What's it like to writer a mystery series set in a small town? It' like having the coolest set of blocks to play with you can imagine - complete with action figures and accessories!
For my Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, I took my blocks and built Blue Plum, Tennessee, borrowing the best parts of my favorite small towns for inspiration. The streets crisscross a creek (with fish) that meanders through town. The courthouse is there, and the library (with real books,) and if my action figures get hungry they can stop by Mel's on Main, the best cafe in town (with real pastries in the bakery case - that you can smell!) And then of course, there's the fiber and fabric shop called the Weaver's Cat. It's in a three-story, antebellum brick row house and it comes with gorgeous yarns, flosses, quilting fabric, needles, notions, spinning, dying, and weaving supplies, and a window set in the study up in the attic. And I get to play with all of it!
Kath Rutledge is the main action figure for the series. She's new in Blue Plum, but getting settled, and she's playing nicely with her friends. There's Ardis, her shop manager; Mel, who owns the cafe; Thea, the librarian; Joe, the fisherman; Joe's brother, Clod, the sheriff's deputy; Argyle the cat; and Geneva the ghost. Each of their mystery stories comes with an Action Figure & an Accessories bonus pack, too. For Spinning in her Grave, their latest adventure, the bonus pack includes a baker, a piano salesmen, working spinning wheels, a bass boat, and a piglet that really squeals.
In this story, everyone is getting ready for the annual heritage festival called Blue Plum Preserves. Oh - and the bonus pack also includes, pavilion tents, a music stage to set up on the courthouse steps, banjos, a high wheel bicycle, and antique rifles. Fun! (Although the rifles are a little disturbing.)
This business of writing a small town mystery takes a lot of micro-scale world building and playing with dolls. It take a love for something else, too - something related to the love for driving little cars around the streets and creating window displays at the Weaver's Cat. But this goes beyond a love of picking paint for other people's kitchens or dressing some of the action figures with questionable taste. A key part of writing mysteries is a love for meddling in other people's lives.
I set Blue Plum up so that it's just right - add trees, porch swings, a festival on a pretty summer weekend where people are having a good time - and then I start tinkering, tweaking and tossing problems at them. What if the piano salesman is directing a piece of street theater involving guns? What if he approaches Kath and asks if one of his actors can hide in the Weaver's Cat and shoot blank rounds from a second-story window? What if she says no, but someone does it anyway, the rounds aren't blank, and the baker dies? What if Clod, the sheriff's deputy, still thinks Kath might be interested in him? What if Geneva, the ghost, discovers she's afraid of ghosts? Do you see what I mean? Why can't I leave these poor people alone?
People might assume, after reading Spinning in her Grave, or the first two books in the series, that I spin, dye, weave, knit regularly and well. Especially, knit because the action figures belonging to TGIF (Thank Goodness It's Fiber) challenged themselves to knit 1,000 baby hats by the end of the year and they're always talking about self-striping yarn and other knitter stuff. I do knit, in a rudimentary way, and I've done a bit of weaving, spinning and dyeing. But what I really like to do with knitting needles (or spindles, or shuttles, or crochet hooks) is poke around in the lives of my action figures, gum up the works, and see what happens. It's not mean, though, except for killing one or two people in each book. These are cozy mysteries after all, and I care about my action figures. Even the poor things that do end up dead - bless their hearts.
So what's it like to write a mystery series set in a small town? For me, it's a great way to knit (or spin, weave, or dye) vicariously. It's a way to indulge my meddling gene safely. And it's just plain fun.
Spinning in her Grave (Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery - Book 3) by Molly MacRae
Publication Date: 03/04/2014
Publisher: Penguin Group
Imprint: Obsidian Mystery
Genre: Cozy Mystery
(Received for an honest review from Obsidian Mystery)
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Indiebound
Molly MacRae on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, goodreads
Books in the series:
Last Wool and Testament (2012), Dyeing Wishes (2013), Spinning in her Grave (2014)
Coverart: Click the Image for a larger, clearer view of the covers in this series.
Excerpt from, Spinning in her Grave, courtesy of Amazon's Look Inside feature.
