by Cynthia Chow, Sandra Murphy & Terrance McArthur

This week we have reviews and giveaways of even more Christmas mysteries-A Christmas Candy Killing: A Killer Chocolate Mystery by Christina Romeril, Dashing Through the Snowbirds: A Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews, High Spirits: A Haunted Haven Mystery by Carol J. Perry, It Came Upon A Midnight Shear: A Riverbank Knitting Mystery by Allie Pleiter, and Christmas Scarf Murder by Carlene O’Connor, Maddie Day and Peggy Ehrhart. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 5 books and links to purchase them at the end of each review–you may not be able to see the Amazon links if you have ad blocker on.

A Christmas Candy Killing: A Killer Chocolate Mystery by Christina Romeril
Review by Terrance McArthur

Chocolate and Poison. What a combination!

The candies don’t really have poison in them. They are just named after lethal substances like Poison Pear Ganache and Strychnine Strawberries, and they are called Killer Chocolates at the Murder and Mayhem mystery bookstore and candy shop at the heart of Christina Romeril’s debut mystery whodunit A Christmas Candy Killing.

Alex and Hannah, identical twins, own the shop in Montana. Anna runs the book end of the business while Hannah is the chief chocolatier. It’s Christmastime, and Linda, a neighbor, tells Alex that the killer on a reality crime show might be living in their town. Alex goes to the Linda’s house to see the recording, only to find the woman…dead…and a box of Killer Chocolates.

One of the best ways to introduce an amateur sleuth in a new cozy mystery series is to have the murder victim be someone close, whose death demands justice that local law enforcement doesn’t seem to provide. Or (even better) to have the sleuth-in-waiting be a prime suspect, forced to use the skills of a detective to solve the case and prove their innocence. Alex is hounded by the police who have lots of evidence they think points to her, so she has to find the real killer.

Linda had told her suspicions to the town’s leading gossip, so everyone had heard about it, which meant anyone in the whole town could be the true suspect. This wasn’t the first time she claimed somebody in the town fit the profile she saw on reality television, so people didn’t pay much attention to her accusations…unless a real killer thought she was getting too close to the truth. Linda ran the gardening society, so her killer could have been one of her rivals for the job. Several club members raised poisonous plants, so maybe it was one of them. Linda had arguments with others, had she accused the wrong person…who was the right person?

While more and more circumstances link Alex to the crime, she digs into the past of the town, bringing up secrets some people don’t want known. Will she stop the killing? or become another victim?

Romeril lays out the clues, but they are subtle. This box of chocolates is a treat, and there are recipes and tips at the end to inspire the future chocolatier, but not the future poisoner.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur worked for the Fresno County Public Library for three decades. He is retired, but not retiring. A storyteller, puppeteer, writer, actor, magician, basketmaker, and all-around interesting person, his goal is to make life more unusual for everyone he meets.

Dashing Through the Snowbirds: A Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews
Review by Cynthia Chow

Christmas in Caerphilly, Virginia, is never a quiet time of the year for Meg Langslow and her adorable but chaotic family. It’s going to be even busier now that she and her husband are hosting employees from the online genetic tracing company AcerGen, who have hired Meg’s brother’s Mutant Wizards gamers to jazz up their website. The visiting Canadians are stressed out and under a ticking clock to meet the deadlines set up by their president Ian Meredith, who completely lacks any holiday cheer and is making himself a Grinch of Caerphilly. His inability to obey house rules and bullying tactics on the new skating rink Meg’s father built have him booted out of the house and into the Clay County Motor Lodge, or as the locals know it, the Roach Motel. Before Meg can deliver the good news and kick Ian out, she finds him dead, ironically on the same ice rink that got him exiled. With the Canadians trapped in town until police can figure out who whacked Ian with a hockey stick, Meg and her family will be tasked with keeping them cheery and occupied, while also tracking down a murderer.

The tasks build up on Meg’s notebook-that-tells-her-when-to-breathe, so she enlists her extended family members into investigating Ian and his questionable business practices. Along with shady genetic policies, Meg discovers that AcerGen was facing a civil lawsuit as well as being responsible for the overturning of a murder conviction. CatLady517 stalking local crime investigating podcasters has Meg keeping their police operator busy with suspicious reports even as Meg attempts to keep the Canadians from spiraling despite the news that they may be stranded in for Christmas. Meg’s celebrity zoologist grandfather for once is not warring with her grandmother, and instead he is busy implementing a number of nonconsensual trackers on people. Pomeranian puppies, the Yorkie known as the Small Evil One, and the rest of Meg’s many family relatives all do their best to deliver a Happy Holiday season while preventing a killer from destroying their Christmas spirit.

