Sew Deadly, Elizabeth Lynn Casey, Berkley Prime Crime, $6.99.
For newcomer Tori Sinclair, the mores and customs of the South in the small southern town of Sweet Briar, South Carolina seem initially both incomprehensible and impenetrable. Tori, the new town librarian, lucks into the local sewing circle; but she instantly makes a gaffe by bringing lemonade to the gathering instead of something home-baked (one of the other ladies hisses to her in an aside that Southerners only drink sweet tea) and there's more discomfort due to the fact that the retired librarian and fellow sewing circle member, Dixie Dunn, didn't exactly take a voluntary retirement. She's not at the first meeting, but her resentment of Tori at the second one is crystal clear. Tori is also informed that since her real name is "Victoria", that's what she should be called. Southerners, she's told, don't use nicknames.
Much of this can of course be brushed aside, and when Tori scores a hit with her first visiting class of third graders to the library—with the class and with their teacher, Milo Wentworth—she begins to feel things might work out after all. Unfortunately, the notorious belle Tiffany Ann Gilbert, who had a well known (and unrequited) crush on Milo, is found dead behind the library dumpster when Tori is working there alone one night, and the finger of suspicion in quick to point at her. She can't walk anywhere in town without a trail of whispers, and the police are actively questioning her. Luckily she has a few supporters.
One of them is a shy third grader named Lulu who, encouraged by Tori to read aloud, begins to do so to her stuffed animals and in private to Tori. Her grateful granny, Margaret Louise, is firmly on Tori's side, as is the besotted Milo. Not only is she under suspicion for murder but inconvenient things—like the library appointment book and the light bulbs on her front porch—begin to disappear with monotonous regularity. These threaten to make her look like a fool in front of the library board, but she still manages to wow them with her idea for a children's reading room, complete with murals and costumes.
With Milo's and Margaret Louise's help, Tori begins to sort out what's really going on, and in a way it takes her outsider's eye—she's able to look at people in the tiny town more objectively than everyone else, who have all lived in Sweet Briar forever and many of whom are related to one another. This is a gentle, pleasant mystery, which includes a pattern at the end of the book for the pillow Tori manages to finish in her sewing circle. This is a perfect read for a hot summer's day, preferably with a glass of sweet tea.
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