by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have a great group of Christmas mysteries for your holiday reading-Death by Eggnog: Bookstore Cafe Mystery by Alex Erickson, Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women by Emily Brightwell, Purring Around the Christmas Tree: A Pawsitively Organic Mystery by Liz Mugavero, and How the Finch Stole Christmas: A Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 4 books, along with links you can use to purchase them.
Death by Eggnog: Bookstore Cafe Mystery by Alex Erickson
Review by Sandra Murphy
Usually, Krissy spends Christmas with her dad. Even though it’s a busy time for the coffee shop/bookstore she owns with her friend, Vicki, she’s taking vacation days. When her dad springs his surprise on her—he’s going away for the holidays with a girlfriend Krissy didn’t know about—Vicki insists Krissy take the time off anyway.
Rita, an avid customer and pain in the patoot, volunteers Krissy to be in the Christmas play. It’s a small part, but it will do her good to meet new people. Instead of a line or two of dialogue to memorize, Krissy finds out it’s a musical, complete with song and dance numbers. She is so not musical. There are new people to meet and one she knows only too well. Her ex-boyfriend, Robert the Cheater, is a fellow elf. To make matters worse, his current girlfriend, Trisha, is there, too.
One of the cast members is Chuck. He’s the new Santa this year, Randy having been passed over because he was frequently passed out due to a fondness for drinking to excess. On the other hand, Chuck is a lecherous Santa. Somebody must think a drunk would be preferable because Chuck is quickly dispatched, stabbed in his dressing room. Krissy’s been involved with murder investigations before so she knows the cops who respond. This time, they seem to welcome her input, as long as she curbs her desire to investigate.
Robert and Trisha were seen leaving the theater just moments before Santa’s body was discovered. There’s a shoe print just Robert’s size, next to the body. Chuck made several passes at Trisha right in front of Robert which makes him suspect number one as far as the police are concerned.
Trisha asks for Krissy’s help. How weird is that? Her ex-boyfriend’s current girlfriend is asking Krissy to clear Robert’s name. Since Chuck was such a jerk, there are other suspects. Ex-Santa Randy wanted his job back. Rumors of a mysterious investment Chuck planned add to the mix. Considering this is supposed to be the holidays combined with vacation, Krissy’s got a lot going on.
This is the fifth book in the series. The setting this time is mostly the theater, not the coffee shop, which is a nice change of pace. Rita’s involved but not to the degree she usually is. Although not seen much this time around, Vicki drops a bombshell that will lead into the next book, Death by Espresso, coming soon. Jump right in and get in the mood for the holidays or start at the beginning to get the full effect of Krissy and her crazy life.
Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women by Emily Brightwell
Review by Sandra Murphy
Scotland Yard’s Inspector Witherspoon and Constable Barnes have the highest success rate in solving murders in London. Unbeknownst to Witherspoon, he has quite a large staff of investigators. In an era where servants are treated as less than human, he wasn’t brought up wealthy, but inherited money, a house, and its servants. His housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, takes an interest in his cases, and he relishes the opportunity to think out loud and get her perspective. Sharing the information with the household’s footman, maids, cook, and other friends they’ve met along the way, Mrs. Jeffries is able to find out more than the police. The rich believe the police to be beneath them, and the working-class folks are afraid to talk.
This might be their most difficult case of all. A man is killed during Guy Fawkes Day celebrations. Inspector Nivens convinces the Chief it was a robbery, and he can handle the case. Six weeks later, he has to admit defeat, and the now cold case is handed to Witherspoon. Nivens didn’t interview half the people he should have, didn’t look for next of kin, or do much at all. Witherspoon isn’t just starting from scratch, he’s rebuilding the case based on sketchy memories and no physical evidence.
The below stairs investigators are equally discouraged. How will they be able to help solve the murder before the Christmas holidays? For the first time ever, each of them has plans. The cook will have the house to herself, Mrs. Jeffries can attend a series of lectures, Phyllis the maid has theater tickets, Wiggins the footman is looking forward to football, and Witherspoon and Lady Ruth are visiting her friends while Smythe and Betsy are headed to Paris. The thought of missing out on plans has them all resentful of the inconvenient murder.
The cook and two of the other women (the three wise women in the title) take matters into their own hands and goad the rest into remembering why they do this work—for justice and to speak for the dead as well as to help their employer. It takes many tiny clues added together, as only Mrs. Jeffries can, to solve a case. It looks like this one will take all of her skill to catch a killer and save their holiday plans.
