by Sharon Tucker
For your continued Christmas mystery reading pleasure Sharon Tucker shares with us this week reviews of 3 very different kinds of Christmas mystery novels! Rest You Merry By Charlotte MacLeod, The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo, and The Fat Man: A Tale Of North Pole Noir By Ken Harmon. Use the included links to purchase these Christmas mysteries and you help support KRL and our ability to keep bringing you great mystery articles!
Rest You Merry By Charlotte MacLeod
It’s Christmas time on Balaclava Crescent, home to many of the faculty of Balaclava Agricultural College, not the least of whom is Professor Peter Shandy, a horticulturalist with a passion for counting…everything. For instance, Shandy knows that in 18 years the faculty wives residing on Balaclava Crescent have importuned him 73 times to participate in what they call the Illumination–to decorate his home for the holidays as do the rest of the Crescent residents. Seventy two times he has been less than co-operative, but as Rest You Merry begins, the professor finally complies, decorating in his own inimitable fashion, leaves town for what should have been a relaxing Christmas cruise, and returns to find a corpse decorating his living room floor. This is only the beginning of a series of unfortunate events that seem less to be accidents and more to be murder, poisoning, and arson.
MacLeod deftly captures the foibles of academic life in a small New England college town during the 1970s. It’s a technologically simpler time and it a change for the characters not to have mad computer skills, whip out cell phones, or to be on some kind of designer drug. Instead, MacLeod weaves her plot with bombastic administrators, quirky faculty members, naughty students, marital incompatibilities and infidelities, a fracas over library books, and a lovely new librarian.
If you like your Christmas goose with a side of wit and lively cogitation, Charlotte MacLeod’s Rest You Merry is the Christmas read for you.
The Redeemer By Jo Nesbo
The perfect antidote to yuletide overindulgence just may be Norwegian author/economist/rock star Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer. Thanks to his customary spare prose style and lack of sentimentality, while we’re aware the novel is set during the Christmas season, there isn’t so much as a garland in sight.
The novel’s prologue is brief and mysterious in that what occurs happens more than a decade prior to the novel’s action–no characters are named, causing the reader to puzzle at who did what to whom while reading the rest of the book, and as a plot device, it works a treat. This prologue sets up primary motivation for the street assassination, so be wise and don’t skip it. The main action is set in Oslo, Norway during any twenty-first century Christmas season, when a Salvation Army officer is shot down while standing in a group of fellow SA officers caroling on the street.
Hole, pronounced “Hoo leh”–tricky, that, for some of us–and his team of sharp investigators are completely in the dark about not only the murderer’s motivation, but the choice of this particular victim. They also lack any idea about the identity of the assassin. Is this a random shooting by a nutter? What reason could there be to kill a man laboring for the good of the less fortunate in society? And despite an abundance of street security cameras, the shooter’s facial characteristics cannot be nailed down.
Hole struggles with more investigative anomalies than usual in his attempt to solve this case while breaking in a new squad commander to boot. Moller, Hole’s former superior has retired, leaving Harry only an ugly watch as a memento and with worries he scarcely needs when this former superior disappears. Demonstrating deep loyalty that comes as no surprise to close readers, Harry goes off in the middle of this seemingly insoluble investigation to sort out his friend Moller, only to have a riddle solved that we wish had remained ambiguous. And as for the new commander, alas, it seems Hole no longer has an ally in the department to explain away his eccentricities.
The Redeemer is my second Jo Nesbo novel and I have relished both–but I find myself wondering if all his Harry Hole novels slog through at least 100 pages of rather barren exposition before jump starting and becoming almost un-put-down-able. I found it more understandable in Nesbo’s first novel, The Bat, but since this is his sixth Hole book (noting that his second, The Cockroaches, isn’t yet in translation from the Norwegian), I’d very much have liked to get pulled into the action immediately. If slow starting is a plot device, we’d be better served as readers if Nesbo tried something else. Overall, The Redeemer is a very good read, and despite my grumbles, I recommend it highly.
The Fat Man: A Tale Of North Pole Noir By Ken Harmon
Ever heard of the Coal Patrol? If you have been naughty, then Gumdrop Coal, Captain of said patrol, has long been leaving coal in your Christmas stocking as an incentive to change that bad behavior. Ken Harmon’s The Fat Man: A Tale Of North Pole Noir opens with Santa’s disbanding Gumdrop’s coal crew well before Christmas–he’s been persuaded that all children must have toys for Christmas–regardless. The reckoning that children who misbehave face at the holidays has been banished and all children–bad or good–need no longer watch out.
Cool customer Coal immediately begins to suspect that a dark plot is unfolding at the North Pole and turns sleuth. What else is an elf to do when told his way of elfing is passé? First, he gets rooty-tooty enough on Christmas cheer to make the next morning far from jolly, as would any Chandler or Spillane protagonist, then he sets out to solve the true meaning of this mysterious new Kringle Town policy. Coal makes it his business to unearth the true meaning of what has put him out of a job, as Santa grows ever more haggard trying to make enough toys to supply the demand for more and more toys. Coal surveils, investigates, and gets tough on elves, reindeer, and all the denizens of the North Pole–including those on Misfit Island, where all the broken or defective toys are banished. And lastly, in his determination to leave no stone unturned, Coal even covers Pottersville which has been transplanted from Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life— refusing to leave even the infamous Henry F. Potter unscathed.
Harmon strikes all the right hard-boiled notes in this Yuletide thriller–never mind that Gumdrop Coal smells of candy, cookies, and everything nice rather than bourbon and cigar smoke. The circuitous plot leads Coal down blind peppermint alleys and up twisted red licorice streets and the characters will make you smile all the way such as Rosebud Jubilee, a tough and beautiful elfin reporter for the Marshmallow World Gazette who makes it her business to get more than just the facts. Also engaged is Sherlock Stetson, one of the misfit toys, who does his best to help but since he was unfortunately somehow shortchanged in the deduction department and has a tendency to drool, he doesn’t help matters one bit. ZsaZsa, Stetson’s cow-frau, has the smarts to solve any mystery that comes along, but resents not only the extra heavy lifting for her spouse, but also second billing. Then there’s Charles Cane, the elf who’s angling for the top spot and isn’t about to let Santa stand in his way. Rounding out the cast of Christmas characters are Dicken’s Tiny Tim (two of them in fact), and Bedford Falls’ own mossback George Bailey.
You’d better watch out and not miss this treat of a read during the holiday or any other season.