Author who can ‘keep you in stitches’ coming to Rockford

On Jan. 7, Monica Ferris will appear at The Needle & I, one of the shops of Edgebrook, from 4 to 7 p.m. Ferris is Berkley’s lead paperback mystery author and the creator of the Betsy Devonshire Needlework Mystery Series. She is traveling to promote her newest entry in the series, Cutwork.

While her books feature a middle-aged divorcee who inherits a needlework shop after her sister is murdered, you don’t have to be a stitcher to enjoy them. Ferris writes the novels for Berkley/Prime Crime, a division of Penguin Putnam. Betsy Devonshire decides to keep the shop, Crewel World, open. She discovers a talent for stitchery—and sleuthing. Betsy knits while she ponders clues and sews up cases that have local police baffled. All the books have gone to multiple printings, and some have appeared on the USA Today and Independent Mystery Booksellers best-seller list.

Ferris was NOT an experienced stitcher when she was approached by Berkley with a request that she write a mystery with a needleworking theme. Indeed, she had been busy researching 15th-century England for a series she was writing in collaboration with Margaret Frazer. But the collaboration had broken up, and she was looking for a new idea. Her mother is a stitcher, and so are several of her friends. She thought, “how could it be?” As an already successful author as Mary Monica Pulver and “half” of Margaret Frazer, she had already published 11 novels and 20 short stories.

So she drew up a plot outline and invented Margot Berglund, a successful businesswoman who was also an expert needleworker, attractive, intelligent and busy-minded. The publisher liked it, so she started to write. When she discovered she had too much to learn about needlework (not being a stitcher herself) and the world of small business, she decided to murder Margot Berglund for the most traditional of mystery novel ideas: Margot knew too much.

She then invented Betsy Devonshire, Margot’s sister, who (like Ferris) knew nothing about running a small business and very little about needlework, and allowed her to inherit Crewel World. So when Ferris was struggling to learn the secrets of the basketweave stitch, so did Betsy. But Betsy was no slouch in unraveling a mystery; by the end of the first novel, she was well ahead of the police in identifying her sister’s murderer.

Berkley (the publisher) liked the revamped story and the ones that followed it. So has the mystery-reading public. Crewel World, Framed in Lace, A Stitch in Time, Unraveled Sleeve, A Murderous Yarn, Hanging by a Thread are in bookstores nationwide, and even in some needlework shops. Ferris is currently on tour promoting the seventh book in the series, Cutwork.

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