I’m giving full disclosure this time around:  This is a book review of Skein of the Crime by Maggie Sefton, but first we’re going on an eleven year journey to get there.  Pack light and don’t worry – there will be cake.

About 11 years ago, I convinced Skattur to join a mystery reader’s book club with me. The club met at Bartlett Bookstore, which was a locally owned store next to the Kroger at Bartlett Boulevard and Stage Road.  (It’s a mattress store now.)  The bookstore had a café that served desserts and coffee, which was a novelty in Memphis at the time.  Their Italian cream cake was wonderfully Italiany, creamy, and cakey.  It was the sort of cake you think about when you’re doing stuff that’s completely uncake-related. You might be at the post office for instance picking up a book of stamps and mostly minding your own business when suddenly the cake memory pops into your head unbidden and you realize that you must have the cake

I wasn’t particularly fond of mysteries when I joined the book club, but I liked to read and I liked the bookstore, and I wanted to be around books and fellow readers and I wanted to have many opportunities to eat the cake, so it seemed like a good idea. We’d meet at the bookstore one evening a month to discuss the designated book.  I never said much, if anything, in these meetings, though I would discuss the books with Skattur before hand and she would sometimes speak for me while I ate the cake.  Often the book selections didn’t do much for me.  I would complain about this in the privacy of Skattur’s car on the way to meetings.  In my opinion, we read way too many “Scooby Doo mysteries,” which was my derisive term for the books that followed the cartoon’s basic plot.  If somehow you’re unfamiliar with this plot, it goes like this: Havoc is wrecked and nobody knows by whom until the bad guy is unmasked at the end at which point one of the characters lays out for the slow readers how exactly the bad guy wrecked havoc throughout the story and got away with it until he was foiled by the hero). We also read many cozy mysteries, which are fluffy bits of mystery that contain little violence, sex, or naughty language.  Some good, beyond the cake, came of all this.  Foremost on the list, I had the opportunity to spend quality time with Skattur. Through this book club I was first exposed to Janet Evanovich and Nevada Barr, authors whose work I still read and enjoy.  I also got to meet the author Anne George at a luncheon.  She wrote a series of cozy mysteries that I actually liked.  Her books centered around a pair of senior citizen sister sleuths and were devoid of the Scooby Doo endings.  Another cool thing about this mystery reading group was that the book club’s organizer was a writer who organized murder mystery dinners, which she wrote.  On those nights, the folks in the café would prepare yummy stuff like chicken cordon bleu – and of course the cake.  We’d eat while we watched the play and try to figure out “who done it.” 

Fast forward to this summer – You may have guessed by the content of my previous posts (or perhaps by the fact that I’m busy knitting while you’re trying to talk to me across the table at a restaurant), that I’m going through a little knitting-craze phase. So imagine, if you will, my reaction at seeing the cover of this book on display at a recent visit to Barnes and Noble:

Skein of the Crime

Let me call your attention to a few happy details: the basket of yarn, the knitted hat, “delicious recipe and knitting pattern included!”, “a knitting mystery”, and the freakin’ knitted cupcakes.

I bought it, of course.  I might have even skipped to the counter to pay for it. 

I had such high hopes for this cozy mystery novel with its adorable title. Shortly into the first chapters, my hopes were dashed. It was pretty bad. I’m not often scathingly critical about books I read because 1) it’s not like I’m out there publishing books, 2) there’s much to learn, even from the ones that aren’t so great, and 3) it’s just not nice! However, in this case, I’m willing to make an exception.

I’ll start with what I liked about this book first.  I liked the cover.

…and um…

Oh! I liked the setting! Several scenes took place in a knitting store with a café where there were all sorts of knitting and spinning classes and that made me fantasize about having a knitting store to go to where I could drink chai and knit and learn to spin alpaca hair into yarn.  That made me happy.

I liked the title.  The Skein of the Crime.  How cute and witty is that?  It would have worked so much better though had that title gone with a story about the turf wars between Memphis Knitting Mophia and SoKaN. 

I also liked the free scarf pattern at the end of the book.  I am in the process of making said scarf actually, so th

at’s another good thing about the book.

Now, on to my laundry list of complaints.  One of the problems in this book was bad editing: “I learned long ago that brides and their mothers came (sic) drive you certifiably crazy” (p. 47).  Sadly, this wasn’t the only editing mistake. And to think—my purchase paid part of that editor’s salary!  I want to meet this editor just so I can be like the Elitist Jerk and say, “You’re fired!”  I’d do it!

Beyond the bad editing, the characters were poorly developed, the main character continually referred to her nosing around and gossiping as “sleuthing,” the plot was trite, and all the banal small talk in the dialogue drove me nuts. The deader in this book was a boring college druggie girl who overdosed on pills at a party (or did she? Hmmm…maybe she was murdered??).  Interspersed with all the “sleuthing” on that little mystery the characters droned on and on about the economy:

“Actually, you’re a different case, Kelly.  You’ll probably be able to get a loan because you’ve got what they call significant assets.” 

(Her italics there, not mine).

Ugh!  I read fiction to escape this sort of stuff – not to be bored by it.  I can watch the news or read books on finance if I want to read about significant assets.  Give me a break!

Come to find out, Skein of the Crime is the sixth in an entire series of knitting mysteries by Maggie Sefton.  Considering this, I’m going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and speculate that maybe she’s just running out of good material and is under a contract where she has to pump out a certain number of books within a certain time frame to make the mortgage.  As a result she might have just missed a stitch or two when knitting together this particular story.  I’m willing to try another book in the series just to test my hypothesis – when the editor gives me a refund.