Readers sometimes ask why so many mystery writers structure their stories around a theme—like food or knitting or gardening. Why isn’t a plain old murder enough? Who needs herbs and bamboo needles and a trowel when you have a dead body?
The question made me think (even though I should have had a ready answer because I have two cozy mystery series that do exactly that, one revolving around a group of women who quilt —The Queen Bees Quilting mysteries—and the other, my current series, around knitting —The Seaside Knitters Mystery Series.
But I did have to think about it, and how the seaside knitters would be different if they didn’t knit, if they were simply “the seaside women.”
I know I didn’t pick knitting because I’m an expert at it. I’m not. I’m a knitter-in-training (the Seaside Knitters do a lot to help me out along the way—as does The Studio, my wonderful local yarn shop).
Here’s what I think:
I think the seaside knitters mysteries are as much about relationships and women’s friendship as they are about knitting. But the knitting provides a kind of centering, a place to bring the women together at Izzy’s Yarn Studio on a regular basis. And because I am writing a series, I’m not only inviting readers back with each book, but also the same characters. They need to grow and develop for their readers, and having a ready-made place to do that—a place to interact, to gossip, to develop their friendship in new ways—is helpful in keeping a series fresh and interesting.
In the newest mystery, ANGORA ALIBI (Seaside Knitters Mystery #7) the knitters surround Izzy as she prepares for the birth of her first baby—a new event in their years of friendship. And when tension fills Izzy’s doctor’s office, an infant seat is abandoned on the beach, and a young man they all know is murdered, the knitters band together every step of the way until the murder is solved.
I also think that knitting provides a metaphor for the way Nell, Birdie, Cass, and Izzy think. Carefully and methodically they knit together the pieces of a puzzle to solve a crime, just like they do with their sweaters and gloves and baby booties.
Yarn also provides clues as the knitters work through the morass of elements that surround a murder. In the first book in the series, DEATH BY CASHMERE, a beautiful cashmere sweater leads the knitters down a path. And in A FATAL FLEECE, the sixth book in the series (recently released in paperback), the yellow fleece that Cass knit for an old fisherman, identifies a body.
And lastly, I think yarn is simply so tangible and visceral and sensual that it provides a feeling that can easily soften the harshness of murder and at the same time, heighten and stimulate the senses. It injects a sensuousness into the mystery, just like writing about food does. Sinking ones fingers into a basketful of Izzy’s buttercup yellow cashmere yarn, for example, or savoring Nell’s garlic grilled shrimp salad with fresh flakes of basil sprinkled on top—and clinking together four glasses of Birdie’s chilled pinot gris—are sure ways to stimulate and sharpen the senses and help the knitters of Sea Harbor explore the intricacies of a young man’s untimely death, as they do in ANGORA ALIBI.
And although readers of ANGORA ALIBI and the other seaside knitting mysteries won’t learn to knit as they join Izzy, Nell, Birdie, and Cass on a Thursday evening in the yarn shop, I hope they take away—not only a feeling of mystery and puzzles, of friendship and caring—but the urge to sink one’s fingers into a tempting pile of cashmere and cotton and luxurious angora wool yarn.
My thanks to TOTE BAGS ‘n BLOGS for inviting me and the seaside knitters to stop by, and for all of you for dropping in. Please visit my website, Facebook author page
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Sally Goldenbaum is the author of thirty novels, most currently the Seaside Knitters Mystery Series, set in a seaside town north of Boston. Angora Alibi, the seventh in the series, was released this month. Sally also wrote the Queen Bees Quilter mystery series. She lives in land-locked Kansas but visits Cape Ann, the geographic inspiration for her series (and home of two amazing grandchildren and their parents) every chance she gets.