I was not a mystery reader. But then I found mysteries about quilters, knitters, crocheters – and even more with embroiderers, cross-stitchers, stampers, cupcake-bakers, and more. It seems there’s a murder mystery series revolving around characters obsessed with just about all of today’s popular crafts, including (most likely) your craft of choice. Welcome to the new world of craft-related cozy mysteries.
These murder mysteries, popular since the mid-1990s, are much like the old-school Agatha Christie whodunits. They are called “cozy” mysteries, since very little sex or violence is depicted in the books, and even murder is described with little blood, gore, and ickiness. You can share these books with your mother-in-law or your church group without embarrassment.
But knitting or crocheting doesn’t make the characters tame. These books deal with issues important in modern society, including violence against women and struggles in a society still organized by race, class, and gender. Most of the heroines are single – widowed, divorced, or recently escaped from a bad relationship – and struggling to support themselves. But of course, solving the puzzle is the main point of the plot.
If you are among the many enjoying knitting-related mysteries by bestselling author Maggie Sefton, then you have joined the club. This series follows new knitter Kelly Flynn as she escapes from the world of corporate accounting on the East Coast to start a new life amid Colorado’s natural beauty. Her friends help her settle in, while she discovers an appreciation of all things fiber arts. Readers have loved watching Kelly “knit on it” as a way to solve crimes – in fact, the 15th book in the series, Only Skein Deep, is due out June 7.
Crocheters have their own series, including 11 books by Betty Hechtman. Titles that include Hooked on Murder (2008), Knot Guilty (2014), and Hooking for Trouble (2016) follow the sleuthing activities of Molly Pink, bookstore employee and crocheter in southern California. Hechtman is also working on a series of mysteries with a yarn retreat focus. And honestly, who could resist picking up a book titled Silence of the Lamb’s Wool (2014)?
Quilters who enjoy a good mystery have their choice of cozy series, including Earlene Fowler’s 15-novel series that follows central California cattlewoman and folk museum curator Benni Harper. The series – with each book named after a traditional quilt block – began with Fool’s Puzzle in 1995, then seems to have finished off in 2012 with Spider Web. Fowler won an Agatha Award for Mariner’s Compass (1999). She has lately turned her attention to another series outside the realm of the quilting cozy, with The Saddlemaker’s Wife (2007) and The Road to Cardinal Valley (2014). But you can get quilt patterns mentioned in the Benni Harper series – along with more tidbits about the characters themselves – in Benni Harper’s Quilt Album (2004).
Although Fowler helped start the rage for quilting-related cozy mysteries, she soon was followed by several other success stories. Terri Thayer, Mary Marks, and Arlene Sachitano each have authored several quilting-related cozy mysteries, while author Sally Goldenbaum has so far produced three quilting and 12 knitting novels. You’ll recognize which subgenre each book belongs to by the titles.
We can distinguish between these cozy mysteries and other fictional series related to crafts. Jennifer Chiaverini’s series of Elm Creek Quilters books started with The Quilter’s Apprentice (1999) and includes some two dozen titles, now branching into historical titles. Similarly, Kate Jacobs’ Friday Night Knitting Club (2007) began a series focused on friendship and the joys of the craft. And there are many, many more series of novels that follow your favorite craft – but not all are murder mysteries.
In fact, when you pick up a cozy craft mystery, you get more for your money than just the story. Most of these titles include one or more patterns (knitting, crochet, cross-stitch – whatever the craft of choice) for items made by characters in the book. They also include recipes for the special food items served in the book. That way readers can enter the world of the characters by working on the same projects and cooking up the same desserts or casseroles enjoyed by the heroines.
What could be more fun than that?
Jennifer Hynes has spent a lifetime working on her crochet and sewing skills, beginning with making her own clothes as a teenager and continuing to explore various styles and techniques in quiltmaking. She teaches college writing and literature, and she does freelance copyediting to support her yarn and fabric addictions. Find her on Facebook, Etsy, and perhaps your local craft show/sale as Jenny’s Quilts and Crochet.