With the Holidays in full swing, we at Writers in Residence wish you all Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a wonderful New Year!
Just because it’s hectic this time of year doesn’t mean you have to abandon your mysteries. Au contraire! Here are a few options that will fit into your holiday schedule.
MERRY, MERRY GHOST
By Carolyn Hart
Harper Collins, 2009
Carolyn Hart opens her second Bailey Ruth mystery in Heaven, but readers get only a brief glimpse of its celestial delights. The inquisitive, impatient, and often rash “dearly departed” Bailey Ruth is a novice emissary for the Department of Good Intentions, and that special band of “otherworldly” (never ghostly) beings return to their hometowns on earth to help people in trouble.
After her first visit (GHOST AT WORK) there were doubts about Bailey Ruth going back. Having broken nearly all the “Precepts for Heavenly Visitations,” she is definitely on probation. But Station Agent Wiggins has a soft spot for the lively redhead and cautiously assigns her to another “adven-mission.” Her special qualification: she’s “always loved Christmas.”
But even as the earth-bound Rescue Express approaches, the task she’s been given escalates from a “calm overseeing” of an orphan’s future, to “impending danger,” to Wiggin’s last shouted words as she races for the train, “Protect that dear boy!”
Bailey Ruth’s real talent goes beyond that of a Guardian Angel however, and she’s soon assisting the police in not one, but two murder investigations.
It begins a few days before Christmas with the unexpected arrival of four-year-old Keith Flynn to the doorstep of the largest mansion in Adelaide, Oklahoma. Bailey Ruth is there to comfort the abandoned boy (kids can see Heavenly Agents) and to observe what happens.
The boy’s ailing grandmother, Susan Flynn, is overjoyed to learn that her wayward son had a child before being killed in Iraq. She immediately decides to change her will in favor of the boy. The previous beneficiaries, none of whom are blood relatives, panic when they see their inheritance slipping away. One of them takes steps to prevent it.
Since Bailey Ruth rearranges a few things at the crime scene (for the best of reasons), she feels obligated to help Police Chief Cobb with the investigation. Writing in his notebook and on his office chalkboard are her usual methods, although she occasionally speaks aloud and even swirls into sight briefly. This unlikely pair – each breaking their own sets of “precepts” – set a trap for the killer.
I hesitate to call MERRY, MERRY GHOST a paranormal mystery, for Bailey Ruth is no spooky specter. Rather, she’s a flashy, fun-loving and clever sleuth who just happens to have unusual abilities. And she’s good hearted to a fault…but why wouldn’t she be, considering where she lives?
Hart’s reputation for writing fast-paced, well-plotted cozies with delightful characters and “heavenly” endings remains secure with this book. And, as in her Death on Demand series, she’s the ultimate book title and author namedropper. (Look for them!) A perfect book for a rainy day and a cup of tea.
But what if you don’t have time to finish a novel before the in-laws show up for dinner? There are many great short story anthologies that revolve around the holidays. Let us recommend one from the 2008 Top Ten Best Seller Softcover List, an anthology that benefits Toys for Tots, and, as a special benefit, includes our own WinR, Gayle Bartos-Pool!
Dying in a Winter Wonderland
Wolfmont Press, 2008
There’s something in this anthology for every type of mystery reader. Since I prefer traditionals and cozies, let me start out with “The Alternate Plan” by Allan Ansorge. When two fake Christmas Santas discover that they aren’t the only crooks in town, they have a change of plans and hearts.
“In the Nick of Time”, by Gayle Bartos-Pool, two misfit criminals rob a corpse and…well, I can’t say more or I’ll give away the twist ending.
And speaking of twist endings, Tony Burton’s “Taking Her Medicine” will make you think three times about the consequences of drinking and driving.
For those who prefer a hard-boiled edge, Austin S. Comacho presents “A Mother for Christmas” featuring his regular character, Hannibal. A little girl wants her mom home for Christmas and only Hannibal and his brand of investigation can make it happen.
Christmas isn’t the only holiday of the season, as we see in “On the Sixth Night of Hanukah” by Helen Schwartz. A local police officer helping out at a temple open to the homeless, investigates a case of vandalism with surprising results.
There are more stories by talented authors–thirteen in all. You may just set aside the baking sheets and read a few!
But what if your holiday fantasy involves putting your feet up and drinking a glass of eggnog? Why not rent a Midsomer Murder made especially for the season?
Ghosts of Christmas Past
Midsomer Murders, Season Seven
Acorn Media @2007, Approx 100 minutes
It’s immediately apparent that all is not well at the Villier family home. Nine years ago, brother Ferdy committed suicide, something they don’t talk about though the subject hangs heavy in the air. Tension also arises from discussions about selling the house, a financial albatross that’s falling apart. When a Christmas cracker reveals a sinister threat, at first the family dismisses it as a practical joke. But then people begin to die.
Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, the Midsomer Murders series falls under that delightful umbrella, British cozy. John Nettles is fabulous as Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, and it would be a surprise if you guessed the murderer, though the clues are all there.
Whatever your choice, enjoy the holidays and have a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year! See you in 2010!