girlbossing too close to the sun with crafting for murder
So I read a lot of cozy mysteries, right? Mostly they’re good. Sometimes they’re bad. Sometimes they lodge themselves in my brain until I rant to someone about them. Today that book is Crafting for Murder, and that someone is you.
Crafting for Murder by Barbara Emodi is about a woman who aspires to open a crafting co-op in her small town on an island in Nova Scotia but has to solve the murders of the radio station host and the mayor along the way.
Listen. I’m not actually gonna talk about the mystery plot. The mystery plot doesn’t matter. It’s honestly kinda boring. Reporter gets killed for getting too close to the truth, embezzlement of government funds, this goes all the way to the top, yadda yadda yadda.
I'm much more interested in the craft co-op business plot. Rarely am I as baffled by a character’s decisions and motivations as I am by this protagonist.
We’re introduced to Valerie Rankin as she’s being interviewed by her small town’s radio station and we’re already off to a great start. Apparently, the Department of Tourism was looking for women-owned businesses to feature in a magazine and Val just. Applied. With no actual business. So she’s got a month to pull a craft co-op out of her ass. Why would you do this.
When Gerry Richards, the radio host, is reasonably skeptical about this, she says in her narration:
“Had this man never had nothing to lose? Never done anything on impulse?” [p. 1]
(Though we immediately find out she has lots to lose, apparently, as “if I couldn’t get something organized here soon, it would be back to the city and the dead-end jobs I’d done most of my working life. I couldn’t let that happen,” [p. 2], but that’s neither here nor there.)
Next we learn that even though she’s out giving radio interviews and soliciting inventory, her business space isn’t even ready yet. Again, Why Would You Do This.
After the interview she heads to her cousin’s store. It’s a two-story building, and Val’s plan is to convert the upstairs that used to be storage into her floorspace. We’re casually introduced to Polly Peters, a twelve-year-old who comes by to work in the shop during her school lunch break. Don’t worry, it’s not child labor because they don’t pay her.
We head upstairs and get a look at the place. It’s got saggy beams and a mouse problem. And oh look, someone reported them to the building inspector. The inspector comes in, takes a look at the beam and says the it’s dangerous and the floor could collapse if you tried to put people up there, so they have to stop renovations until they get a building permit (which they didn’t have, by the way) and an engineer to come in and draw up repair plans.
“This situation is bigger than any person’s pet project. Safety issue.” [p. 16]
Then they’ve got the nerve to hem and haw about “who would report us.” First of all, there are two extremely obvious suspects, Gerry* and Developer Guy**, that simply do not occur to Rollie. Val is at least slightly smarter and emails a friend out of town for information on the developers but doesn’t, like, ask Rollie who Developer Guy was & try to get a name. Second of all, fuck you. “How dare that mean old building inspector keep us from killing legions of tourists in a freak building collapse!” Go eat rocks.
There’s another scene much later in the book where Val talks to the building inspector again. She finds out that Gerry was blackmailing him for dirt on the city counsel members, and that no one reported their renovation to him; he figured it out himself. There’s even more bullshit, with Val painting him as just some petty jackass on a powertrip and not, y’know, a civil servant doing the very important job of making sure people don’t die in building accidents.
“You finally had power… You have the rule book and can shut anyone down.” … “Hang on. No one called to report us at the store, did they? You made that up. You just came and inspected on your own, didn’t you? We were just another chance to throw your weight around, weren’t we?”
…“What was I supposed to do? It’s my job to make sure everything built in this town is done according to the regs, and how did I find out about your little reno job?” … “When I went in to buy Max a new dog bowl. The noise, the dust. Construction going on right in front of my eyes and I wasn’t even consulted. Unbelievable.”
“Is that all you care about? Being the big authority?” [p. 156]
Go! Eat! Rocks!
