Hi everyone—I love that I have this chance to share with you the opening pages of the next Seaside Knitters Society mystery, A Murderous Tangle.
And here’s a fact about one of the characters in this new book that I hope you find interesting:
I’ve always enjoyed the Martha Grimes mysteries that feature young Emma Graham. I’ve often imagined a storyline in which I could feature a young girl like Emma—and Gabrielle Marietti seemed the perfect choice. As some of you know, Gabby is the granddaughter of one of the seaside knitters. In A Murderous Tangle I finally found a perfect place in which she could be a star. Gabby fits perfectly into this story and now I love her even more than I did in previous books.
I’ll leave the opening below to introduce her to those of you who haven’t met Gabby in earlier books, and for those who have, I hope you enjoy getting to know her a little better. I truly did.
It would be days later, after the December days took on a new kind of chill, that Gabrielle Marietti would look back on the episode in the cove with a clarity—and a fear— that would startle her.
But on that day—a chilly December afternoon—she felt no alarm or fear or foreboding. Instead, what she experienced was a powerful sense of nature: of deep blue-black water, the salty taste of the air, and the shiver of the cold breeze as it lifted the dark hair on the back of her neck. She’d remember the sun coming through the pine trees and the voices that traveled across the cove. The power of nature.
And then another kind of power. Girl power. That’s what Gabby had thought that day.
But later, the colors and sounds would change. The breeze turned sinister, the wintry chill a warning. And the memory would make Gabby close her eyes and will it all to disappear.
It was a school day, but her grandmother knew she liked to loosen her legs, wander a bit after being cooped up for too many hours in a classroom. Some days Gabby would wander around the docks, where Cass Halloran’s lobster crews kept their traps and boats, and colorful fishermen wandered around. She loved their stories and jokes and how they welcomed her as if she were ageless, like so many of them.
Other days she and her friend Daisy would head over to Izzy’s yarn shop to help unpack boxes of yarn or watch customers’ kids in the shop’s playroom—the Magic Room, they called it. But the outdoors was Gabby’s natural habitat. That was where she felt truly free. And that was where, one day after school, she’d discovered the private cove that she soon claimed as her own.
Her nonna Birdie said that when she was young, she was that way, too—needing space and time for being alone with her thoughts and feelings. Her nonna liked stretching her arms out wide and shouting into the wind. Something they both agreed didn’t play well in the middle of Harbor Road. But sitting in the cove all by herself, Gabby’s shouts were embraced fully by nature, sometimes with nature whistling or crooning right back at her. And she loved imagining her nonna doing the same thing.
It was through a different lens that Ella Sampson, Birdie Favazza’s housekeeper, saw twelve-year-old Gabby’s need to wander. “Your grandmother worries, Gabrielle Marietti. You keep in touch with her. Always. Always let her know your whereabouts.”
The housekeeper’s words echoed in her head as Gabby checked the time on her cell phone, then tapped in a message: Biking and writing—not at the same time. Heading home soon. What’s for dinner?
Gabby was never sure if the texts were for Ella or for her grandmother. Birdie had told Gabby often that she didn’t worry. Not really, she said. Or at least she tried not to. Pretended not to was Ella’s take. But Birdie was quick to coat both Ella’s comments and her own expressions with the fact that she trusted her granddaughter fully. She knew Gabby had common sense. She knew right from wrong. Gabby agreed.
But Ella had made Gabby swear on a Bible, anyway, promising to keep all worry away from her grandmother. Then Ella had hugged Gabby tightly and told her she loved her like her own child, but she loved her employer more. And if Gabby didn’t do as Ella said, she might be responsible for Birdie having a heart attack, painting the awful possibility vividly enough to give Gabby nightmares two nights in a row.
She loved her grandmother more than almost anyone alive, other than maybe her father. Killing her nonna was a seriously horrendous thought. But for a twelve-year-old who had mostly grown up in a New York penthouse with a globe-traveling father, no mother, and more freedom than God afforded birds (as the cook often told her), reporting in took great effort. But she did it. For her nonna. And to escape Ella’s wrath.
She slipped her phone into a pocket of her backpack and pulled her knees up to her chest. The old dock rocked beneath the movement, the waves choppy as they hit the shore. Gabby shivered. Winter was in the air. The holidays beginning. She hugged her heavy jacket close.
