Have you ever experienced a major storm? Unlike the big snows of last week, the residents of Excelsior, Minnesota, woke up to major damage caused by heavy rains and strong winds. Little did they know, however, that murder would follow on the coattails of Mother Nature.
Then an ancient elm, its inside long rotted and its roots' grip weakened by rain, groaned under the wind's blast, twisted, and fell. It had given welcome shade to Riordan's house for many summers, but now it slammed into the roof, breaking through the shingles to thrust sopping leaves and wet and broken limbs into Riordan's bedroom, waking him up at last.—Darned If You Do by Monica Ferris (Berkley Prime Crime, 2016, pp. 1-2)
- Setting: Excelsior, Minnesota, modern times
- Circumstances: When Tom Riordan, a known hoarder, is in the hospital recovering from being pinned to his bed by a fallen tree, his cousin Valentina comes to town to oversee the repairs to his house. While sorting through the mess, she is surprised to discover a number of valuable antiques. Unfortunately, Valentina is no stranger to the police, so when a murder occurs, she is tagged as suspect number one. Local shop owner Betsy Devonshire thinks the authorities have it wrong and agrees to help prove Valentina's innocence.
- Genre: cozy mystery with a needlework theme
- Characters: Betsy, owner of needlework shop; Connor, her boyfriend; her group of close friends dubbed "the Monday Bunch"; Tom, a hoarder; Valentina, Tom's out-of-town cousin; various police and townsfolk
- The series: I read the first five or six books in Ferris's Needlecraft Mysteries, and enjoyed getting to know Betsy and her friends. I always liked the way they look out for each other and share their passion for their hobbies, including knitting, crocheting, embroidery, counted cross-stitch, and even bobbin lacemaking.
- This installment: I liked revisiting Betsy and the gang, and didn't feel lost, even though this is the eighteenth book in the series. The murder itself was slow to come, but once it happened, the action moved away from Tom's house and his hoarding to solving the crime. I didn't think the mystery was all that difficult to figure out, but the characters and the town itself kept my interest. Plus, I'm a needlework enthusiast and like reading about characters' ongoing projects.
- Recommendations: If you have a needlework hobby and/or enjoy light cozy mysteries, then don't hesitate to pick up Darned If You Do. Don't worry if you're new to the series, I think you'll be able to start right here, without feeling like you missed too much of the background.
- Things to know: The paperback edition is being released this month; the hardcover was published last year. For all you crafty types, there is a crocheted lace pattern included at the end of the book.
Thanks to the nice people at Penguin Random House, I'm happy to be able to offer one of my readers with a U.S. mailing address a copy of Monica Ferris's Darned If You Do. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner, via a random number generator, on February 12. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed the name and address along to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!