One of the biggest challenges faced by the author of cozy mystery series is finding original and convincing ways to involve his or her amateur detective protagonist in murder investigations book after book. After all, the best part-time sleuths have much in common with their readers and it is unlikely that most of them get involved in homicides on a regular basis. That the connection to the crime is in some way personal is a given for the first book; after that, more invention and imagination are required, or, perhaps, just honesty.

That’s where Clare O’Donohue is to be commended. The first death in A Drunkard’s Path (the second Someday Quilts Mystery after The Lover’s Knot) is connected to heroine Nell Fitzgerald only because the local police chief, stands her up on their first date without even calling to explain—a body has been discovered in their quiet Hudson River community. That’s enough to pique Nell’s active imagination, but her life is too full at the moment—she’s working at her grandmother’s quilt shop, starting art classes, meeting a talented but mysterious and apparently homeless fellow student—for her to get too involved in the investigation.

But the next death is someone she knows, and the young woman is killed in the backyard of Nell’s grandmother’s house. One of the suspects is Nell’s teacher, Oliver White, a famous artist who’s been showing a lot of interest in Nell’s grandmother, Eleanor. Though Nell now has all sorts of reasons to be curious, she’s also willing to admit that she’s also just plain nosy, a refreshing confession for an amateur detective.

Nell gets plenty of assistance from her fellow quilters of all ages, who are happy to unleash their own inner Nancy Drews in order to protect Eleanor. She gets less support from that police chief, Jesse Dewalt, and they once again take a detour on the road to romance.

O’Donohue finds a lot in quilting that applies to murder investigations: you’ve got to step back from what you’re working on once in a while in order to see it; the process is important; and “There’s no reason that solving a murder . . . should be any less organized than a quilt meeting.” These are lessons that Nell, a novice quilter, gradually takes in: “[A]nything, no matter how scary it seems at first, can be sorted out if you take it step by step. I just wasn’t sure if I was thinking about quilting, the murder investigation, or my relationship with Jesse.”

Joanne Collings cozies up with a good book in Washington, D.C.

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