Kath Rutledge is settling in as the owner of the Weaver’s Cat, a fiber and fabric shop in Blue Plum, Tennessee. But nothing, not even the ghost haunting her shop, prepares her for the mystery that will leave the whole town spinning....
It’s time for Blue Plum’s annual historical festival, and everyone—including Kath and her spunky fiber and needlework group, TGIF—is getting in on the action. Expert spinners are being gathered, and a businessman has approached Kath about using the second-floor windows of her store for part of a reenactment. But the reenactment ends in real-life bloodshed when local baker Reva Louise Snapp is shot—with a bullet from a modern-day gun.
Kath has her theories about who wanted to end Reva Louise’s life. But there’s also talk of a sniper stalking Blue Plum, and Kath’s shop is suspected to be the murderer’s hideout. Now Kath, her TGIF pals, and the gloomy ghost, Geneva, must unravel the mystery quickly, or someone else might be left hanging by a thread....
Readers return to Blue Plum, Tennessee with Molly MacRae's latest book in her Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery series, Spinning in her Grave. It's time for the heritage festival in Blue Plum and one of the big events is the reenactment of the Blue Plum Piglet War. But when things get out of hand and the local baker ends up dead, it's nothing to snort about. Readers love Molly MacRae's over-the-top take on small town life, her realistic action figures and all of things she puts into making each of her mysteries packed with adventure. Her knack for writing believable characters in crazy situations is on full display in this book and readers won't be able to put it down.
What I liked:
One of my favorite parts of this series, is the small town setting. Blue Plum is a town that readers would want to visit in there real lives as well as their reading lives. It's full of interesting characters and just has a flavor all it's own. I think MacRae did a great job of meshing together all of the wonderful things about an authentic small town with an exaggerated sense of fancy and what could happen. This is a series that takes a lot of imagination to write and I think MacRae has it in spades.
Kath is once again a tried and true amateur sleuth. She sticks her nose in everybody's business, but she's so sweet about it, they hardly notice. Along with her group of knitting friends, Argyle the cat and Geneva the ghost, she sets about solving each mystery as it comes with a determination that is fun to read about. She has some issues in her personal life, like her situation with Clod and the fact that she has feelings for Joe. But she balances her career as owner of the Weaver's Cat, her personal life, and sleuthing with ease. For me, there just wouldn't be enough hours in the day. She is an amazing heroine and always enjoyable to read about.
Geneva the ghost is one my favorites in this series. She is a bit on the glum side, from time to time, but wouldn't you be, if you were a ghost? She adds a paranormal element to the story that will draw in another group of readers. That little touch of the supernatural is sometimes all it takes to give a series that little extra something, that sets it apart. The fact that Geneva figures out she is afraid of ghosts was riot. MacRae seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to knowing what readers want in a good cozy mystery.
The murder itself provided a very entertaining mystery. Who would want Reva, the baker dead? Apparently, more than a few people. I thought the motives were believable if perhaps the Piglet War was not, LOL. There are several suspects and Kath and her friends have a picnic trying to sort them all out. Did Reva steal Mel's recipes? Was she planning on starting her own diner? All questions that have to be answered before the killer can be revealed. I liked the way this one went. And I think did advanced the overall arc of the series in a good way as well.
What I didn't like:
Now, I'll be the first to say that I am not a knitter, a fantastic weaver or even a good dyer and I love all of the information provided in this series about those things, techniques and tips, patterns and even good recipes. But this one was a little light on input from the Weaver's Cat. It wasn't something that put me out, and made me not want to read, I just wanted more of that... Maybe in the next book!
This is a great series, featuring a wonderfully drawn small town, full of interesting people. MacRae writes with a passion and a lot of imagination. I look forward to reading the new book in this series each time it comes out. You will too, and that Rhubarb Bread Pudding makes me want Rhubarb Pie!
Spinning in her Grave is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.
I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
About the Author:
Molly MacRae, author of the Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery series, including Dyeing Wishes and Last Wool and Testament, was director of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town, and later managed an independent bookstore in Johnson City. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine for more than twenty years, and she has won the Sherwood Anderson Award for Short Fiction.
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