Rollie just happens to have an engineer friend they can talk to about the repairs, so Val’s gonna go talk to him after he’s had a chance to get a look at the building. The engineer, Stuart, confirms that while the beam is stable enough if you’re just using the room for storage, it’s going to collapse under any more traffic. They’re going to have to replace the beam if they want to get anyone upstairs. We get this strange exchange:
“Pretty straightforward. They do it all the time. Shouldn’t take more than a day.”
“We only have a month, little more.” [p.32]
Does Val not know how time works?
He also tells Val that the saggy beam put a crack in the walls that’s causing a rot & mold problem. She’ll have to talk to a contractor to figure out the full price of repairs, but he’s able to give her a rough estimate on the cost of replacing the beam and while we aren’t told how much, it’s apparently a lot.
“There was compassion on Stuart’s face. This annoyed me more than anything he’d said. I was sure he thought I was a naive woman with big ideas and nothing to back them up with.” [p.33]
It reads like she’s trying to be defiant but... that’s literally true though? We are told that Val basically just came up with this idea on an impulsive whim. We learn something more later on that makes this whole mess even more baffling. She very much went into this with basically no idea what she’s doing.
Also like. How is this not scary? Like, if I was in a building, and someone said to me “oh yeah, there’s this beam that’s kinda fucked, it’s fine for now but if there was any more weight on it it would definitely collapse,” I would not want to be in that building! Even the mere suggestion that a building could just fall down while I’m in it is scary to me. But no one who regularly spends time in this building is remotely phased by it outside of financial concerns.
Speaking of financial concerns, Val goes for a walk and comes up with a master plan for fixing the shop. Stuart mentioned another building that had a similar problem to hers, which she comes across. She sees that it’s a protected historical building and decides that the best way to solve her problem is to convince the city counsel to declare the shop a historical building so that the government will pay for the repairs. Stuart pulls some strings to get her proposal into the next city counsel meeting.
She spends the rest of the day sucking up to the city counsel members. She heads to lunch with her cousin Darlene, who coincidentally just happens to enter with two city counsel members, one of whom she’s dating. Val tries to schmooze with them, but they’re all about ~progress~ so the odds of them supporting her cause seem slim. After lunch, she heads out to talk to the other two counsel members. They are both on board for protecting the shop, so the only person left to convince is the mayor. Val heads home, and we get an exchange that once again leaves me asking Why Would You Do This.
A couple comes by to drop off stuff for the co-op, and in her narration, Val says:
“The co-op was my own dream, entirely dependent on the future of an unused area of the family store. It was something I had invented, just to see if I could support myself by making things, the only activity I’d ever really enjoyed. But it turned out I didn’t own that dream. The crafts coming to me all had some other creative soul’s hope attached, like a gift tag.” [p.55]
Girl. Why. Why are you surprised that selling other people’s stuff involves selling other people’s stuff? Why would you go through all this trouble to sell other people’s stuff when you mainly just wanted to sell your own stuff? Could you not have just opened an Etsy shop? We know that she has a whole sewing class in the store, could she not work with Rollie to make space for some inventory?
At the counsel meeting, Val gives a one-sentence argument for her position but ultimately gets her protection status because the mayor needs a banner for his boat and she can sew. The whole city counsel situation sounds kinda terrible honestly. You’ve got four people in groups of two on opposite sides who basically always agree with each other so each vote pretty much just comes down to the mayor, essentially negating the democratic process. It’s almost as if consolidating power in the hands of a few and not giving people a direct say in what happens to their community is bad, actually.
The book starts to focus more on the mystery from here, so this is where I’m really start gonna start skipping around. Tl;dr, Gerry’s assistant Noah thinks he was onto a big story and that’s why he was killed, he gives Val Gerry’s notes, and she finds shady stuff in the expense reports he’d gathered. There’s a stakeout at the casino, and some stuff about a road to a fish plant. They end up suspecting the mayor but then he gets killed so they’re back to square one.
Whatever, we don’t care about any of this murder nonsense. We’re here to focus on the important issues: monetizing arts and crafts.
