and there were four of us to take turns manning the booth. Although Tilly and I had managed all right on our own last year, now that we had to oversee Merlin, we'd decided to forgo the booth this once. It was a difficult decision, because Abracadabra always enjoyed a nice uptick in its customer base when folks bought our products at the fair and decided they couldn't live without them.
I'd already been stopped by a dozen people who were disappointed we didn't have a booth. They'd come to the fair, hoping to stock up on our products at the same time. When I offered to open my shop at three o'clock to accommodate them, they acted like they'd won the lottery. Tilly applauded the move as good business. Merlin contended it was a fool's errand to try to please everyone.
The Soda Jerk was the first of the booths we came to. They weren't making sundaes and shakes on the spot, but two of the owners' great-grandkids were there handing out coupons to buy one sundae and get a second one free at their restaurant. Their line was long, but moved so fast that in no time we each came away with a coupon. We walked on past the stands that held no interest for Merlin. He turned up his nose at the vintage clothing shop, the dollhouse and miniature shop, and the recently reopened candle shop. But he was drawn to the display from the old-fashioned toy shop. He browsed for a few minutes while we chatted with the owner, Nelson Biddle. I'd known the man all my life. He was as much a staple of New Camel as our family was. Had it been up to Tilly and me, we would have stopped to say a quick hello to each merchant who wasn't busy with customers. But we'd learned the hard way that a powerful sorcerer with a failing memory could wreak all sorts of havoc if he grew bored.
When we reached the Busy Fingers booth, Penelope Rose saw us and waved. It would have been rude not to stop. She had a beautiful display of her handicrafts — knitted baby items, crocheted Afghans, and embroidered throw pillows. She was also offering half price lessons in any of the handicrafts, if booked during the fair. The goal of every merchant there was to entice fairgoers to visit their shops and become long term customers.
While we caught up with Penelope, Merlin stole away to the next booth. Since it was Lolly's, I didn't try to stop him. He'd be waiting his turn in that line for a good fifteen minutes or more. She always had the longest line at the fair, because she was known to be generous with the free samples of her satiny fudge. She believed if you wanted to hook a customer on your products, they needed to associate your shop with abundance and satiation. It was a philosophy that had served her well over the years. After scoring their free sample, most of the people in line would also buy a box or two of her chocolates.
Tilly and I had just bid Penelope goodbye and were crossing over to Lolly's when someone in her line yelled, "Hey old man — no cuts." From what I could tell, Merlin had grown tired of waiting and decided to march straight up to Lolly who was handing him a couple of samples. Lolly got to her feet, her cherubic smile stiffening. "Thank you, sir, but I'll decide on the rules and how to enforce them. There's plenty here for everyone."
Without missing a step, Tilly snagged Merlin's arm and dragged him away before he could turn the man into a slug or a maggot. I mouthed an apology to Lolly. She answered with a wink. Tilly made it less than thirty yards with her charge before he dug in his heels, bringing her to a hard stop that could have given her whiplash. "It's not a good idea with all these people around," she muttered as I caught up to them. I followed Merlin's line of sight. He was glowering at No-Cuts-Guy directly across from us in the line.
"No dark magick," I added.
"Fear not, Mistress," he said without shifting his focus. "I will do nothing untoward." I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. It wasn't like I had much of a choice anyway. Tilly looked at me and shrugged, having apparently come to the same conclusion. Since the day Merlin crash landed in my shop, we'd tried to keep the legendary sorcerer from drawing attention to himself and the fact that he hailed from another time and place. It had been a losing battle from the start. On New Year's Eve, Tilly and I had finally caved. We resolved to continue giving him our opinions on spells and other actions he was considering, but we wouldn't penalize him for his choices. Unless they were likely to have a deleterious effect on our lives as well.
