Edith/Maddie here, celebrating April in northeast Massachusetts.
And part of that is celebrating a new Catering Hall Mystery from Maria DiRico, aka Ellen Byron!
Here’s the blurb for Four Parties and a Funeral: The June events schedule at Belle View, Mia Carina’s family’s catering hall in Astoria, are busting out all over, including a casting call for the pilot of Dons of Ditmars Boulevard. Belle View quickly becomes the site of a sea of wanna-be goombahs and phony girlfriends trying out for the cheesy reality show, and some of Mia’s friends insist on getting in on the action. The production company owner and his executive producer ex-wife—who’s also very minor British royalty—have assembled a motley crew that does as much infighting and backstabbing as the on-screen “talent.” Even so, it’s a shock when a dead body is found in the pool house of a local mansion rented by the show . . .
Murder might boost the ratings. But Mia intends to make sure the killer gets jail time, not airtime. . .
The Slippers that Led to a Storyline
My late Italian grandmother was a gifted crocheter. But for decades, crocheting wasn’t a hobby – it was survival.
Nonna, Papa, and their baby – my mother – immigrated to America at the start of the Depression. They were desperately poor, so Nonna put her crochet talents to use. “She made little rosettes that went on top of baby hats,” shares Mom, who used to help Nonna by picking up dropped stitches. “We’d get on the bus and take them to the knitting factory under the Hellgate Bridge in Queens. She got paid $1.55 a gross.”
Eventually, the family’s economics improved. As a retiree, Nonna was finally able to crochet for pleasure. But her thrifty habits stayed with her. Unused yarn from one project got recycled into the next. Which is how I wound up with these slippers.
The slippers are fifty years old and indestructible. When I was in college, a slipper fell out of my laundry basket onto the street and by the time I retrieved it, a dozen cars had run over it. After a good washing, the slipper bounced right back to life. (Sidebar: this slipper pattern must have been native to Italian nonnas because a friend and I once discovered we had slippers crocheted in the exact same style and pattern.)
Nonna’s use of yarn scraps is also evidenced in the odd color combination of the blanket below. Notice where she ran out of one color along the edge and simply switched to another color… twice.
[Edith: In my family we would call that being Scottish – “waste not, want not!”]
But Nonna didn’t always crochet from scraps. She often worked with thin white cotton, creating works of art like these antimacassars for the arms of a sofa I found on a New York street and claimed for my apartment:
In Four Parties and a Funeral, protagonist Mia’s nonna Elisabetta crochets a variety of biliously colored, ill-fitting garments with yarn from “surprise” bags sold for cheap at her local shop, to the amusement of friends and family. As I write in the book, “The craft shop had clearly found a way to foist unsellable merchandise onto their senior clientele – shove it into plastic bags, label them a ‘surprise collection,’ and sell the bags for a dollar, offering a deal that knitters and crocheters like Elisabetta would be unable to resist.” But Elisabetta gets the last laugh when a dress she crocheted for Mia helps trap a criminal.
I treasure everything my nonna ever crocheted for me. And I honor her with the affectionately humorous storyline in Four Parties and a Funeral, as well as my pen name, “Maria DiRico” – Nonna’s maiden name.
Readers: do you have a craft item made by a relative that you cherish? Do you have a crafting hobby?
Ellen Byron’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won two Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Bayou Book Thief is the first book in her new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. She also writes the Catering Hall Mystery series under the name Maria DiRico.
Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. She serves on the national board for Mystery Writers of America, and was the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster. Visit her at Cozy Mysteries | Ellen Byron | Author