What’s the revenue model of this co-op? Val’s not paying for any of the items she receives, but we also don’t see her making any record of who’s providing what. How is she gonna keep track of who to pay when an item sells? She is paying people when their items sell, right? Val and Rollie keep talking about how the tourism boost from the craft co-op will help the store somehow; how’s that gonna work? Is Val taking a seller’s fee off the top? Are they just really hoping people who come by for crocheted hand towels will stop for some peat moss on the way out? Or is the boost supposed to specifically come from items Val makes? In that case, again, Why Would You Do This?
To be clear, I’m not opposed to the idea of the co-op. Someone taking the resources that they have to create a space where the whole community can make an attempt to support themselves in this capitalist hellscape is great. That’s not my issue here. My issue is with Val and trying to understand her thought process. Val isn’t doing this for the community. She seems almost shocked that the community is even interested in it. She talks about wanting to support herself, and maybe the store, and having something she can show off to her kids. The community seems like an afterthought, but if she was only thinking of herself, there were much easier ways to get what she wanted.
Moving on, there’s a scene where she’s teaching her sewing class, and there’s a few pages here that are a little too good at recreating the experience of being in a room full of people who are all having separate conversations and you’re struggling to keep track of any of them. Some of the dialogue is actually pretty good but it’s physically painful for me to read.
Later, there’s a scene where she has to go to the hospital because Rollie sewed through his finger with the class sewing machine. He takes the entire machine to the hospital with him, so Val’s gotta take it back. Somewhere between the hospital, home, and the store, the machine is stolen from her car by the murderer. Val tells us that most people in town, including her, leave their cars and doors unlocked at night.
Girl. There has literally been a murder. Over information that you now possess. Why Would You Do This. Lock your fucking doors.
After the sewing machine is stolen, she reports it to the cops, who throughout the story are useless bastards as cops tend to be. She goes home, and instead of locking her fucking doors, she takes her dog for a walk, goes to question her cousin, and returns to find that the murderer broke into her house to return the sewing machine and make themselves tea. It’s not until Stuart tells her “hey, maybe you should start locking your doors” that she finally does.
Let’s talk about Polly some more. Throughout the book she consistently appears to be the most competent character. Polly works up a full business plan for her and a friend to make friendship bracelets for the co-op. She has put more thought and work into her small-time craft racket than Val has on the entire co-op. Later on she suggests that Val try online retail & talks Rollie out of becoming a cryptobro. We’re getting into some real Book of Henry shit; ask your local 12-year-old before making any big financial decisions.
To top it all off, Polly knew who the murderer was before Val did. Right at the end it’s revealed that she witnessed them after the death of the mayor and put 2 and 2 together. The only reason the murderer wasn’t caught sooner was because the cops are assholes and didn’t believe her.
!! Warning! We are entering Spoiler City! If for some reason you do not want to know who the murderer is, click here to skip to the Safety Skeleton! !!
As we come to the end of the book and we find a shady character lurking in the store basement. It’s Maureen, the mayor’s wife, who reveals that she’s the murderer! But more importantly, she’s sabotaging the crafts! She breaks several handmade ornaments and threatens Val, but Val’s saved by the store cat scaring a mouse into Maureen’s hair. Also Stuart shows up? He’s been set up to be the love interest but I still have no idea why he’s here.
So yeah. Reading this book was certainly A Time. I don’t know how to end this. Hope you had fun. If you want to help me name the Safety Skeleton, or call me a hater who just can't stand to see a girlboss winning, you can send me a message on Tumblr. If you like my writing so much you want to give me money I have a Ko-fi. Bye.
*The interview was being pre-recorded to air later, so it couldn’t have been a listener.
**While Val is out, some guy shows up offering to buy the store and tear it down to put in a parking lot for the dollar store going in next door. The building inspector shows up shortly after when Val gets back. I didn’t mention Developer Guy before this or anywhere else because he literally doesn’t matter. The only payoff for this is that Val assumes some other guy is Developer Guy and is wrong, something that could have easily been avoided if she’d asked Rollie or Polly any questions about the guy sooner.