"Patterns in the Sand" by Sally Goldenbaum
Obsidian, 296 pp., $23.95
Reviewed by David Marshall James
For her mystery series set in a Massachusetts seaside resort, Sally Goldenbaum has created a town that would be high on any tourist's destination list and an array of well-drawn denizens to inhabit it.
Small wonder that so many visitors keep returning-- nay, moving-- to Sea Harbor. There're good lobsters, good fishing, good sailing, pleasant beaches, and spectacular scenery. There's a fine selection of specialty stores, cafes, tea shops, and restaurants.
No wonder the characters are always noshing. If they didn't haul it out to the beach and run every morning-- or struggle uphill on their bicycles-- they would all be as big as Melville's whale.
Although the author presents several dozen characters, the action revolves around Nell and Ben Endicott (to whom all the major characters gravitate, thanks largely to their Friday night suppers featuring Ben's martinis) and Nell's thirtysomething niece, Izzy, a onetime Boston lawyer who has opened a high-grade yarn and knitting supplies emporium in town.
Mysteries don't get much cozier that when Nell, Izzy, and their young friend, Cass, and their older friend, Birdie, are sitting around the scarred table in the back room of Izzy's shop, knitting, during the midst of a howling thunderstorm, after a meal of homemade clam chowder, brie on crackers, and baker's cobbler.
The action in this follow-up to last year's "Death by Cashmere"-- the debut novel in the series-- focuses on the town's "artists' colony" and galleries, located in a section called Canary Cove. The town's most noted sculptor (in wood) is poisoned two days following his attendance at the Endicotts' latest Friday night soiree. The murder transpires during a festive, crowded Sunday-night open house for all the Canary Cove galleries, so the perpetrator could be any one of many-- even though suspicion weighs heavily on a young woman who has recently arrived in Sea Harbor.
By and large, the plot is well-woven, and the solution to the (ultimately) two murders comes to a sensible conclusion. However, the other half of the denouement, involving newly discovered watercolors by a noted artist, leaks like a lobster trap. With a bit of tweaking, it could have worked nicely.
Still and all, the author offers much to recommend this series, particularly the aforementioned setting and appealing characters. The author seems fairly bursting at the seams to go-the-distance in the humor department with an ex-Atlantic City showgirl, Natalie Sobel.
And she should. Natalie provides a naturally entertaining contrast-- particularly when she's medicated or inebriated-- to the knitting group.
With so much in place, it shouldn't be difficult for Goldenbaum to come up with plenty of future volumes that will situate Sea Harbor securely on the mystery lovers' map.
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