Darned if You Do
A Needlecraft Mystery #18
By Monica Ferris
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
After a tree falls on Tom Riordan’s house, landing him in the hospital, the police discover a mountain of junk piled high in his home. Locals in Excelsior, Minnesota—including Betsy and her Crewel World Monday Bunch—offer to help with the cleanup while Tom recuperates.
But when Tom is found murdered in his hospital bed, the sole heir to his property—his cousin Valentina—becomes the number one suspect. Betsy believes there’s more to the case than meets the eye, but finding clues to the killer’s identity in the clutter Tom left behind will be like looking for a needle in a haystack …
I very much enjoyed ‘Darned if You Do,’ Monica Ferris’ amazing 18th novel in A Needlecraft Mystery series. One doesn’t need to read others in the series before reading this as Ms. Ferris is excellent at defining the long-term characters when needed.
Betsy is the owner of Crewel World; it is in one of the storefronts in the building she owns, where she lives in an upstairs apartment. After the previous night’s storm that took out power in Excelsior, Minnesota, it is the only building in town that has power. Betsy’s live in boyfriend, Connor, had a huge generator in the basement, and turned it on when the town went dark. Crewel World has been ‘home’ to many groups and classes for needle crafters, who descended on them quickly after finding that they – and the sandwich shop in the building – had power. They discussed various events from the storm, including Tom Riordan’s house.
Nobody ever had been in the Riordan home. The night of the storm, all that changed after the neighbor’s tree fell on his house, through the roof, pinning him to his bed. That neighbor heard his weak cry for help. Sergeant Larson responded to the call; he broke down the door. The EMT’s could barely get up or down the stairs to bring him out after he was freed from the tree limb as the house was filled with three generations of ‘collecting’ or ‘junking’. It was piled to the ceilings on both floors and the stairs narrowed from books on them.
Tom’s cousin and only living relative came to help him; she was almost as strange as Tom. Valentina Shipp drove in from out of state, getting a room at a cut-rate motel. She learned that the doctor and Tom’s social worker, who had never seen the inside of the home, refused to allow him to return until it was safe to live there with his broken leg. ‘Safe’ meant cleaning out decades of Tom’s ‘things’ with the help of volunteers; when Tom found that out, he ordered her to leave his hospital room and not return. ‘Safe’ also meant that the plumbing and possibly wiring would all need replaced and brought up to code, and mold remediation.
Valentina asked for help from various sources while awaiting conservatorship through Tom’s attorney; Betsy’s Crewel World group members would pitch in to assist. Stunned might describe their first reaction to seeing the inside. One of the volunteers, Georgine, had some knowledge of what might have value, since she and her sister Gracie travelled around the country, supporting themselves by buying goods and re-selling on eBay or craigslist for a tidy profit. Sadly, at least two of the fascinating finds that might have value disappeared. Very sadly, Tom was murdered in the hospital and Valentina, his only family member and heir, was the main suspect. Betsy, an experienced amateur sleuth, finally agreed to help find who the thief and the real murderer was. One of her part timers, Godwin, and boyfriend Connor would help.
Betsy and many of the folks in Excelsior are enchanting! They have a down-home charm and work ethic. Betsy is a calm voice of reason and well-respected, very likable. Even this new reader got to know her quickly as the author wove past and present together to show this three-dimensional worman. We get to know Valentina, Jill, Connor, and Godwin better probably than most of the others; all are defined through descriptions, conversations, and actions as their roles require. If Crewel World was in my neighborhood, I might pick up one of my crochet projects and join one of their groups!
The plot was multi-tiered yet easy to grasp, with twists and turns heightening the experience. This reader actually vicariously felt part of the action while reviewing each clue and chasing one or two red herrings while trying to solve the mysteries. I had a feeling who might be among the bad guys or gals, even though there was no evidence to substantiate it until those working in the house further discussed what they had seen and when. Emily has a gift of an eidetic memory for what she had seen in the house, which turned the tide of their search. Were it not for the very clever Betsy, Emily and the gang at the shop, the police might not have found the ‘perp(s)’ on time. The end was very satisfying with every loose thread (or yarn) perfectly in its place. It is easy to see how this series is so highly successful, as it is the down-home small town life many of us crave with people we’d love as neighbors. It is intriguing, exciting, and impossible to put down. Betsy, particularly, is encouraging to Emily and perhaps to the reader who might have some of the feelings Emily had. The grand finale is a ‘Classic Lace’ crochet pattern that was discussed in the story. I highly recommend this to those of every age of needle crafters, antique collectors, and those who love cozy mysteries. What a beautiful place to visit, no matter the time of year!