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Showing posts with the label Mystery

Book Review: In Peppermint Peril

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In Peppermint Peril
Joy Avon, 2018

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

I almost didn’t write a review for this book, because I sort of felt bad. Unless it’s a new pseudonym (completely possible) this is the first book by a new author. And it’s not horrible, it’s just sort of broken. It’s a mishmash of mystery tropes that doesn’t recognize why some work together and others don’t.

It’s a holiday mystery that has little to do with the holiday. It has Agatha Christie elements but only sometimes. It has many, many side elements that read like references to previous books (that don’t exist). Worst of all, it’s a cozy mystery with a boring main character.

Cozy mysteries live and die by their leads. Almost always female, commonly bakers or small business owners, most modern cozy leads have romantic plots with happy endings or they have husbands who endorse their part-time mystery solving. Not every mystery lead has to be a winner - usually you …

The Avengers: Too Many Christmas Trees (1965)

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Not to be confused with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers was a British spy series from the 60s which cycled through a number of iterations and styles. We've looked at a later episode, "Take-Over," that sort of fit our loose definition for Christmas in July (absurdly loose: Take-Over was set in February, and the holiday elements only appeared briefly).

"Too Many Christmas Trees," on the other hand, was far more entrenched in holiday fare. It was also a more iconic example of the series, featuring Emma Peel, by far the best known of John Steed's partners.

In this one, they're pitted against a team of psychics attempting to steal national secrets from Steed's mind by eroding his sanity through a series of yuletide nightmares.

This should already be obvious, but I loved the hell out of this episode.

All of this is set at an English mansion where Peel was invited for a Christmas party. She invites John after the idea to bring him just pops int…

Book Review: The Silence of the Elves

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The Silence of the Elves
Meg Muldoon, 2016

Premise: Holly's been demoted right out of the North Pole through no fault of her own, but she'll need more than hope to get her life back on track.

You may recall that I kind of liked another one of Meg Muldoon's holiday-themed cozy mysteries, so when I saw she had a new series that was explicitly about Christmas elves, I had to try it.

Unfortunately, I feel that this book was the author attempting to move outside her personal formula and failing. It's a bit like a palette swap. Nothing about the Christmas-elf premise felt committed to or explored fully, just pasted on.

There's a thin veneer of elf-ness: Holly mentions her elf instincts to be cheerful, kind, and festive, but we never really see this play out to a greater extent than it would with a naturally cheerful person. The elves are basically indistinguishable from humans, and while Santa, Mrs. Claus, and some extended relations are characters, they are indistinguis…

Book Review: Murder, She Wrote: Manhattans and Murder (1994) and Murder, She Wrote: A Little Yuletide Murder (1998)

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Murder, She Wrote: Manhattans and Murder (1994) and Murder, She Wrote: A Little Yuletide Murder (1998)

By Donald Bain

The Christmas episode of the show was fairly lackluster, so I suppose it's fair that the novels match. These two brief books are part of a long-running spin-off series that apparently someone will continue to write until society crumbles. (Seriously, Book 47 is available for preorder.)

The two books have a few things in common. The author can write passable lines of dialogue and narration, but there's no build from scene to scene and the story as a whole is utterly forgettable.

Both books seem determined to raise but refuse to sensitively address social issues (drug addiction and teenage pregnancy, respectively).

Most bizarrely, both books feature a minor subplot about someone asking Jessica to write a true-crime novel about the events going on. Unless this was a running gag in all the books, it seems strange not to reference the first event, given the other sup…

Book Review: A Christmas Party (originally published as Envious Casca)

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A Christmas Party (originally published as Envious Casca)
Georgette Heyer, 1941

Premise: When the far-flung Herriard clan comes together for Christmas, sparks fly. It's a classic locked-room mystery with the death of a wealthy patriarch and a house full of suspects.

Even though this felt like deja vu, (how many times have I read/seen this plot?) I enjoyed it thoroughly, mostly because the characters were so interesting.

