By Beth Terrell
Christmas Day is winding to a close. The theme from A Charlie Brown Christmas is playing on our stereo; my husband and I are double-stuffed with turkey, ham, pumpkin pie, and a bounty of holiday fare; and my mom and I just finished watching Miracle on 34th Street, the original, with Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and Natalie Wood as the skeptical little girl who learns to believe in Christmas magic. I love this season--the lights, the music, the shiny wrapping paper, choosing gifts for loved ones, the message of love and spirituality. And only 364 days until the next one!
For those of you who aren't quite ready for the merriment to end, here are some mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels that take place around the Christmas Season.
1) Slay Ride is Chris Grabenstein's third published novel. This book is darker and more violent than Grabenstein's popular Ceepak series, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who reads Chris's work, he handles it well, weaving the plot lines together seamlessly. FBI agent Christopher Miller investigates a series of murders by a killer dubbed "The Man In the Moon," who kills cab drivers on the nights of the full moon. Meanwhile, successful young ad exec Scott Wilkinson makes the fateful mistake of calling a cab company to complainabout a driver who gave him a hellish ride to the airport. The driver, a dangerous criminal intent on vengeance, will stop at nothing to destroy Wilkinson. If you like your crime fiction dark (with a splash of holiday flair), check this one out.
2) A Puzzle in a Pear Tree by Parnell Hall features Cora Felton, the feisty protagonist of Parnell's "Puzzle Lady" series. Parnell says senior sleuth Cora is a lot like Miss Marple--if Mis Marple drank, smoked cigars, gambled, and had more ex-husbands than she could count. This light-hearted romp, the fourth book in the series, centers on a small-town Christmas pageant and a killer who leaves clues in the form of acrostic puzzles. The Chicago Sun-Times called this book "“a joy for lovers of both crosswords and frothy crime detection."
3) Christmas is Murder: A Rex Graves Mystery by C.S. Challinor is the first in a cozy mystery series featuring "charming sleuth" Rex Graves, a Scottish Barrister. The story is set in a hotel that was once an old English manor. Those who like Agatha Christie might enjoy this one; the tone and style are similar, and the story, a classic "closed group"mystery, should appeal to fans of the Golden Age mysteries.
4) Visions of Sugar Plums: A Stephanie Plum Holiday Novel by Janet Evanovitch is a "between-the-numbers" book featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. I have been a huge Stephanie Plum fan for years and devour each new installment as they come out. The "between-the-numbers" books are very different in tone and substance than the regular books in the series and contain fantasy elements that do not seem in keeping with the rest of the books. They are slim books, and if you're looking for the usual Stephanie/Joe/Ranger byplay, you will be disappointed. If, however, you're looking for a quick, fun read with a holiday theme, give it a shot. I found this book pretty enjoyable after I decided to think of it as one of Stephanie's dreams or fantasies.
5) In Hercule Poirot's Christmas (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) by Agatha Christie, family patriarch Simeon Lee, is murdered during a family holiday gathering at Lee's country home. This is a classic "locked room" mystery that will delight any fan of "Dame Agatha."
6) Sugarplum Dead, the twelfth book in Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand series, features mystery bookseller Annie Darling and her husband, Max. The plot involves a long-long father, a troubled teenager, and a spiritualist who is more--and less--than he seems. This is a great holiday read for anyone who likes cozies and well-paced, wholesome mysteries.
7) A Classic Christmas Crime edited by Tim Heald is a collection of short stories from such greats as P.D. James and Peter Lovesey. If a good short story proves that good things really do come in small packages, this book, with its wide range of voices and moods, is a treaure trove of good things.
8) A Holly Jolly Murder, a Claire Malloy mystery by Joan Hess, takes place during a New Age celebration of the winter solstice. When a follow of the Arch-Druid Malthea is murdered, the Book Depot proprietor and amateur sleuth is determined to discover whether her new-found friends are killers or victims.
9) Cold Light by John Harvey is another dark mystery. This is the sixth book in the Charlie Resnick series. A cabbie is bludgeoned to death; a social worker goes missing; and messages from the kidnapper indicate that he has killed before--and will again. It will take all of Resnick's wit and resources to find the killer and stop him. But will he be in time?
10 ) The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore...A disreputable fake Santa is murdered. A seven-year-old witness prays for a Christmas miracle. The prayer is heard and answered by a intellectually challenged heavenly being. Result: zombies for Christmas. Okay, so it's not a pure mystery, but honestly, who could resist this?
11) In Six Geese A-Slaying by Donna Andrews, a grumpy parade Santa is murdered. Heroine Meg Langslow and Chief Burke must solve the mystery and save Christmas. This is Donna's tenth novel in the "fine-feathered cozy series."
12) Publisher's Weekly calls Nobody's Child by Janet Dawson a "finely crafted, absorbing adventure." Thus is the fifth book in a series featuring Oakland, California PI Jeri Howard. In this installment, a young woman's body has been found in a burned-out home, and an alcoholic woman hires Jeri to find out if the dead woman is her daughter, who ran away three years ago. It is. Jeri learns that the dead woman had a daughter, who seems to be missing. With Christmas approaching, Jeri searches for the lost girl and tries to solve the murder of the girl's mother. The book explores a nmber of modern-day issues such as homelessness, racial tensions, and HIV infection.
As you can see, Christmas is a popular season for Crime Writers. For more books set during the holiday season, check out http://www.mysterynet.com/Christmas/books/, http://www.sldirectory.com/libsf/booksf/mystery/topic.html#holiday, and http://www.wppl.org/webresources/recommended_reading/Mysteries/Holiday.htm.