In this thirty-second (!) installment of the Meg Langslow mystery series, a Christmas setting ensures that the usual family chaos will be overloaded with additional holiday planning and celebrations. Meg’s collection of family members includes both blood-related and adopted-by-continual-proximity, which may confound AcerGen’s employees but are also an abundant source of information and protective backup. Meg’s husband is reliable as ever, keeping their twins busy while also attempting to follow her Mother’s many demands. Humor is always at the forefront of this deftly plotted and fast-moving novel, with enough quirky holiday festivities to please those looking for an escapist Christmas read. Filled with witty dialogue and wry observations, this continues to be a very funny and cleverly written mystery series.

High Spirits: A Haunted Haven Mystery by Carol J. Perry
Review by Cynthia Chow

For her first Christmas in Haven, Florida, new Haven House Inn owner Maureen Doherty is looking for money-boosting promotional ideas to pull the historic century-old hotel out of its in-the-red budgetary status. Her unexpected inheritance came with the equally unexpected gift of a multitude of haunting ghosts, one of whom is the very vocal and friendly late movie starlet Lorna Dubois. That connection makes it all the more logical for Maureen to plan Twelve Days of Christmas dinner & movie events to be held at the equally historic Paramount Theater, which regularly shows vintage movies not easily available to the public. Rumors have it that the Paramount is haunted by the ghost of Buddy Putnam, a shady hoodlum gunned down in the aisles during a viewing of Animal House. Ever since Maureen helped to solve a murder involving ghost hunters Haven Police Officer Frank Hubbard is both suspicious and solicitous of her, borderline harassing her while asking if she has any “feelings” about his latest cold case. One of which just happens to be the same crime that occurred in the Paramount Theater in the 1970s.

When the friendly projectionist Decklin Monroe is murdered during Maureen’s first Day of Christmas celebration, Officer Hubbard is back on scene and very intent on pulling her into his investigation. Maureen would much rather focus on saving the Inn and continuing her holiday events, but the mysterious appearance of fortune-telling cards from Zoltar (where no Zoltar machine is near) makes that impossible. So while Lorna dons the “essence” of Maureen’s wardrobe and dates another equally deceased ghost, Maureen and her live-in retired staff will have to track down the long-time business owners and residents who may have connections to the Paramount Theater and its increasing number of ghosts.

This second in the series focuses on a close circle of Haven locals who have mingled among some of the Florida Gulf’s most famous visitors. Haven House Inn rooms are named after the celebrities who stayed in them, with their previous residents still cruising through town. Bogie, Babe Ruth, and many others might be spotted haunting local hot spots, but in this entry it’s Maureen and her staff who must track down the killer of a possible thug and another aspiring actor. Frank Hubbard definitely toes the line of abusing his power as he stalks and forces Maureen into his investigation, but his toxicity is balanced out by the charm wielded by her bartender Ted. Movie fans will love the references to old movies and its stars, while mystery fans will appreciate the slow burn of the investigation. This is an enjoyable second installment by the author of the more psychic-leaning Witch City mystery series.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

It Came Upon A Midnight Shear: A Riverbank Knitting Mystery by Allie Pleiter
Review by Sandra Murphy

Libby owns Y.A.R.N. a yarn shop, of course, that has a sense of community as well. She’s also the president of the Collinstown Chamber of Commerce. As such, she intends this Christmas to be bigger and better than any before. She’s worked a deal with an old friend, Vincenzo, to make an appearance with vicuna, the source of the softest and most expensive yarn in the world. Vicuna only live in Peru and were brought back from near-extinction. Only one zoo in the US has them, and they are on loan to Vincenzo as a promotion for the yarn shop. They are only sheared once every three years, and he’ll do a demo to show how it’s done.

Just when things are going so well, except for one of the vicuna spitting on Libby, her ex-husband Sterling shows up. It’s always something with him and this time is no exception. The problem is…it’s hard to tell just what his plan is until it’s too late. His condescending attitude towards Libby’s ‘little shop’ is enough to trigger a scene as she yells at him to leave or regret staying.

When his body is found the next morning, Libby’s only alibi is her English bulldog, Hank. Vincenzo is under suspicion as well. Libby has been helpful to the police chief in the past and intends to assist this time as well, an idea quickly shot down as she’s a suspect.

At the shop, sales are down due to the rumors she’s a killer, three balls of the $500 a skein vicuna yarn have gone missing, and Libby’s mom has moved back in while her condo is being painted griege (trendy) so she can sell it. And the huge Christmas tree for the town square has broken in half.

Libby is enthusiastic about Christmas, has more patience than ten people when dealing with her mother, and she lets her bulldog work in the store. What’s not to like? This is the third book in the series, the first one I’ve read, and I enjoyed it a lot. For the most part, Libby doesn’t take foolish risks, in love or in crime.

At the back of the book, find a pattern for a chacu (cowl) that calls for two balls of vicuna or 328 yards of the more affordable Alpaca yarn.

Christmas Scarf Murder by Carlene O’Connor, Maddie Day and Peggy Ehrhart
Review by Sandra Murphy

Carlene O’Connor, The Christmas Scarf Murder
What do a fancy cane, a hideous extra-long red knitted scarf with green shamrocks, 500 euro, and emeralds have in common? They’ve all been stolen from the residents of the Kilbane Elder Care Home while their owners were in exercise class or maybe when they helped decorate the town square. Even though it’s practically Christmas, guarda Macdara and Siobhan must investigate. Before they can take statements, the phone rings—there’s been a terrible accident.

