Friday, December 12, 2008

Murder for Christmas, Part Two

Read Part One here!

Christmas Cookie Murder by Leslie Meier: If I'd realized that the first in the Lucy Stone series was Mistletoe and Murder, I would have started there! But my amazon searching only brought me to this, the 6th entry, and that's fine. I had previously read Leslie Meier's novella in Candy Cane Murder and enjoyed it, and I think I'll be reading more about Lucy and Tinker's Cove, Maine. Things are grim in Tinker's Cove with lobster quotas playing havoc with the local economy and an influx of drugs. But Lucy is trying to have a merry Christmas anyway, probably the reason she agrees to host the Christmas cookie exchange. The cookie exchange is hilarious, with backbiting and backhanded compliments the order of the day. And backed-up plumbing that brings the disastrous "party" to an end. An overzealous cop complicates her family's lives, and she struggles with her teenaged son, more interested in marijuana than in college applications, making this a little less cozy than the usual cozy mystery. Things are complicated in the Stone family, but interesting, and I liked Lucy. She decides to investigate when a young daycare assistant is found murdered and the cop's focus is on a dentist she's sure is innocent. The mystery is fine, but Tinker's Cove and the Stone family really make this a pleasant holiday diversion.

O Little Town of Maggody by Joan Hess: I haven't read the Maggody series, but I love the Claire Malloy series by the same author. This series is quite different, featuring Arly Hanks, who returned as "police chief" for her Arkansas hometown of Maggody where the people are inbred and closed-minded. At first, I wasn't sure about this series. Arly looks down her nose at the Maggody folk and the usual jokes about inbreeding and moonshine made me uncomfortable (I know that sounds goofy, but my mom drilled into us not to make fun of other people). But at its heart, it seems affectionate toward the town and its people, not mean-spirited. Maggody is thrown into an uproar when country star Matt Montana "returns" to his "hometown" in a carefully constructed PR move. Though no one remembers him (he really just spent a couple of summers there with his great-aunt, mostly raising hell), they are happy to boost the local economy by renaming all the businesses in his name and selling kitschy Matt Montana souvenirs. A couple of murders have Arly scrambling for clues, and there was much more Christmas spirit in this one than I expected from the beginning. This is the seventh in the series.

A Highland Christmas by M.C. Beaton: This one starts out with cranky policeman Hamish MacBeth thinking about the gloomy lack of Christmas spirit in Calvinist Lochdubh, so I didn't expect it to have much Christmas spirit. No murder in this novella, but the two crimes--a lost cat and missing Christmas lights in an adjacent village--lead to a really sweet little story that's perfect for reading by the fire. I will definitely revisit Hamish MacBeth from the beginning. This is 16th in the series, but I didn't feel lost at all--quite an accomplishment by Beaton.

Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M.C. Beaton: Private investigator Agatha Raisin is obsessing over the "perfect" Christmas, complete with snow and reconciliation with her ex. Meanwhile, a woman has asked for Agatha's help because she's sure one of her children is plotting to kill her before she can change her will to leave the money to the state. Her new assistant, Toni, is young and perky enough to make Agatha feel extra old, and her Christmas seems destined to disappoint her. The mystery was good fun (I love when the head of the family assembles all the ungrateful children to announce a change of will, and this one had some nice twists). Agatha is quite a piece of work, very sarcastic and witty, and her developing friendship with Toni is sweet. The story is bogged down a bit by Agatha's obsession over her ex and a bit about Toni's brother, but on the whole, this was a nice holiday mystery, and is 18th in the series.

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