“Wear this one, my darling,” Birdie had called out that morning, catching Gabby a second before she raced down the long circle drive to catch the school bus. She’d tossed the puffy down garment to her.
Gabby liked the cold—but was happy for the jacket. Her nose and cheeks were turning red and her black hair flew wild and damp from the windy spray.
She loved this hidden cove—her special place. The abandoned dock, beaten by winds into a wobbly plank. The paths, tangled and overgrown with shadbush and greenbrier that challenged her as she lugged her bike through the undergrowth and down to the water’s edge. She imagined what it would be like soon, covered in white, the trees bending beneath winter’s weight. Quiet. Amazing.
She looked out over the perfect half-moon of water, the curve of land dotted with bushes and trees tangled from decades of ocean winds and tucked into the granite boulders that formed a hill rising above the water. This was her place. Her earth, as Tess Bean would say to her and the rest of the class. Their earth, one they had to protect and care for.
A gust of wind swept across the water, sending shallow waves lapping against the old pier. Gabby tightened her hold on her long legs— deer’s legs, people said. Too long. Gabby thought it was a good description of her whole body. It was too everything. Her freckles were too dark and too many. Eyebrows too thick. And her baseball cap only pretended to contain the mass of dark, too-thick waves now damp with sea air. She didn’t much care, not usually, not often. The legs won track meets, and her nonna loved the freckles.
The harsh squawk of gulls broke the silence and pulled Gabby’s attention to the opposite side of the cove. At first, her eyes were drawn to the tide, darkening the boulders at the shore’s edge. And then, as if the rising tide had been but a harbinger, the sounds of foliage and birds scattering from danger drew her eyes halfway up the rocky incline, where a figure emerged from a stand of trees and tangle of sumac and bearberry.
She rarely saw people on that side, especially when the sea air grew heavy and the spray stung and colored cheeks. Gabby liked that—an isolated spot.
She leaned forward now, squinting to bring the intruder into focus. Another followed, emerging from the trees and following the other. Smaller. The first was clearly a man, tall and nondescript with a mud-colored hoody covering him like a monk. He seemed to be laughing at what the woman was saying behind him.
The woman’s head was bare and a heavy sweatshirt covered her whole body, disguising her shape.
Just then, a billowing cloud shadowing the cove moved on its way, allowing a ray of afternoon sunshine to light the woman from behind, her shaggy yellow-white hair shimmering like an angel’s halo.
Gabby’s mouth dropped open. And then she grinned.
It was Tess. Amazing Tess.
There was no mistaking her now. She had walked onto the smooth plane of a boulder close to the water. Her stance was familiar, resolute and strong, and it made her seem even taller than Gabby’s gangly height, even though Tess was shorter. The haircut was unmistakable. The same one that every seventh-grade girl at Sea Harbor Community Day School coveted: thick white and gold strands that looked like they’d been shaped by Ella’s pinking shears. A careless look— hair escaping from whatever she’d used to control it—hairpins, bands, a baseball hat. Gabby and her friends coveted its cool, exotic messiness, one they all wished they could mimic and that was made even more dramatic by the rumors that said Tess cut her own hair. She was most definitely the best part-time teacher the school had ever hired.
She stood just a foot or two beyond the man, talking, her small hands gesturing in sync with her words. Passionate words, Gabby guessed. Tess was a passionate woman. An occasional word broke free of a sentence and floated across the water to where Gabby sat.
Garbage. Killing fish. Spoiled. Always. Always.
Gabby frowned, not sure of what was happening. She started to get up, to wave at the woman whose convictions and wise words about clean water and wasted food and global warming were still rattling around in Gabby’s head—words she had heard earlier that day in science class. Words she had minutes before recorded on her tablet, along with other things Tess had taught them and her thoughts about it all.
The man seemed unperturbed by Gabby’s tirade, uninterested in whatever the woman was saying to him. Maybe not even listening. Or laughing away the message. Cocky.
He took a step closer to the water’s edge, where the rising tide rose nearly up to his sneakers. He leaned over, picking up a handful of small rocks from the sliver of shore. Then, one by one, he tossed them into the water as if unaware of the woman standing a few steps away. Ignoring her in a way that seemed practiced. As if she weren’t there. Or didn’t matter.
But he did know she was there. Of course he did. Finally he lifted his head and stood up, looking over at her and raising his own hand. He spoke loudly, his words carried on the breeze.