Merlin was still staring at No-Cuts-Guy. We waited anxiously for something to happen, something to change. I was half-expecting the guy to turn into a frog right there in line. When the spell started working, I didn't immediately realize it. Two squirrels scampered across the grass, coming to a stop near No-Cuts-Guy's feet. They were quickly followed by half a dozen more. Before we knew it, No-Cuts-Guy had an entourage of a dozen chittering squirrels chasing each other around him. The people nearby gave him and his squirrel circus as wide a berth as possible without forfeiting their place in line.
No-Cuts-Guy tried shooing them away. He looked around for help, but since there were no squirrel containment officers wandering around the fair, he resorted to kicking at them. That was unacceptable to Merlin who instantly recalled his minions. Once released from their thrall, they scampered off in every direction. Except for the one Merlin charged with a second mission. That squirrel shimmied up No-Cuts-Guy's pant leg. The expression on the man's face was priceless. He did a panicked little dance in an effort to dislodge the critter. When that proved unsuccessful, he ran off screaming, presumably to the first-aid station or the restroom.
"Doesn't he know you can't run away from your troubles?" Tilly said with a giggle. Merlin had a grin from ear to ear. Everyone who'd witnessed the squirrel incident, as it was destined to be called, was roaring with laughter, until even I had to join in. But someday Tilly and I might have to pay the consequences for allowing the wizard such latitude in casting spells. Our resolution might need some editing.
Still in high spirits, we wandered into the area where one could win a stuffed animal or a goldfish in a little round bowl. After scouting out the various games, Merlin opted to try his hand at darts. "All I must do is hit one balloon on that board," he said.
"It's not as easy as it looks," I told him
"I'll have you know that I'm the finest player of the sport back home." He played three games with three tries each and failed to hit a balloon on any of his first eight attempts. However his last dart sailed straight into the heart of a sky-blue balloon that burst with a satisfying pop. He picked out a gray stuffed bunny with a white fluff of a tail, after I nixed the goldfish. Too many cats in the family. The poor fish would die of a heart attack if it didn't wind up as someone's lunch. When Tilly asked what he planned to do with the stuffed animal, he proposed giving it to Lolly's new great granddaughter. I felt like the proud parent of a child with a generous nature.
From there we followed a crowd of people to what we hoped was the petting zoo. Merlin hummed a song as we walked. Although it had a familiar ring, it took me a minute to identify. And I wasn't happy once I did. He was humming the song "Camelot" from the Broadway musical. He must have seen the movie version of it on TV. Tilly chimed in with the words.
"Don't," I cautioned him. "You're trying to send the subliminal message that New Camelot is the town's proper name."
"Oh dear," Tilly said, abandoning the tune. "If I'd realized that, I would never have aided and abetted."
The wizard looked wounded. "Why do you always think the worst of my intentions?"
"It's based on your record to date."
"Is it not possible that the song simply popped into my head on its own? Have you never had a tune take up residence in your head?"
"Not such a convenient one," I replied. All the people passing around us were now singing the song. Great — sooner or later someone was going to realize that by adding two letters to the peculiar name of New Camel, it became the much lovelier and more romantic New Camelot. From there it was a short leap to the fabled home of King Arthur and Merlin, the famed sorcerer.
We had to wait our turn at the petting zoo, but once we were inside the enclosure, Merlin's eyes lit up and he instantly dropped the aggrieved expression as if it had come to the wrong address. Tilly and I knew how much he missed the animals that populated the forest near his home. But his home was thousands of miles away and hundreds of years in the past. He sat on one of the low benches meant for children, and within seconds the baby goats, piglets, lambs and bunnies formed a semicircle around him, vying for his attention the way my cats did. Children complained to their parents that he was hogging the animals. Before irritation could boil over into heated words and actions, Tilly and I told the old wizard it was time to leave. He did not take it well. The animals seemed to share his disappointment and tried to follow him out. In the end, two animal wranglers and a maintenance man had to hold them back so we could leave without causing a mass exodus.
