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Tilly Wallace

Seams like Murder

Seams like Murder

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There are two things that can’t talk—moving pictures and dead showgirls…

1920, Wellington, New Zealand. Grace Devine is poised to build her thriving dress design business as the twenties begin to soar. But when a fashionable client is murdered, suspicion falls on Grace as the last person to see Agatha alive.

As wary clients cancel and business begins to fail, Grace decides there’s only one way to prove her innocence and save her career…this seamstress will turn sleuth to find who really murdered the showgirl.

The more she learns, the more she uncovers of the darker side of the dead woman’s personality. Agatha liked to collect secrets and use them against people. But what target snapped that fatal night? Can Grace stitch together the clues before her life is torn apart…

These heart-warming historical mysteries will send you on a unique New Zealand adventure.

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Read sample

Thursday, 15 January 1920
Wellington, NEW ZEALAND
My dad always told me to do something you love, and you’ll never regret a day of work. He was right. At least about that. From a young age, I had delighted in sewing. The ability to take a length of cloth and create anything I wanted possessed a kind of magic. Then events that should have ruined my life, instead opened up the opportunity to start my own tiny fashion house—Grace Designs.
My humble business occupied the bottom corner of a building on Plimmer Steps, a cobbled lane that ran from Lambton Quay to Boulcott Street. Every day, numerous pedestrians used the shortcut between the buildings and up the steep stairs. My workshop occupied a space before the wide window. The large cutting table, made by my dad, occupied the centre of the room. Against one wall sat my Singer sewing machine. A dress form either side. A private room for fittings was secluded on the other side of the room. A glass top bench stretched out near the rear of the shop.
Today I worked alone. My assistant Etáin Doyle, or Etty, had the most terrible head cold, and I didn’t want her nose dripping onto delicate silk. With hand stitching on my lap, I sat in a chair placed in the light coming through the window. A wooden workbox open on the small table beside me. Sometimes, a curious passer-by would pause and stare at the item I was sewing.
I felled a seam on the skirt of a walking ensemble—tedious work that some seamstresses didn’t bother with. After pressing the seam open, I turned the edge on either side under and pinned it down. Then another pass with the iron kept hot on the small potbelly in the corner of the room. Now, a tiny row of stitches marched along the fabric and finished the edge. My mentor, Mrs Cooper, always told me it was the invisible details that distinguished a fine haute couture gown from mass-produced fashion. Work that required patience and care, like felling a seam.
On my left hand, the one holding the fabric, I had drawn two black lines on my thumbnail. Those lines acted as a tiny measure and ensured every stitch was the exact same size. The repetitive nature of the work induced a kind of trance state. My inhales and exhales matched the needle being passed through the linen. I finished off the row and snipped the thread as the brass bell above the door tinkled.
A blast of warm January summer air burst into my shop, along with a customer who sent dread flowing through my limbs. A willowy form clad in a fashionable day dress of yellow stripe with a wide sailor collar and a smart matching straw hat marched in. She was exactly the sort of customer I longed to see walk through my door. Except for this particular person.
I had nothing personal against Agatha Marshall. She was overall a lovely person, quick to smile or offer a kind word. My issue with Agatha resided entirely with her memory. She would forget an appointment and leave me waiting for hours. Or she would forget how much she adored the blue silk and insist on green chiffon. Or she would forget to pay her rather large and outstanding bill which meant I had to pare back a recent fabric order from England.
“My darling Grace! It’s been absolutely ages!” Agatha swanned into my little shop and reached out to touch the tweed draped on the dress form for an outfit perfect for cold winter days.
It had been ages because she still hadn’t paid her bill, and I had fobbed off all her attempts to book a fitting.
“Hello, Miss Marshall. You are looking lovely today.” I placed the skirt pieces into my work basket and rose.
The bright yellow of Agatha’s dress combined with her large smile reminded me of a sunflower.
“I need your help, Grace, and you are the only one who can help me out of this pickle.” She dropped to the comfortable leather armchair, reserved for customers as they were shown sketches or fabric. She clutched her purse on her lap and her fingers fidgeted with the golden catch.
“Oh?” Her dress didn’t appear to need any repair and I recalled seeing it as part of the new summer collection at Kirkcaldie and Stains—the premier department store in Wellington.
“I am dying for the starring role in Liam’s new show at the Cricket. Rumour has it that a hotshot Hollywood producer is in New Zealand for a holiday, and he will attend opening night!”
She practically squealed when she mentioned Hollywood. A place far away and not subject to chilly winters. Or so I had read in a magazine. Silent films were making stars from ordinary folk, and Agatha dreamed of appearing on the big screen one day. I’d never heard of any star coming from little old New Zealand, though. Not that we didn’t have our share of talented folk, but it was a terribly long boat journey to America if you wanted to be discovered. Probably why she was so excited if a movie producer had slid down to our part of the globe.
“There is a grand party at Antrim House tonight and simply everybody who is anybody is going. I know if I can charm Liam, he will give the lead to me, and not that fumble-footed blonde. Imagine—Hollywood!” She managed to both exclaim and sigh over the last word.
My heart fell. Agatha not only wanted a new frock, but she expected it at incredibly short notice. “I’m sorry, Miss Marshall. I couldn’t possibly make a gown by tonight.” Not even if I wanted to, and you were going to pay me—in advance.
“But Grace, I need to look ravishing. I will simply die if I don’t get this part and it goes to that cow, Mintie.” At this point, she leaned back in the chair and pressed her hand to her forehead in a melodramatic fashion. She really was suited to life as a starlet, from her stunning looks to her extravagant gestures. Everything about her life was do or die.

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Customer Reviews

Based on 5 reviews

Absolutely fantastic. Grace is a clever and strong woman devoted to her son. She tries hard to make a living. When tragedy strikes she does her best to find the courage to discover the truth in time

Sonia Hagenberger
No wizz bang

It’s a slow, steady relaxing listen, it divulges its secrets, slowly. It describes its era beautifully and richly, takes you along the steps our heroine takes. Since this is the first in the series, not all is clear but you won’t want to stop listening. The main character Grace, is likable, as are most of the lead characters. She could use a stronger backbone but I think that’s in the works. Tilly has done a marvelous job of giving me the feel of the environment, color and the flavor of the era. I’ve already listened to the next book in the series and can’t wait for the 3rd.
Erin O’Flaherty’s tone, cadence and pace,added to the enjoyment of this book.

Pauline Burrill
Loved it.

I sew lots so it was right up my street, but even if I didn’t sew I would have still loved it. Can’t wait for the next one, already have it on preorder.

Taisha Colon
Cozy murder Mystery

I enjoyed this book very much! I truly adore Tilly Wallace books and have almost all of them!!


Absolutely can't wait to read it!!!