The Lacemaker’s Secret
Chloe Ellefson Mystery #9
By Kathleen Ernst
Author’s website: kathleenernst.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Curator Chloe Ellefson needs distraction from the unsettling family secret she’s just learned. It doesn’t help that her boyfriend, Roelke McKenna, has been troubled for weeks and won’t say why. Chloe hopes a consulting job at Green Bay’s Heritage Hill Historical Park, where an old Belgian-American farmhouse is being restored, will be a relaxing escape. Instead she discovers a body in a century-old bake oven.
Chloe’s research suggests that a rare and valuable piece of lace made its way to nearby Door County, Wisconsin, with the earliest Belgian settlers. More importantly, someone is desperate to find it. Inspired by a courageous Belgian woman who survived cholera, famine, and the Great Fire, Chloe must untangle clues to reveal secrets old and new . . . before the killer strikes again.
This is one of my favorite historical mystery series, and The Lace Maker’s Secret exceeds my expectations! In this captivating mystery, Chloe goes to Door County, Wisconsin, to help develop a furnishings plan for the new Belgian farmhouse at Heritage Hill, an outdoor museum. She learns more about the history of the area, specifically the Belgian culture and customs which overlap with the family at whose B&B where she is staying. One of the delights, or at times drawbacks, is that the setting is the 1980’s, so cell phones or computers of any kind not available. Another delight is that the mystery of the current day is skillfully woven with a or mystery from an earlier era with people or situations related to what she is currently working on.
Chloe Ellefson works at Old World Wisconsin, a living history museum, and is a Curator of Collections. Chloe has helped solve many murders and doesn’t want to get involved again. Roelke, the man she lives with, is a police officer who wants to keep her safe. One thing I found endearing is how Chloe ‘hears’ in her head what Roelke would say in certain situations. A unique ‘gift’ Chloe has is being able to feel the emotions, whether positive, negative, or frightening in historical homes.
Chloe has reservations at a B&B within an easy drive of the of the museum just outside of Green Bay and is looking forward to meeting up with Elise, a woman she had worked with as an interpreter at a Virginia museum. Studying for post-graduate degrees has brought Elise to her current position, working with the lace curator at the National Museum of History at the Smithsonian. She became interested in Belgian lace, at one time the finest in the world.
On her way to the B&B, Chloe is passing an old farmhouse and slows to view the various buildings. She spots what looks like a summer kitchen and wants to see the structure better. The farmhouse is boarded up so she enters the unlocked summer kitchen. As she pictures those who might have used the kitchen and the oven in the past, she can almost smell bread baking. Curious, she opens the oven door only to find a dead body.
The body is identified of Hugh Lejeune, cousin of Sharon Bertrand, who owns the B&B. The neighboring properties have been in their respective family branch for several generations. Hugh had been leasing out the fields and stopped by the farm occasionally to check on it. He must have been there within the past couple days based on the estimated time of death.
Approximately 130 years earlier, orphaned 12-year-old Serephine Moreau and her sister Octavie were sent to live at a convent school in Flanders. Girls at the convent school begin training from the age of 7 or 8 to make lace, so the two sisters worked hard to catch up. Serephine has a gift for making lace as well as designing patterns that can be used to make lace and feels it is her vocation. Octavie has the call to become a nun, so becomes a novitiate at age 17.
Honestly, I appreciated all of the ladies in this mystery, as well as Chloe’s boyfriend, Roelke. The women from the 1800’s worked hard, and helped each other out, especially in the Wisconsin forest. Serephine and Octavie did not have an easy life, yet each found the life they were called to at the convent school. Chloe and Elise appear to have found the life in which they find purpose, as does Sharon, their hostess at the B&B. Each woman is brilliant and gifted in their own way, and each is very well defined for their role.
This novel is an exciting read! I appreciate how the author fills in the social and cultural details of whatever time period she writes. The way she alternates between chapters of Chloe in the present (1980’s) and the historical characters portrayed shows how the past, present, and future are inexorably entwined. I find it fascinating to read about the homes and, in this novel, how the settlers from Europe adapted and contributed to life in 1800’s Wisconsin. The mysteries are equally fascinating, with regards to the murder, the treasure, and what might have happened to Serephine’s lace. Plot twists in both centuries kept me thinking, and I was so wrapped up in the 1800’s and 1900’s that at times I forgot the perplexing murder and ensuing danger Chloe faced. While I had an idea who the killer might be, I was in for a surprise! In this case, I was happy to be wrong due to the circumstances and was overall very satisfied with how all situations were resolved at the end. I highly recommend this novel to those who appreciate cozy mysteries with a serving of history and thoughtful, engaging characters.