Death by Cashmere is the first in Sally Goldenbaum's Seaside Knitters series (she is also the author of the Queen Bees Quilt mystery series), and it's a lovely introduction to Sea Harbor, Massachusetts and the knitting group that meets in Izzy's shop. This charming story begins after Izzy has moved back to Sea Harbor, abandoning her law career to open a knitting shop. Her aunt Nell, Nell's elderly friend Birdie (a hoot!), and lobsterwoman Cass get together one evening a week to share food, gossip, and knitting time. When Angie, who lives above Izzy's shop, is found drowned, her beautiful red hair tangled in one of Cass's lobster pots, the police in Sea Harbor are quick to assume the culprit is a random act by an outsider. The knitting group senses something is wrong in their little town, and they want it fixed so they can feel safe again.
Sea Harbor is the kind of town I love to read about: truly close-knit and caring, families who have lived there for generations, and in one of my favorite locales, New England. It's a bonus that the picturesque seaside town gives Goldenbaum plenty of opportunities to demonstrate her gift for descriptive writing. Nell, Cass, Izzy, and Birdie are well-developed characters with interesting backstories eased into the narrative. Goldenbaum gives them plenty of scenes to interact in smaller groups, with secondary characters, and as a quartet, which made them feel like real people. They have distinct personalities and a rich group dynamic. When they talk about the murder and begin investigating, it's not the pushy, overt "I must solve this crime myself" investigation that I've come to expect from amateur sleuths. Their efforts are more organic, arising from their fear for their community, and the pieces of the puzzle are slow to drop in place to form a satisfying conclusion. Sea Harbor is more developed than I expect in a mystery, with great secondary and even tertiary characters who give the reader a real sense of the place. The mystery was engaging, but at times I would be immersed in Sea Harbor, then suddenly be reminded that I was reading a murder mystery. This made the book an even more complex, fun read for me, but readers who like the murder at the forefront and are not as interested in getting to know the town and characters may find the book slow-moving.
Goldenbaum seems unconcerned with the conventions of contemporary cozy mysteries, and I found that refreshing. She eschews the usual youngish, single point-of-view character who spends much of her time looking for a guy (though, don't get me wrong, I enjoy plenty of those) in favor of Nell, Izzy's aunt, who is happily married. There is a sweet bit of romance for Izzy, but it's in the background. The mystery is complex and satisfying, with numerous threads that come together nicely. There is no sense of imminent danger to the sleuths (I often find those scenes to be annoying in other mysteries), and no confront-the-killer ending. I found the writing and editing to be excellent, and I found very little to nitpick there. One annoyance is in the dialogue: the characters frequently refer to each other by name while they're speaking to each other, and no one talks that way. I found that I could skim past the references without my inner Grammar Nerd going nuts. There was a reference to a "unique, one-of-a-kind sweater" that made me grimace, but for the most part, the writing and editing were great (not always true of cozy mysteries). None of these little things diminished my pleasure in reading, though as someone who cooks, I'm still scratching my head over an herbed spinach frittata apparently made with cumin and coriander AND topped with parmesan AND sour cream. And I have a bone to pick with whoever approved the jacket copy, which makes it seem that Izzy is the point-of-view character, not even mentioning Nell's name! I spent the first few pages annoyed at the wandering POV, only to realize that the misleading jacket copy was the problem.
To sum up, Death by Cashmere is a thoroughly enjoyable start to a new mystery series, and I highly recommend it to knitters, mystery readers, readers of women's fiction, and anyone who enjoys a cozy visit to a small town.