The characters are more colorful and complex than I've found in many mysteries of this style. Joseph the affable aging actor who's masterminding the party, his stolid wife Maud and her obsession with reading biographies, Paula and the aspiring playwright she drags to the party. We spend the most time shadowing cousin Mathilde who's stylish and practical, down-to-earth and gently sardonic in the face of ludicrous situations.

I spotted the murderer right away, (seriously, have I read this story before?) but there was enough fun in watching the characters p…

Book Review: Silent Night (A Raine Stockton Dog Mystery)

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Silent Night (A Raine Stockton Dog Mystery)
Donna Ball, 2011

Christmas crossposting!

(Note: Many of the Christmas books I am reading this year have one notable thing in common -- they were all cheap or free on Kindle some time in the last few years. No other qualifications.)

Premise: Raine Stockton runs an obedience school, or she would if the contractors would finish upgrading her facility. She trains dogs, keeps dogs, and sometimes that means she follows their noses right into trouble.

This is another cozy mystery that’s more what I would call romantic slice-of-life with a pinch of mystery. Raine’s friends, job, and trouble with men are, if not interchangeable with others I’ve read, certainly of a type.

The mystery isn’t much of the story - someone is stealing nativity Jesuses and some puppies are abandoned. Also a teenager’s abusive father turns up mysteriously dead, but Raine and company only briefly feel like they are in any danger, and she only gets involved because her trained sea…

Murder, She Wrote: The Christmas Secret (1992)

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The secret of the title is half obvious and half boring. Just putting that up front.

Murder, She Wrote can sometimes be charming, and sometimes it can just be tedious. This is one of the latter. Angela Lansbury does her best to maintain unflappable enthusiasm and charm, but the story is downright dull.

We open in that deceptively peaceful Maine town, Cabot Cove, which is welcoming Charlie, a young veteran who is engaged to Beth, the daughter of a prominent family. Charlie is thrilled to be so embraced by the community, as he and his sister grew up in foster care. He has something important to tell Beth, and gives her a key to his hotel room so they can meet up later. Except they don’t.

Instead he finds a tape with a blackmail message on it, and he has dinner with Beth but doesn’t talk to her about anything important. We know that the son of Beth’s father’s business partner resents Charlie’s presence in town, but he’s a red herring.

There’s also another sketchy young man (Floyd) who…

Book Review: Murder in Christmas River

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Murder in Christmas River
Meg Muldoon, 2012

(Note: Many of the Christmas books I am reading this year have one notable thing in common -- they were all cheap or free on Kindle some time in the last few years. No other qualifications.)

Premise: Cinnamon Peters is determined to win this year’s gingerbread house competition. It’s good press for her pie shop, and showing up her rival is just icing on the proverbial cake. But when one of the judges turns up dead behind her shop and an old flame cruises back into town, she’ll have more than a contest to worry about.

This is one of those cozy mysteries that’s closer to the romance end of the spectrum, but I think it works.

Cinnamon is a likable protagonist: emotional without being too sappy, short-tempered at times, snarky but overall kind. Other characters include her friend Kara, her grandfather she’s looking after, her rival in the competition, her new/old crush, her jerk ex-husband, and other townsfolk. They are each interesting without be…

Supernatural: A Very Supernatural Christmas (2007)

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It's always awkward to jump into the middle of a plot-heavy series for a holiday installment. Supernatural is a long-running genre show with a pretty passionate fan base. This is the first time we've seen an episode.

This one's from the third season, and it's packaged as a full special, despite really only being an episode. The producers arranged to start with the old CBS "A Special Presentation" title card as an homage to holiday fare from the 80's. And, naturally, they end with snow falling.

There are a few story lines playing out simultaneously. A monster-of-the-week mystery forms the backbone, while a series of flashbacks to a Christmas Eve when Sam learned the truth about their family's legacy provides some heart.

The episode opens with another flashback, this one just a year prior, showing a man being pulled up the chimney on Christmas Eve while his son watched. A year later, and the situation is repeated in another state, but this time monster…

Book Review: Ho-Ho-Homicide

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Ho-Ho-Homicide
Kaitlyn Dunnett, 2014

(Note: Many of the Christmas books I am reading this year have one notable thing in common -- they were all cheap or free on Kindle some time in the last few years. No other qualifications.)

