Murder is delicious in Sarah Graves’ fictional version of Eastport, Maine.

The tiny, far-flung coastal city near the Canadian border is the setting for Graves’ “Death by Chocolate” mystery series. The second installment, “Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake,” was published by Kensington in February.

“Death by Chocolate” mystery series author Sarah Graves. Robin Farrin

“Sarah Graves” is actually the pen name for former advertising copywriter Mary Squibb, who has lived in Eastport with her guitar-building, musician husband John for about 22 years. The couple moved to Maine from Connecticut and now lives in a home built in 1823, one that has demanded its share of complicated renovations over the years.

Reached by phone, Graves remembered: “I discovered that home repairs make you contemplate murder several times a day.”

The house and all the renovations it required provided inspiration for Graves’ mystery series, the 16-volume “Home Repair Is Homicide” cycle.

With titles like “Tool and Die,” “Mallets Aforethought,” and “Wicked Fix,” the books followed former Wall Street hotshot Jacobi “Jake” Tiptree as she negotiated the pitfalls of homeownership while solving various murders around town. Jake is likable, tenacious and more than a bit nosy, someone whom her creator enjoys writing about.

“Sometimes a character just comes out the end of your pen, and Jake cut me a break and did that for me,” Graves said. “She showed up with much of her history intact.”

Graves’ own history with small-town life in Wisconsin as a youth prepared her for small-town Maine. She said she embraced her “from away-ness” a long time ago. Nevertheless, she said, “From the very first day, everybody was extremely kind to us, and has been very welcoming and friendly.”

Despite her fondness for Eastport, Graves eventually tired of devising carpentry-related murders set there. Starting in 2015, Graves displayed her more hardboiled side with two novels set in Aroostock County and featuring Lizzie Snow, a Boston homicide detective turned rural sheriff’s deputy. With hard-hitting scenes focused on abduction and bloody murder, “Winter at the Door” and “The Girls She Left Behind” divided Graves’ longtime audience.

“Some people just wanted me to get back to Jake and Eastport. Other people really fell in love with Lizzie.”

Graves said she has no plans for a third book in the Lizzie Snow series. Instead, she decided to spin off her trusty Eastport characters in a new direction. If everyone hates home repairs, most people enjoy chocolate. Thus, Jake put down her toolbox and became a chocolatier in “Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake.”

Sarah Grave’s newest mystery is the second in a series. Will Jake and her bakery partner be forced to close their sweets shop, The Chocolate Moose?

The follow-up, “Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake,” begins with Jake and her bakery partner Ellie White contemplating the threatened demise of their business. Unless they can find a way to pay their bills with a large order, they will have to close their shop, The Chocolate Moose, for good. Poor Ellie will be forced to move out of town. Their only hope appears to be the upcoming nuptials of a local couple willing to pay for an elaborate wedding cake.

Things take a turn for the worse when local troublemaker Toby Moran dies after chugging a cyanide-laced malted milkshake from Jake and Ellie’s shop. The prime suspect is none other than the groom-to-be, and there goes The Chocolate Moose’s hope of solvency. Jake and her friends and family have no choice but to start their own search for the real killer.

“Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake” fits comfortably within the “cozy” subgenre of the crime novel. There’s little bloodshed and no swearing. The characters have romantic lives, but the details are tame. Elaborate chocolate concoctions elicit more arousal than any public display of affection.

Graves denies paying much attention to any demands her readers might have to keep things clean in Eastport.

“I don’t set out to avoid the things cozies do and don’t do,” she said. “Rather, that’s the way I write naturally.”

Writing naturally also means that Graves doesn’t rely on outlines while devising her plots.

“I let the characters, at least in first draft, show me their stuff. And sometimes they come up with traits or problems that make them wonderful murderers.”

Asked about the freakishly high homicide rate in such a tiny, unassuming town, Graves claims “poetic license.”

The license won’t expire anytime soon. Graves said that “Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut” is almost ready to be served, and the ingredients for yet another chocolate-infused treat are already being assembled.

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mlberry

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