Thursday, January 23, 2020

A MacGregor - and a Book - of Infinite Mysteries

from Janet Marsh of the Highland Bookshop Mysteries by Molly MacRae

The four of us—Christine, Tallie, Summer, and I—enjoy stopping in Nev’s one or two evenings a week. Nev’s is a pub off the beaten tourist path, a local where locals still go. If you’ve ever been, you’ll know why it’s a good place to mull things over. We were mulling the recent deaths (yes, you read that right deaths plural) when Christine saw Rab MacGregor come in.

“Evening, Rab. Have a seat,” she said. “We were just talking about you.”

“Oh, aye?” Rab sat and put a file folder on the table.

“News to me, too, Rab,” I said, “but it’s nice to see you. Is Ranger—? Oh, hello, Ranger. Can he have a chip, Rab?”

Ranger looked interested. 
Ranger looked interested. Rab shook his head. “He’s slimming.”

“They’re cold, anyway,” I said to Ranger, who’d turned his back on them.

“Playing darts tonight?” Summer asked.

“Meeting.” Rab nodded toward a table in back.

Christine, having followed the nod, turned back to Rab and his folder. “With Maida and James?”

“Creative writing group,” Rab said. “Fledgling. Called Pub Scrawl. Maida’s quite good with sonnets. Something else—” He took a piece of scrap paper from his folder, handed it to me. “Zhen xian bao.”

“Whatever that is, we’ve heard it before,” Christine said.

“It’s what Florence called the missing embroidery book she’s looking for,” I said, letting Tallie take the scrap of paper from my fingers.

“Embroidery book, aye,” Rab said thoughtfully. “A wee bit more than that, mind.” He stood to go and then bent closer. “It’s a book of infinite mysteries.”

“How did you know—” I started to ask, but Rab and Ranger were already on their way to the table in the back. “How did he know about the ginseng bow—”

Zhen xian bao,” Summer said, staring at her phone. “They are fabulous.”

“He found a website,” Tallie said. “That’s what’s on the scrap of paper. Take a look.” She passed her phone to Christine and me.

The website showed a handmade book that, when opened, revealed a sort of pop-up book made of folded boxes, each box made of a different piece of patterned paper—boxes within boxes, boxes that flowered into multiple boxes, boxes containing threads, needles, embroidery scissors—all folded into something slightly larger than a checkbook.
Zhen xian bao made by Janice N. Harrington

 “I immediately want one,” Christine said, “and I don’t do needlework.”

“But how did Rab know we’d heard about zhen xian bao?” I asked.

“Because,” Christine said, “he’s a MacGregor of infinite mysteries.”

I can’t tell you much more about Florence’s missing zhen xian bao. If it’s missing. Although I’m sure Florence believes it is. In any case, we’re still mulling, looking at clues, looking for clues. But I can’t help but think that when Rab handed me that slip of paper, he handed us a key, and maybe that key will help us unfold this whole mystery.

On the other hand, if you’d like to learn more about Chinese thread books, here are two websites you’ll love. The first is Nancy Akerly's and shows her own fabulous work. Really, I'm in total awe. The second is Paula Beardell Krieg's, another wonderful artist in her own right. Her blog shows an antique Chinese thread book. Be sure to read the comments on Paula's blog. They're interesting, too, and illustrate some of the mystery around this folk art (and some fascinating detective work by a researcher and historian of folding art in China). 

Thistles and Thieves, book 3 in the Highland Bookshop Mysteries, is available in hardback, e-book, and audiobook in bookstores and online, and in libraries.  

About Thistles and Thieves: The women of Yon Bonnie Books return in the latest Highland Bookshop Mystery, now embroiled in the death of a local doctor, which sets off a chain of other curious—and deadly—events.

Molly MacRae writes the award-winning, national bestselling Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries and the Highland Bookshop Mysteries. Visit Molly on Facebook and Pinterest, connect with her on Twitter  or Instagram.


  1. I have never heard of Chinese thread books before. That is sooo cool. I love reading and find out about new things!!!

  2. Isn't it amazing? I'm fascinated by them and would love to learn how to make one. Thanks for stopping by today, Kim.

  3. These folded thread books are fascinating. I have seen some folded items, but none as elaborate as these. It would be nice to be able to make them.

    1. Wouldn't it be fun to learn some of the basics? Paula Beardell Krieg has some clear, step-by-step instructions on her Playful Bookbinding and Paper Works site. The link is up there in the post. Thanks for stopping by, Patricia!

  4. Replies
    1. Aren't they? Some of examples I've found online have more than two dozen boxes nested within each other. Thanks for stopping by!