Premise: When Liss’ old friend Gina blows into town with a request concerning an inherited Christmas tree farm, Liss thinks it’s a good opportunity for a casual vacation. It’s been years since she stumbled into a murder investigation, after all.

This is a perfectly serviceable mystery novel. The characters are fine, the writing is good, the plot is interesting even though the villains are too obvious.

The best part is the fact that it is set on a Christmas tree farm.

It actually takes place in late November, and Liss and her husband are tasked with figuring out whether Gina can turn a profit that year, and eventually with figuring out what happened to the previous owner and an unknown man killed on the property years ago. Some of the minutia of growing and sell…

Masterpiece Mystery: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994)

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I know I read the book this is based on, I have the review to prove it, but I have no memory of it. A quick read of my review tells me it’s a common Christmas mystery plot - family gathering, locked-room murder of the head of the family. See also: The Santa Klaus Murder, 8 Women...

The episode opens with some unnecessary backstory to establish the twist ahead of time and confirm that Simeon Lee is a murderer and a rake, so we won’t care when he gets murdered. Then it jumps ahead to Simeon as an crotchety old bastard bent on emotionally torturing his spineless kids over the holidays. Everything is very by the numbers and all of these characters are morons.

Simeon made his money in diamonds, and a lot of the red herrings in the plot follow some uncut gems he receives. It’s funny, because uncut diamonds don’t look like much, so it’s hard to remember why everyone’s so wound up over them.

Finally we bring in Poirot, who is invited along to the holiday party because Simeon claims he “fears…

8 Women (2002)

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Stop me if you've heard this one: a family gathers for Christmas, but there's tension in the house. A person is murdered, and everyone in the house is a suspect. The denizens of the house are cut off from help, so they investigate each other, where all secrets, sexualities, and torch songs will be revealed.

That last bit was a little different than you expected, maybe?

8 Women (aka 8 Femmes) is a French movie, and, if nothing else, it is artful, passionate, surreal at times, and fascinating. It's adapted from a play, and obviously so: it takes place in one location, with a cast of just eight women. There is also the one man at the center of the mystery, but the focus is on how all the women orbit this man, and he remains a cipher. The actor has no lines and is never seen from the front.

The play is set in a Hollywood version of the 1950's, and it shows in the costumes, the story and the music. The costumes and set are sumptuous, and the setting may also prepare you fo…

Book Review: The Raven in the Foregate (Cadfael Series)

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The Raven in the Foregate (Cadfael Series)
Ellis Peters, 1986

This is book number twelve in the Cadfael series, but I jumped ahead to it because it's set explicitly at Christmas.

Premise: In 1141, a new priest comes to the town outside the abbey. He is harsh with the people and quickly makes enemies. The woman and young man who came into town with Father Ailnoth are not who they say they are, and all mysteries must come to light after a violent death on Christmas Eve.

I've very much enjoyed all of the Cadfael books I have read, although this one seems to retread some ground. Cadfael's friendship with and patronage of the young couple particularly, is a repeated thread in more than one of these stories. It's still an enjoyable yarn, with the final solution to the mystery held secret to the end, despite how steadily pieces are revealed.

Cadfael, as usual, keeps his own counsel and works only for what he thinks is the best outcome for all concerned. If you haven't rea…

Book Review: The Santa Klaus Murder

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The Santa Klaus Murder
Mavis Doriel Hay, 1936, ebook reprint 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise:Part of the British Library Crime Classic series of reprints. Sir Osmund Melbury has gathered his fractured family for the holiday. There’s a lot of money at stake for remaining in Sir Osmund's good graces, so naturally he ends up dead, and everyone has a motive.

I liked the first half of this book much more than the end and resolution. I don’t know whether it dragged on too long, or I just lost track of who said what to who when. But I did like the first half quite a bit.

