Cozy fans will want to find “Christmas is Murder” tucked into their stockings for a cold, winter's night read. This is one to help you while away the hours without scaring you out of your slippers; a delectable tidbit of a puzzle that will leave you hungry for the next Rex Graves Mystery.
The classic elements are all here. There is the odd cast of characters at a hotel over the holiday, each with a reason for being away from traditional family gatherings. There is the snowstorm that forces them to stay at the hotel, and communication is cut off, of course. Challinor takes timeless elements like the English countryside, a Scottish Barrister and poisoned tarts (or were they?) and shakes them all up with a dash of wit and a bushel of clues. The result is captivating, rather than cliché, and it swirls methodically like a fine snow in a cherished snow globe. You won't want the swirling flakes to settle.
Challinor, a longtime fan of Agatha Christie, knows that a good plot is essential to a story, and that characters give it a life of its own. “Christmas is Murder” has an element of romance but is not a love story. There is something, or someone, in the storyline to appeal to readers across the genre. Born in Indiana , Challinor was educated in Scotland and England and now resides in Florida , and the English setting in her story is spot on. The dozen characters in this tale have distinctly different personalities, a baker's dozen if you include the four-legged interloper. Keeping company for the holiday are the Barrister, a wealthy, disabled WWII veteran, a New York literary agent, a snoopy divorcee and her friend, a gay antiques dealer and his partner and a newlywed couple. Their needs are seen to (and seen by) the matron hotel proprietor, the cook, an ambitious waitress and an odd-job man. The cast is full-bodied and as enjoyable as a glass of brandy on a cold night, meant to be sipped slowly and savored.
Although cozy and comfortable, Challinor's story unfolds in a modern, if timeless, setting. Humor, both dry and bold, makes it all the more enjoyable. Barrister Rex Graves is a character you'll embrace and look forward to. I've got the feeling we've only seen a few of the many facets of his personality. The book offers a peek at the next in the series, “Murder in the Raw,” set in St. Martin, French West Indies . It sounds like another fun adventure for Rex, and for Challinor's new fans.
Cozy up, grab a cuppa, and visit Swanmere Manor for a Christmas to remember!
Another reason to put “Christmas is Murder” on your gift list is that the author is setting aside 15 percent of her royalties for the “Soldiers' Angels,” founded by the great niece of WWII General George S. Patton. The charity's volunteers help rehabilitate the war wounded from Afghanistan and Iraq (more information elsewhere in this issue). Visit C.S. Challinor at www.soldiersangels.org or www.midnightinkbooks.com