What’s on display in Lea Wait’s latest and, sadly, last book in her Mainely Needlepoint series is not so much her skill at writing mystery stories, but her big heart. Wait, who died in August shortly after this book’s publication, was an advocate for adoption and was herself the single mother of four adopted daughters. Her stated desire was to write about the need for everyone to find “love, acceptance and a place to call home,” a quality shared by her protagonist here, Angie Curtis.

At the beginning of “Thread on Arrival,” we meet Ike, a marginalized resident of the small town in midcoast Maine where the Mainely Needlepoint series is set. Considered “slow,” Ike lives on disability checks and the proceeds of the returnable bottles he collects. When he is found stabbed to death, the person assumed guilty is a young runaway from out of town, Leo. When a second disabled person dies, the plot thickens, like a good clam chowder. Angie is convinced Leo is innocent and sets out to find the real culprit. In this, she is aided by many of the needlepointers she works with.

Angie has recently moved back to her hometown in Maine in order to take over her grandmother’s needlepoint business. That you can devise a successful murder mystery series around needlepoint may come as a surprise to some. But such benign hobbies are common in so-called cozy mysteries, of which this series is a prime example. (Wait’s other murder series is called Antique Print Mysteries.) The genre is distinguished by several features: small-town settings, no sex, no bad language, and a (usually female) amateur detective who, somewhat perplexingly for a rural village, seems to stumble on dead bodies wherever she goes. You might say that cozies are to hard-boiled crime fiction what “Murder She Wrote” is to “NCIS.” Very soft-boiled.

Though we don’t see a lot of needlepointing action in this book, Wait does open every chapter with a quote from and a description of a sampler made by a young New England girl two centuries ago. It sets a mood and helps slide the reader into the slightly old-fashioned world of Haven Harbor, a coastal hamlet that holds a Blessing of the Fleet and has exactly one year-round restaurant.

The heart of the story – as it is in many of Wait’s books – is the notion of community and how we all care (or don’t) for those in need. One of Angie’s brigade of needlepointers is Dave, a high school teacher, who instantly takes Leo under his wing. Leo came from an abusive family and, it turns out, so did Dave. He sees himself in the frightened and troubled 16-year-old boy, and while Angie wants to exonerate him, Dave badly wants to help him learn to do the right thing. He is even willing to become a foster parent to him. Angie can understand, because she was raised by her grandmother after her own mother abandoned her. And her insights about the strains of caring for a needy person – plus those acquired while working for a detective agency in Arizona – help lead her to the actual murderer.

“Thread on Arrival” is like literary comfort food. Much of the story’s soothing charm lies in its details of small-town life and domesticity. Cats are constantly needing to be fed and stroked. People cook for each other and share meals. Dave makes Angie lasagna. Gram makes her a daffodil birthday cake. Recipes are provided at the end of the book. Life is good.

Wait dedicated the book to her late husband and, fittingly, those who cared for him during his long illness. Less than three months after his death, Wait herself was diagnosed with cancer and given just weeks to live. She defied that prognosis and lived another year, finishing “Thread on Arrival” and working right up to the very end. A prolific author with 34 titles to her name including mystery, historical and children’s books – most of them set in this state – she contributed much to the world of Maine fiction and will be missed.

Amy MacDonald is a freelance writer and children’s author. She lives in Falmouth and may be reached at [email protected]


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