One of the four young volunteers at the home has been killed by ‘long scarf syndrome’ ala Isadora Duncan. Michael was to drive a tractor in the annual parade. During practice, a car pulled alongside his tractor and someone dressed as a monk in a long brown robe spoke to Michael. After the monk left, Michael was seen wearing the scarf, but only for a moment. The scarf wrapped around the axle and when the tractor moved forward, Michael was choked to death.

The more Siobhan and Macdara ask questions, the more lies and omissions there are to wade through. The question becomes, will they solve the murder in time to celebrate their first Christmas as a married couple?

Includes a recipe for Irish lace biscuits.

Maddie Day, Scarfed Down
Robbie Jordan owns the Pan N Pancakes store and restaurant. A group of knitters now call it home during the lull between breakfast and lunch. Vicki is using green yarn to make a scarf, Eva is working with a multi-colored yard to make socks, and Cole is using red for a hat. The store is decorated for the holidays and getting in spirit, the restaurant features the Twelve Days of Christmas themed lunches. The partridge in a pear tree aka chicken with pear slices was easy. It’s the later numbers like the twelve lords a leaping that are going to be tough to figure out.

When Vicki is found dead in her apartment, poisoned, Robbie wants to make sure the culprit is caught because otherwise, customers might think it was her food that poisoned the victim. When she and her food are proved to be in the clear, it’s a relative who becomes the focus of the police inquiry. What can Robbie do but continue to ask questions?

There’s a recipe for the roasted chicken and pears and yummy turtle cookies,

Peggy Ehrhart, Death by Christmas Scarf
Members of Knit and Nibble are meeting at Roland’s house this week. Part of the discussion is about the murder in town. A woman was strangled with a knitted scarf! It was only by chance her body was found so quickly. As rumors abound, the knitters find the victim was not a happy woman and was determined no one else should be happy. Although many people may have had a motive for her death, it comes down to, who had the opportunity?

As the reporter for Arborville’s newspaper, Bettina always likes to be in the know and often convinces her neighbor and friend, Pamela, to accompany her. Pamela likes to figure out the puzzle pieces of a crime, much like she unravels the instructions on a new knitting pattern. Between the two of them, they’re often able to find clues the police might have overlooked. Will they manage to piece together the odd bits and pieces of information to form a motive, the killer’s identity, and proof without putting themselves in jeopardy?

Included is a pattern for a knit teddy bear the women make to donate to the women’s shelter for children, plus a recipe for Pamela’s Christmas cake and frosting.
— — —
Each of the stories uses a Christmas scarf as the weapon to commit murder but in unique ways. O’Connor focuses on Siobhan’s family, Day’s holiday focus is on the people who work at the restaurant, proving family doesn’t have to be related but can be by choice. Ehrhart blends the two with Pamela and Bettina’s close friendship as well as their family lives.

For a trio of shorter reads to get you in the holiday spirit, this is the right book to do it. At just over one hundred pages each, you can take a break, read, and finish a story without feeling guilty that you’re not wrapping, decorating, or cooking. Enjoy the season!

To enter to win a copy of all 5 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “more christmas” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 10, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.

You can use this link to purchase any of these books from indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy, and KRL gets a portion of the sale:
mysteriousgalaxylogo

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Arch in St. Louis Missouri. She’s editor for Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s, with twenty-two cozy stories. She also edited A Murder of Crows, twenty-one stories featuring animals and crime (no animals were harmed). She also writes for magazines, newsletters, and the occasional guest blog. Both anthologies are available at the usual outlets, print or ebook.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

12 Comments

  1. Those sound like some great books! Count me in!

    Reply
    • I”d love to read these books!

      Reply
    • I’d love to read these books!

      Reply
  2. All of the books sound like good reads.
    I’ve read Dashing thru the snowbirds
    but I’ll pass it on as usual if I get lucky
    and win all the new series (new for me).
    thanks. txmlhl(at)yahoo(dot)com

    Reply
  3. I love reading Christmas ? books this time of the year. Five Christmas books by five great authors.
    diannekc8(at)gmail(dot)com

    Reply
  4. I love reading Christmas ? books this time of the year. Five Christmas books by five great authors.
    diannekc8(at)gmail(dot)com

    Reply
  5. I’m a big fan of Donna Andrews, so I’m especially looking forward to Dashing Through the Snowbirds.

    Reply
  6. I see so many books I want to read. Christmas is one of my favorite holidays to set a mystery.

    Reply
  7. Thank you for your lovely review of these new books. It helps cull the flood of titles we see at this time of the year. Happy Holidays to all.

    Reply
  8. Interesting reading list for the holidays! I might pick up the “High Spirits: A Haunted Haven Mystery” – thanks for this list!

    Reply
  9. We have a winner!

    Reply

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