Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blackwork - Monica Ferris

A Needlecraft Mystery
Monica Ferris
Berkley Prime Crime


Ask anyone who lives in a small town and is even slightly civic-minded. There is no event in the world that a well-meaning committee can’t needlessly complicate. That’s exactly what happens with the Halloween Festival in Excelsior, Minnesota. The head of the organizing committee is inexperienced and likes to make bullet point lists for meetings. Those meetings inevitably run long. As compensation, of sorts, the latest meeting is being held in the Barleywine pub, where committee head Billie Leslie is a business partner. Betsy Devonshire, owner of the Crewel World needlework shop, and a sub-committee of one, is there because Billie put out the work that the meeting was mandatory.

Also in attendance is Ryan McMurphy, a local mechanic. He’s not on the committee, but he’s come up with a great idea for part of the parade. He’s found a vintage fire truck and some old-time uniforms that are falling apart. By painting the uniforms white and letting them continue to fall apart, he’ll have a truck from the past, staffed by ghost riders. The committee is thrilled with this unsolicited contribution and Ryan goes back to his bar stool.

As Betsy finds out later, Ryan has had a problem with alcohol that led to his wife kicking him out of the house. He started on soft drinks that evening, but someone kept buying him drinks – the microbrew ales created by Leona Cunningham are legendary in the area. He has one too many, and starts accusing Leona, a practicing Wiccan, of being a witch and trying to put a hex on him. She tosses him out of the bar, and he immediately has an accident. The next morning, he’s found dead, without any signs of violence. No one in Excelsior believes in witchcraft; not really. But it’s quite a coincidence. And Leona is worried enough about her local reputation that she turns to Betsy to help find out what really happened.

It’s true that gossip can spread like wildfire in a small town. Damage to the owner of a small business can mean the end of that business. So it makes perfect sense, given Betsy’s well-known track record (KNITTING BONES, THAI DIE) that Leona would turn to her for help. My favorite character, Godwin, makes an appearance. It’s nice to see a character in a cozy mystery series who is openly gay and accepted by the community. That kind of tolerance underscores the harm that can be done by ill-chosen words, but the author manages to completely avoid being preachy about it.

The mystery is fun, with enough plausible suspects to make things interesting, and the author knows how to keep things moving. Not just for needleworkers, this is a series that should appeal to anyone who enjoys a good cozy mystery, populated by characters who continue to grow and evolve. Part of the fun is catching up with everyone since the last installment. New readers will have no problems starting here, and longtime fans will be happy to make another visit to Crewel World.

Rating: 7
October 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22990-3 (hardcover)


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