The Drowning Spool by Monica Ferris

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The Drowning Spool by Monica Ferris is for readers who love genteel mysteries without dead bodies falling like rain, shoot-outs at the OK Corral, or family dramas where the beloved one turns out to be a monster in disguise. The Drowning Spool brings back memories of Agatha Christie’s famous Miss Marple and Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote. It’s simply a good mystery by a master craftswoman.

Ferris peppers her A Needlecraft Mystery series with information about different needlecraft arts. Our protagonist, Betsy Devonshire, is the owner of Crewel World, a needlework shop in Excelsior, Minnesota. Betsy starts using the therapy pool at Watered Silk Senior Complex when her own pool is closed for repairs. As she is leaving, she is invited to teach a class on punch needle to seniors at the center. She jumps at the chance to improve the bottom line of Crewel World.

A few days after Betsy begins her thrice-weekly aerobics classes, Pam, the aerobics instructor, is startled to find a young woman dead in the pool. She calls 911 but knows from her training the young woman is dead. The police decide the death was an accident, but no one knows how she got into the pool area at night since all the doors are locked and no access is permitted after hours.

Betsy becomes involved in the mystery when a friend of hers, who knows her tendency to solve mysteries, asks her to help her nephew, Ethan. He’s a college senior who works part time at the senior center to help pay his tuition and books, and he was the night guard on duty at Watered Silk when the girl died. Ethan swears he didn’t let her into the facility, but the police believe he did.

As Betsy delves into the mystery, she quickly discovers that the pool was used as a skinny-dipping rendezvous by outside couples, but how did they get into the pool area? Employees insist that all five outside entrances are closed at night, and only residents can enter with their electronic keys. Even so, the entrance to the pool therapy room is locked with a real metal key which only four members of the staff have.

Wilma Carter is a resident of Watered Silk who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She is disruptive in the pool therapy class and the punch needle class. However, Betsy discovers that Wilma was a studio photographer who published a collection of her prints. The prints had almost invisible animals hidden in the scenes of lakes, rivers, fields and forests. Everyone seems to agree that Wilma is aware (at least sometimes) of her condition, but she now spends her days enjoying the freedom she has left–and causing havoc in the meantime. Wilma plays a key role in the resolution of the mystery when she requests a copy of Psyche Entering Cupid’s Garden, a complicated cross-stitch pattern. When Wilma dies, Betsy is sure Wilma was murdered.

The next big clue comes when the autopsy reveals that the dead girl, Teddi, was pregnant and not killed in the pool but in a bathtub with lavender bath salts. It’s no secret that Teddi was seeing several men. The father is Tommy Shore, who denied knowing Teddi. His aunt and uncle are certain Tommy did not murder the girl. They also ask Betsy to help solve the mystery and clear his name. Betsy discovers Terri had two other main boyfriends, one of whom is married. Each has a good reason to kill her, but did they? Betsy can’t decide until she comes up with an idea about how to force the killer to act.

Ferris includes a great deal of information about different needlecrafts in her novels. She mentions many patterns readers might like to look up for their projects and even includes a dolphin pattern at the end of the book. She discusses the differences between a good needlecraft shop and the bigger, more impersonal craft stores.

The book won’t set the mystery world on fire. Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is funnier. The mystery is rather simplistic; it won’t be in the running for a Pulitzer. There are too many leaps of faith asked of the reader. For example, Betsy’s boyfriend Connor is too perfect for words. It won’t be made into a television series–though who knows, given the inanity of the television world? What it will do is help you through a couple of long blue days when the entire world seems to conspire against you. The Drowning Spool will give you a breather until all’s right with the world. It might even inspire you to pick up your needlework project once more. HLM