As planned, I picked up The Cat, The Mill and the Murder shortly after it was released in early May. I’ve read Leanne Sweeney‘s mystery books before, and this one didn’t disappoint. Not only was it a satisfying read with a great mystery and an unexpected last sentence, but the backdrop was a subject near and dear to me, textile mills and textile history. Normally, I would buy an e-book edition of what I’m reading, but seeing that this involved a textile mill, I bought a paperback version so I could add it to my textile library. So rather than review the book for its story, I’m going to review it in regards to the mill. I don’t want to give anything away about the plot – just take it from me, it’s good!
The Cats in Trouble series takes place in the fictitious town of Mercy, South Carolina, located within an hour of the Greenville/Spartanburg area and in the center of what had once been a major hub of the textile industry. The story opens in the Lorraine Stanley Textile Mill, a three story building that had fallen into hard times with the loss of the textile industry. Our heroine, Jillian Hart, is involved because investors had been found that were interested in repurposing the mill, though it’s up in the air whether it’ll be condos or shops. Jillian is here for two reasons – she has studied textile history and knows about the mills, and to help humanely trap and relocate a clowder of feral cats living in the building. What else they find in the building sets off the mystery.
Since I started the hobby of photographing textile mills, I’ve been allowed inside several of them and Leanne’s description of an abandoned mill is spot on. Besides the overwhelming darkness from closed doors and sealed windows, there is the powerful smell of decay and rot, clouds of particles from asbestos and flakes of paint on the floor. I’ve been in some areas where it feels like a sensory deprivation chamber: dark and silent. It’s musty and damp from molds and mildew. A lot of flooring is still intact, but areas where leaking pipes or animal droppings have rotted the boards so you have to be careful where you step as they can’t support weight anymore. Having been in these types of mills, I felt the same thing with Jillian’s description of what she saw and felt. I was also glad to see that Jillian and I share the thrill of being in these old abandoned giants and remembering the activity in it, and the history it had been a part of. I can almost imagine the deafening hum of the looms, the floors covered in lint and thread, and the people hard at work.
Which brings me to another enjoyable part of the book: the mill village! Every mill I’ve come across has one, provided to the workers by the mill owners. It allowed them to have homes close to their employment, and also included schools, shops and churches provided by the mill owners so that the mill village was a town unto itself. Leanne notes in the story the bigotry between the classes as many folks considered the Lintheads (mill workers) as poor white trash. She also showed the fierce pride of the mill workers through one of the characters, Jeannie.
Overall, this was a very satisfying read. The story was great and the backdrop was well researched and made it even more enjoyable for a mill enthusiast like myself. For that matter, I’d love to pick the brain of some of Leanne’s friends who helped her with the research – I’m always on the lookout for new mills to photograph! And one last thing… where can I go to take courses in textile history?