Wailing Wood; A Yarn Woman Mystery

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by Brooks Mencher

Textile forensics expert Ruth M. is brought into an ancient virgin redwood forest in Northern California at the request of the county sheriff and an archeologist hired by a logging company intent on turning the forest into a commercial enterprise.

A leaf-stained skull and the remains of a knitted child’s vest have been found in what residents of nearby Whitesboro call “the Wailing Wood.”

As Ruth carefully gathers evidence, she finds a second skull and enough clues to suggest the children’s ancient deaths were not accidental, they were homicide. The evidence has an eery resemblance to a local ghost story about a double murder that happened a century earlier. 

In the meantime, what Ruth discovers about the conditions of the earth around the bones and knitted vest is enough to halt the logging work pending further investigation of the possible presence of archeologically significant artifacts. This is bad news for the predatory logging company that has been systematically draining the economic life out of Whitesboro.

Ruth, known to law enforcement agencies as “the Yarn Woman,” was recommended for this consultancy by San Francisco Police Detective William Chu, in the area on a fishing vacation. She is accompanied by her ever-present protector-assistant-chauffeur-chef Mr. Kasparov and has invited along reporter Nat Fisher, always eager to pick up a new story for the Daily Bulletin.

Ruth M. was first introduced by author Brooks Mencher in the 2014 mystery collection The Yarn Woman. The three stories in the collection range from magical realism to a mystery where most of the evidence has been washed away by the sea, but the Yarn Woman can read the clues in the knitted fisherman’s sweater left behind.

Ruth M. is such a fascinating and original character that you can overlook the flaws in Mencher’s narrative skills. She lives above a retired Art Deco theater in San Francisco’s Sunset District with an old, long-haired cat, a harpsichord and enough yarn to fill a railroad car. She’s elegant, poised, self-possessed, observant, intelligent and creative. 

In a world with so few well-written, knitting themed mysteries, the Yarn Woman fills an enormous gap.  My only frustration is waiting for Mencher to finish his next book.


The Author: Brooks Mencher

Mencher is a second-generation newspaper writer and editor. He has worked as a news editor at the San Francisco Chronicle since 2000. 

While he is not a knitter, his wife is. The Yarn Woman was his first mystery collection, published in  2014, which covers the first three cases Ruth M. consulted with the police on. Wailing Wood followed in 2015.
Mencher is currently working on a third Ruth M novel.


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