This is book thirty-six in the series plus there are six anthologies. The engaging characters are as much a reason to read them as the mystery. In a time where it’s easy to Google an answer, it’s refreshing to see how inventive the servants are in finding out what happened and pulling it all together with what the police have discovered. Start anywhere but be warned, you’ll want to know more—so plan on going back to the beginning to see how it all started.
Purring Around the Christmas Tree: A Pawsitively Organic Mystery by Liz Mugavero
Review by Cynthia Chow
In a small New England town like Frog Ledge, the community is united through a surfeit of festivals and events. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Christmas is the grand-daddy of celebrations, with nearly the entire population gathering for an early holiday stroll and lighting of the town Christmas tree. This year it looks as though Santa will not be handing out gifts on his “nice” list though, as someone very naughty has left him dead in his sleigh. Kristan “Stan” Connor had hoped to coincide the opening of her new bakery for pets, Pawsitively Organic Patisserie, with the weekend’s celebration, but having a dead Santa on hand certainly puts a damper on the festivities.
The one (sort-of) good piece of news is that the victim is not Seamus McGee, the town’s regular Santa and the uncle of Stan’s boyfriend. While the very late Harold Dewey had a reputation for being a mean drunk, Seamus’s inexplicable absence has Stan believing that he must somehow be involved. Questioning the role Seamus may have played in the crime does not smooth Stan’s relationship with boyfriend Jake, who only sees the best in the uncle he idolizes. Seamus’s own sons have a far less sunny opinion of their father, making this family reunion more than a little awkward, especially since many are being housed in Stan’s home for the holiday. When she learns that Seamus isn’t the only one to have vacated Frog Ledge without explanation or even a text, Stan knows that she will be unable to continue her business or move on her personal life until she gets some answers.
The joys of this series are many. In many other novels the nosiness and meddling nature of the Frog Ledge residents could be seen as irritating, but instead here it stems from concern (and perhaps a little boredom). The needs of animal companions, of course, assume a predominant role, although many of Stan’s baking duties are sidelined as she pursues her human-focused investigations. Dealing with one’s family is never easy during the stressful times of the holidays, and suspecting a significant other’s relatives of murder is sure to add a stumbling block or two. Fortunately, now that Stan’s mother has moved into town and getting married, their relationship has smoothed out and matured surprisingly well. Stan remains a genuinely likable character who stands up for herself and those she loves, using humor and a few pet-friendly treats to smooth the way. Animal lovers will enjoy the recipes included at the end, while mystery lovers will appreciate the surprising twist and satisfying criminal-catching conclusion.
How the Finch Stole Christmas: A Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews
Review by Cynthia Chow
There’s no better Christmas tradition than visiting Caerphilly, North Carolina, for further adventures with the hilariously chaotic Langslow family. Married with twin sons, blacksmith Meg Langslow had hoped that hiring a professional actor would lighten the load for her husband, who was directing the Christmas in Caerphilly festival’s charity benefit production of “A Christmas Carol.” To everyone’s dismay, Malcolm Haver was embodying his role as Scrooge, making unreasonable demands when he wasn’t falling-down drunk. Despite a possibly illegal edict from the mayor in a futile attempt to enforce sobriety, the former B-movie heartthrob still managed to find a bootlegger willing to sell him under-the-table booze.
Accustomed to being the one everyone looks to for solutions, Meg finds that following Haver only leads her to more problems and crime. An exotic animal farm, abundance of animals needing homes, and the need to call protective services are just the beginning of obstacles that Meg will have to overcome in order to ensure another prosperous holiday season. Caerphilly considers itself to be an all-encompassing town—no one could is more New Agey than cousin Rose Noire—so the eccentric visitors planning to celebrate Weaseltide are more than welcome. All they have to do is figure out whether Weaseltide has anything to do with actual weasels.
This twenty-second in the series joyfully delivers more than its share of clever banter and absurd interactions between Meg’s extended family and the Caerphilly residents. Meg and the notebook-that-tells-her-to-breathe ensure that she often emerges as the sole voice of reason in a sea of chaos. Celebrity television host Grandfather continues his often illegal conservationist activities, which, at the moment, includes trying to find foster homes for seized, formerly smuggled Fouldian finches. While Meg’s father delights in steering his medical knowledge towards forensic investigations, her mother can be counted upon to ruthlessly organize and implement “volunteers” who promise to make it a happy Christmas for humans and animals alike. Murder, intrigue with the Fish and Wildlife service, and a missing actor are all handled by the capable Meg and her loving, if rather tumultuous, family. Serious themes balance out laugh-out-loud moments, and readers will be unable to resist finishing this warm-hearted holiday mystery in one sitting. This is a delightful and endlessly entertaining novel to be read year-round.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “christmas 2017,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 9, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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