Poor Merlin was further vexed when he realized we'd come to the end of the fair. Of course no New Camel Fair would be complete without a couple of the town's churlish mascots stationed at the exit. Merlin took strong exception to their presence. "Thus the lie is perpetuated for another year. It is truly a diabolical plot." One of the camels spat at him. He spat right back. Before the animals' owner could add his two cents to the exchange, Tilly and I grabbed Merlin's arms and whisked him out of the fairgrounds, his feet skimming the ground.
I dropped my aunt and our foster wizard at her house, stopped back home long enough to deposit my car in the driveway and grab Sashkatu, who was clearly miffed at being left for hours with the five other cats. We walked across the street to the rear door of Abracadabra. The moment we were inside, he ascended his custom-built steps to his padded window seat with its fine view of Main Street. He'd been my mother's familiar, and she'd spoiled him shamelessly. Not that I'd done anything to remedy the situation since he'd come into my keeping eighteen months ago.
I was turning the closed sign to open as my first customer reached the door. "I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you were willing to open for me on your day off," Lenore Spalding boomed. She was a petite woman in her fifties, with the vocal projection of a stage actress. Whoever raised her had failed to teach her the difference between an outside voice and an inside one. "For a little bitty thing, she can sure rattle the timbers," my grandmother Bronwen used to say after each of Lenore's visits.
"I'm happy to oblige," I said. "Let me know if you need any help finding what you want."
"Thanks, but I know this shop like the back of my hand." She slipped one of our wicker shopping baskets over her arm and disappeared down the first aisle still talking. "I never thought about it before, but that's a weird expression." Her words carried back to me loud and clear. There wasn't a lot of Excuse me? or What was that? when you were dealing with Lenore. I'd seen people turn off their hearing aids when they saw her coming.
She returned to the counter ten minutes later with her basket filled to the brim.
"You have enough here to last you an entire year," I said, ringing up her order.
"Trust me, I'll be back in six months, the latest," she said with a booming laugh that woke Sashkatu, despite the fact that he was growing deaf. He opened his eyes, homed in on the source of the disturbance, and yowled at her. "Sorry, sorry. I forgot how much he hates idle chatter." In all the years she'd been coming to my shop, she'd never figured out that it wasn't the chatter he minded, but the decibel of it.
After Lenore left, a steady stream of customers kept me busy until closing time. I was about to lock up when Lolly flew in the door, breathing hard, her face blanched a scary shade of white. "Kailyn, please," she said, her voice shaking badly, "would you — I mean, I need you — to please come with me."
"Of course. What happened? Are you okay?" Ignoring my questions, she grabbed my hand and pulled me out the door. By the time we crossed the street to her shop, she was bent over, gasping for air. She gave herself twenty seconds before leading me into her shop with its lingering scent of chocolate, and then out again through the backdoor to the small yard of weeds and dirt where she kept her garbage cans. A bag of garbage lay beside the cans. And a woman was sprawled face down in the space that remained, with one of Lolly's fudge knives protruding from the left side of her back.CHAPTER 2
I brought Lolly inside, because standing out there staring at Ava wasn't doing either of them any good. Lolly was shaking and swaying back and forth. She needed to sit down before she fell over. She was as white as Ava, her hands probably as cold, though I had no desire to test that theory. In any case, it would have compromised the crime scene. I brought her into the workroom and opened one of the folding chairs she kept there for resting between batches of candy. I offered her water, but she refused it. In times of deep distress, I've never craved water, or any beverage, not even Tilly's calming tea. I don't know who decided it was the thing to give a person in a traumatic situation.
A moment later, she sat up straight and clapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh — good heavens. Kailyn, my brain must be scrambled. I have to call my family!" She started to push herself up with the arm rests. I could see the flimsy chair collapsing under the pressure and dumping her onto the floor. That was the last thing she needed.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Magickal Mystery Lore"
Copyright © 2019 Sharon Pape.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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