By Allie Pleiter
Allie Pleiter might just puncture my prejudice against cozy mysteries.
Her heroine, Libby Becket, has weathered a wrenching divorce and a courageous venture into running a knitting shop called Y.A.R.N. A blackboard and a bucket of chalk invite shop patrons to say what Y.A.R.N. stands for.
For Libby, 38, it means “You Are Ready Now.” The shop gives her a livelihood and a chance to share her joy in knitting with others.
She’s planned a series of events around Perle Lonager, an up-and-coming Danish knitwear designer, who bases her creations on traditional Norwegian knitting patterns with a modern twist. There will be a teaching session at the shop; a banquet; and a lecture and fashion show afterward. Tickets are selling out fast.
The celebration of the event expands beyond the shop: the city proclaims a Collinstown Yarn Day, in honor of the event. Libby’s mother and friends jump on the opportunity to yarn bomb the trees along Collin Avenue in front of the shop. (If you aren’t familiar with yarn bombing, think graffiti with knitting. “A tree sweater, if you will.”)
At the last minute, Perle calls Libby and tells her that Henrik, Perla’s muse/boyfriend, and her publisher, Derek Martingale, will be coming. Gossip among Perla fans is that she will announce her engagement to the handsome Henrik, who models her work, at the event; after all, a book on Norwegian wedding patterns is planned.
But just before the banquet, Perle asks Libby for the keys to the theater where the lecture and fashion show are to be held. She wants to make sure everything is perfect — and she wants some time alone.
But Perle doesn’t come back to the inn for the dinner. Both Derek and Henrick search for her without luck. Libby heads for the theater. She finds the door open with the keys in the lock. Then she finds Perle, strangled with a skein of red yarn, with a bloodied pair of her new, mother of pearl inlaid knitting needles beside her.
There’s no shortage of suspects, even if there is a shortage of evidence. For Libby, it becomes a tribute to Perle’s life and talent to make sure that her killer is found and brought to justice.
What I dislike in most cozy mysteries are two things that Pleiter has avoided. First, most cozies avoid the gore and violence of a murder, but in doing so they almost make the murder seem unimportant. The plots often seem shallow because of it.
Secondly, cozies feature amateur sleuths. It’s hard to have a credible mystery if the professional crime solvers such as the police are treated like idiots or overlook obvious avenues of investigation.
Pleiter avoids both of those issues in ON SKEIN OF DEATH. She repeatedly remarks on the tragic loss of talent in Perla’s death and the joy that Perla and her designs brought to knitters everywhere. This is a loss that matters.
Pleiter also makes Libby’s discovery of clues and theories about the murder completely credible. She is a partner with Police Chief Frank, not a competitor.
There’s also plenty here to develop as this mystery series unfolds: Libby’s former high school sweetheart Gavin Maddock, now Collinstown’s mayor; his teenage daughter Jillian, who is just learning to knit; Libby’s meddling mother Rhonda, who may have some form of dementia; her best friend Margo, who runs the pie shop across the street; and, of course, her English bulldog Hank.
The next book in this series is KNIT OR DYE TRYING.