“A tree-hugging babe,” he said. “Bean-babe. Geesh, trees? Plastic?”
His laughter followed his words, rolling across the cove like a bowling ball. Gabby tensed up. The man laughed again and took a step in Tess’s direction, his hood falling around his neck as he moved.
The scene was surreal. Gabby bit down on her bottom lip and willed herself still.
But Tess didn’t look frightened at all. She took a step closer to him and cut his words off sharply, slicing the air with her hand like a machete.
The man didn’t look deterred, his words muffled now. His back was straight and his shoulders broad, nearly blocking Tess from sight. He took a step toward her.
The wind picked up and Gabby felt something building deep inside herself, even more powerful than the beating of her heart. She pulled herself upright and stepped to the end of the old dock.
She stared intently across the water. But before she could frame her emotions sensibly, before she could yell out for Tess to do something—to run or hide—before she could do a single thing, Tess took over. She shouted at the man, a sound that reached Gabby’s ears like an animal sound. Angry and loud. The man didn’t move, not even when Tess took the next step—a long one that brought her inches away from the man facing her.
Tess wasn’t afraid. Not at all. Gabby could see that clearly now, even from her distant post. Just mad. She’d seen it before, how she could stand up to people who were refusing to correct their ways. Fearless. Bold.
Gabby grinned and shielded her eyes from the late-afternoon sun, peering intently at the drama being played out across the cove. A drama, for sure. She wondered what act this one was? And what would the last act be?
She watched as Tess raised her hands out in front of her, and with a strength that betrayed her size, she placed her palms flat on the chest of the man in front of her. And then she pushed.
At first, the man teetered like a wobbly set of dominoes, arms and legs not connecting to his body. Seconds later, he arched backward, arms flailing, and his long body flying into the shallow, freezing water of the cove.
A spray of water rose up to where Tess, still watching silently, stood. Her words were loud, intended to reach the flailing man. “That’s my thanks. For nothing.”
Gabby’s breath came out in a whoosh. She snapped her mouth closed and squinted so hard her eyes hurt, forcing the scene into focus. The man’s hoodie billowed like a balloon around him as he lay on the shallow rocky bottom. Tess leaned forward, her hands on her knees, watching while the man grabbed an outcropping of weeds and began to pull himself safely from the frigid water.
Gabby waited, her breath caught in her chest, her eyes moving from the creature rising from the sea, spraying water wildly, to the woman pulling herself upright, still watching as the man regained his footing.
A stream of profanity floated up as the man tugged at strands of seaweed caught in his sodden jeans and sweatshirt.
But Tess didn’t move. Just looked, watching while the man regained his balance.
Then one word traveled down to the man, and across the water to where Gabby stood, listening, watching, waiting for the next act.
“Payback,” Tess said. And then she calmly turned and climbed back up the rocky incline, through the scrub bushes until the evergreens at the top seemed to part for her, then close gently behind as she disappeared into the fading day.
Gabby stood frozen on the dock, processing the scene that had played out in front of her.
She watched the man strip off his soaking sweatshirt and stare into the trees after her, making no move to follow. He was shaking his head, as if in wonder. Or terrible anger. She couldn’t be sure.
Had he looked the other way, he might have seen Gabby standing there on the dock, her face registering awe and amazement and pleasure at what one heroic woman had done.
“Girl power,” Gabby whispered, a smile filling her whole face.
While the Seaside Knitters get ready to showcase their new Danish-inspired event, locals can’t stop talking about Tess Bean—a bright-eyed environmental activist with a way of charming both animals and humans alike. Birdie’s granddaughter is mesmerized by ethereal Tess’s passion for saving the earth and ocean, and even Izzy’s old Irish setter becomes attached to the young woman’s gentle touch . . .
Except not everyone is a fan of Tess and her strong opinions, especially after she starts questioning the “clean” practices of small-business owners. So when a popular bar owner whom Tess publicly calls out for bad practices is found dead from a fall off his club’s deck, it’s not long before she tops the suspect list for murder . . .
In addition to a murderer walking their streets, the knitters are also grappling with an unusual wave of thefts up and down Harbor Road. Now, as Birdie’s granddaughter struggles to protect her mentor’s reputation, the Seaside Knitters must solve a dangerous mystery that not only threatens to unravel the fabric of their community and the approaching holiday, but also the lives of those they care about the most . . .