She lives above a retired Art Deco theater in San Francisco’s Sunset District with an old long-haired cat, her harpsichord and enough yarn to fill a railroad car.
The police call her the Yarn Woman. Her specialty is the forensic study of textiles. But they ask for her help with some trepidation because they know that whatever crime she’s unraveling for them comes with a lot of knots and baggage. And ghosts. There are always the ghosts."
— Nat P.M. Fisher
Helen Oliver discovers an unusual spinning wheel in a Chinatown alley shop. Though the light is poor and the wheel is obscured by a mountain of antique furniture, it is strangely familiar. Glints of red and green catch the light. Before Helen mysteriously disappears, she takes a few photos with her cell phone and tries to buy it with what little money she has.
When Detective William Chu discovers the phone and Helen’s purse on the industrial waterfront north of Chinatown, he realizes they are his only clues to her disappearance and suspected murder. He is soon in pursuit of the city’s most prolific serial killer since the Zodiac.
In an effort to locate the wheel and shop where the Pier Killer stalks his victims, Chu turns to textile forensics consultant Ruth M. Police call her the Yarn Woman.
Ruth sees clearly that Helen Oliver and the spinning wheel are deeply connected, but how? Only by piecing together the history of the wheel can she hope to find Helen — or at least retrieve her body. As Chu pursues the killer through San Francisco's Chinatown and port districts, Ruth's own investigation carries her back to the roots of Slavic mythology and the realization that Helen Oliver's photos depict the legendary Rusalka Wheel, purportedly a gift from a simple Podolian woodworker to the beautiful nymph, Rusalka, at the dawn of the nineteenth century.