Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Murder! A Holiday mystery review

Since Christmas is upon us (just in case someone among my readers is living in a cave high on a mountain in the wilds of Mars, and hasn't noticed), I thought I'd review a holiday-themed cozy mystery.  I did a library search, found several from authors I have never read, and dove in, taking my chances (after a little vetting by reading the back covers).  The first I read was:

Title: The Body in the Sleigh, by Katherine Hall Page,  256 pages
Publisher: William Morrow, 2009
Source: Library  (have I mentioned how much I love my library?!  Without the free public library, I would have gone broke buying books years ago, and the house would have collapsed under their weight!)

Faith Fairchild and her husband, the Rev. Tom Fairchild, are spending the Christmas holidays on Sanpere Island in Maine while he recovers from emergency surgery.  They are having an idyllic holiday, marred only by Faith's discovery of a dead girl in an antique sleigh, part of a holiday display at the historic society.  Another curious event is more positive, though just as mysterious: spinster Mary Bethany finds an infant in the manger when she goes to feed her goats on Christmas Eve.  A note and a bag of money make it clear the mother intends Mary to raise the child, but give no clue as to who or why.  Faith is convinced the dead girl, despite her reputation, did not OD on drugs, deliberately or otherwise, and is as determined to find out who killed her and why as she is to find out who left the baby--and make sure Mary really gets to keep him.

I was a little surprised at the mix of decidedly cozy elements in this book with a certain grim grittiness.  One thing is certain: Page doesn't want to let us think that even idyllic retreats from the world are truly free of trouble and evil.  The story is tight, fairly exciting, with characters (primarily the Fairchild family) that you quickly come to care about.  Faith herself and (surprisingly) Mary Bethany, are the only characters I saw as fully realized, however.  Page also surprised me by using extensive flashbacks to explain backstory, and in so doing left the reader knowing more than  the sleuth through much of the book (though she doesn't exactly tell whodunnit or why, the direction is pretty obvious from midway through the book).  I found the structure a little off-putting (though I didn't have any tendency to put the book down and walk away, so I guess it worked okay!), and I was definitely expecting something a little lighter.  Page falls into the cozy genre on the whole, but definitely doesn't use humor to get there.  My take: worth reading, and a series worth further exploration.

Disclaimer: I checked The Body in the Sleigh out from my local public library, and received nothing from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and those of no one else. 
 Very last day for the #MGBookElves "Twelve Authors of Christmas" giveaway!

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