Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wicked Stitch - Amanda Lee

Wicked Stitch
An Embroidery Mystery
Amanda Lee


 It’s Ren Faire time in Tallulah Falls, Oregon.  This is a long-running annual event; something the whole town looks forward to with excitement.  This year, the theme is MacBeth, and will culminate with a performance of the play.  Until then, various characters from the play will be strolling around the faire, giving warnings about the trouble to come, gossiping about Lady MacBeth, and the witches will be reading fortunes.  People come from all over the area to attend.  For merchants with small specialty shops, it’s a great way to get your wares displayed to potential customers.  In the week before the faire starts, Marcy Singer is busy sewing costumes (to be worn by merchants) and embroidering shirts, collars, and cuffs with blackwork to sell in her booth in the merchant’s hall.

 Her excitement about the faire is tempered a bit when she finds that her assigned booth is in between the booths of the Davis sisters, Nellie and Clara.  Nellie has had it in for Marcy since she moved to town, for reasons semi-real and imagined.  Clara, who only arrived in town recently, immediately co-signed her sister’s attitude, leased the shop next door to Marcy, and opened a competing needlework shop that mirrors Marcy’s setup in almost every way.  It may be a chilly two weeks in the merchants’ hall, but Marcy is determined behave civilly and have a good time.

The night before the Faire begins, merchants are setting up their booths.  Marcy and her boyfriend, detective Ted Nash, arrive late in the evening to being their setup.  Glancing into the booth next door, Marcy spots something odd in the back corner.  She’s shocked to discover Clara, on her side on the floor, with a knitted scarf twisted around her neck.  The paramedics say there was nothing Marcy could have done, but Nellie still blames Marcy and, in her grief, begins hurling accusations.  Not long after, Marcy’s booth is vandalized during the night, leaving her shirts, collars, and cuffs cut to shreds.  None of the other booths were touched, so clearly, this is directed at Marcy.  Is it revenge, or just a warning?

The author does a great job of describing the atmosphere of the faire.  It’s obviously a venue with large crowds of people in costume; anyone might be lurking behind a mask.  The faire also allows for a large influx of new characters, potential motives, and possible suspects.  As a result, we spend a lot of time with Marcy at the Faire, shopping, chatting, and meeting new people. Many people are supposed to be acting ‘in character,’ especially those given the foreboding MacBeth lines.  It all makes sorting out who’s acting suspiciously and who’s just acting, that much more difficult.

As the story opens, there is no current open homicide in Tallulah Falls, so Ted is working on a five-year-old cold case.  A detective has to keep an open mind and deal with facts.  Any mystery reader worthy of the name knows that this cold case will somehow figure into current events in town.  It does, of course, but not in quite the way I expected.  Secondary characters never get left out: their lives progress and change and the author is careful to make that clear. This mystery has a great backdrop, good characters, and a few red herrings to keep things moving.  Whether you’re a newcomer to the series (listed below) or have been reading from the start, you’ll enjoy this outing.

Rating: 7
April 2015
ISBN# 978-0-451-46740-9  (paperback)

  Previous Titles:

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Thread End - Amanda Lee

Thread End

An Embroidery Mystery

Amanda Lee





The tiny coastal Oregon town of Tallulah Falls has scored a coup:  their museum will be hosting the Padgett Collection, a group of textiles collected over the lifetime of Mr. Padgett.  Along with a high-profile exhibit comes high-profile security.  Also in attendance – apart from the many locals, both expert and amateur – will be a billionaire art collector, an FBI agent, and an art thief who was once an art history professor.  The FBI agent got a tip about the art thief’s being there, since the one piece of art the thief stole was from the aforementioned billionaire.  So that should make for some interesting conversation during cocktail hour.


The opening of the exhibit goes off without a hitch.  The following morning, Marcy Singer is performing the glamorous task of taking out the garbage in the alley behind her store.  First she sees what she thinks much be a kilim carpet from last night’s exhibit.  Looking for closely, she sees that the rolled-up carpet contains the body of a man.  It’s Dr. Vandehey, the art thief.  He’d been shot and rolled up in one of the kilim rugs from the display.  


Marcy is quickly eliminated as a suspect, but there are plenty more in the area. Word quickly spreads that the Collection was stolen from the museum during the night, too.  It could be that he was killed by his partner (or partners) in that crime for any number of reasons.  The billionaire, who seems a little volatile, could still be carrying a grudge.  Even the new, young curator of the museum has a motive.


Despite the fact that the alley behind her shop is a crime scene (again,) Marcy continues with business as usual in her needlework shop, The Seven Year Stitch.  She deals with customers, teaches classes, and gets to have lunch almost daily with her boyfriend, Ted Nash, the local detective, to discuss the case and suspects. Over the course of the story, little scraps of information drop here and there; pieces of the puzzle.  The resolution itself, however, is fairly awkward.  It involves odd leaps of logic by Marcy, then the sudden appearance and immediate confession of the Bad Guy.  The facts make sense, though, and it’s all worth it for the Epilogue.


Rating: 6

June 2014

ISBN# 978-0-451-46739-3 (paperback)
Previous Titles:

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Winter Family - Clifford Jackman

The Winter Family
Clifford Jackman
Doubleday Books
Western Noir/Historical Thriller
Just after the Civil War, the American West was still a wide-open, nearly lawless place.  It was an enormous area where a man could get lost, start over, reinvent himself, or evade the law, depending on his needs and desires.  Any time the forces of law begin to close in, the Winter Family simply moves west.  They came together during the Civil War.  Quentin Ross, the son of a good Chicago family, was a lieutenant for whom the fog of war was no obstacle; and the collateral damage and destruction visited on a helpless civilian population was never quite enough to satisfy him.
At that time, Augustus Winter was a mere private, serving under Ross.  Winter came to the war broken, and the war simply tempered him into a more dangerous weapon.  He would eventually come to lead the group and give the ‘family’ its name.  During their travels, men came and went from the group:  freed slaves, many with scores to settle; an alcoholic Indian called Bill Bread; a young, soulless gunslinger; various soldiers and civilians at loose ends.  The group moves from the war through the reconstruction period, working for whoever will pay them.  They re-group in Chicago to work as paid enforcers during the 1872 election.  From there, they move into the west, taking what they want, dodging the law, and still taking work from those desperate enough to hire them.
The story begins in Oklahoma at the height of the family’s rampage, and then circles back around to the time when the family began to coalesce.  Each section of the book details the family’s time in one area or another as they move through history and the country.  For men like this, the days of the war and the ‘peace’ that followed were golden times.  Anyone could do anything he wanted; there was simply not enough justice to go around at the time.  Little by little, the family and their actions get squeezed into a smaller and smaller arena as law and civilization inexorably threads its influence across the West.  In one sense, it’s a story of man’s primal nature, in the form of outlaws, attempting to fight back against the march of technology, in the very real forms of the railroad and the telegraph.  In another sense, it’s a Western from the point of view of the brutal and unsentimental black hats.
The author excels at conjuring a scene with just a sentence or two.  Where many authors need paragraphs to establish setting, here, the author open each section with a few powerfully descriptive sentences, instantly transporting the reader to the time and place.  Action sequences, and they are many and bloody, manage to convey violence and horror with a few words.  Of course, there are options other than violent, yet, somehow, when it comes, it seems almost fated. It’s nearly impossible to pin down a genre for this.  It’s very much a Western, but written with the cadence and bleakness of a noir.  Not a happy story, but one very much worth reading.  It’s the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve closed the cover.     

Rating: 9
April 2015
ISBN# 978-0-385-53948-7 (hardcover)