The book explicitly switches between perspective, especially in the first few chapters. These chapters each take the form of a narrative of events written after the fact by one of the characters. You learn a lot about what the characters think of each other and their descriptions are often amusingly snide. The main body of the narrative after the murder is …

Book Review: Forbidden Fruit

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Forbidden Fruit (Corinna Chapman Mysteries, Book 5)
Kerry Greenwood, 2009

Premise: It's Christmas with the staff of Heavenly Pleasures and the inhabitants of Insula. Time for heat waves, bands of roving hippies, and a family with a lost daughter and a very dark secret… (Previously reviewed: Book One)

I’ve read all of this series. Yes, I only reviewed the first one until now, (although ironically, the first one was probably the weakest) but I had to come back to blog for Christmas! It's funny, but for all the different media we've consumed for the mainlining Christmas project, this year might be the first time we’ve done anything conspicuously set in the southern hemisphere. Australia is hot at Christmastime, and yet the holiday comes on all the same, with all the crowds and obnoxious music and such. Corinna’s commentary on the holiday season is especially fun.

The two plots Corrina and her friends are investigating this time around are not as high stakes as some in this ser…

Scooby-Doo! 13 Spooky Tales: Holiday Chills and Thrills (2012)

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This DVD compilation includes Christmas or winter themed episodes from across the dozen or so incarnations of Scooby Doo over the years. Unfortunately, the majority are less Christmas than winter, and we already reviewed one episode, A Scooby-Doo Christmas, a few years ago. We're going to review the other two Christmas centered episodes, Haunted Holidays and The Nutcracker Scoob, on their own. That leaves ten of dubious holiday connection.

We almost didn't write these up at all, but a few included some holiday allusions or references, plus the snowy visuals were certainly evocative of Christmas. Ultimately, we decided to cover them together, along with some discussion of how each ties to the holidays, if at all.

First, though, let's talk about this "13 Spooky Tales" line. They released several of these DVD sets with different themes about the same time, each collecting ostensibly similar episodes throughout the years. In this case, even the math to get to 13 epi…

The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries: The Nutcracker Scoob (1984)

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The Nutcracker Scoob is notable for being the final episode of The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, which is primarily significant for being the last time the character of Scrappy-Doo was inflicted on audiences as a series regular.

As such, it was a tad anti-climatic. At the very least, they could have re-enacted the resolution of Old Yeller than turned on the laugh track. Now that would had gotten some ratings.

Instead, they told a relatively straight-forward Scooby-Doo tale centered around a Christmas pageant at a children's home. Of course, the place is in danger even before the faux ghost shows up: a cruel, oddly Victorian businessman named Winslow Nickelby is trying to force them to sell him the building on Christmas Eve. It would be easier to feel for the owners if there was some indication the home contained anything other than a theater.

Pretty soon, the monster of the week shows up. This one is called the "Ghost of Christmas Never," and she's cloaked in white with…

Scooby Doo: Haunted Holidays (2012)

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For better and for worse, I found a DVD at the library called Scooby-Doo: 13 Spooky Tales - Holiday Chills and Thrills. It’s interesting, at least, containing a mix of ‘winter’ episodes and actual Christmas content from several of the various Scooby-Doo series. (For example, it included this one.)

Haunted Holidays is a special that was produced direct-to-DVD for this compilation, and I rather liked it. Or at least it wasn't awful.

The premise is more than a bit sketchy: Fred, Daphne and Velma are helping with a Christmas parade for a big toy store, for some reason, when it’s attacked by a crazed evil snowman. The thing has freezing breath and shapeshifting; it’s actually almost scary when it turns into a snow-spider-beast or a snow-alien-mouth-tentacle-thing.


Despite Shaggy and Scooby’s reluctance, as usual the gang tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, which involves a supposed ‘curse of the sinister snowman’ placed on the toy store by the guy who owned the old-fashioned h…

Book review: Silent Nights

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Silent Nights
Edited by Martin Edwards, ebook release 2015

New Release! I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Another collection of Christmas Mystery stories, this one from the British Library Crime Classics series. Fifteen tales of murder and thievery at the holidays.

I know, you'd think I would be sick of short mysteries after last year's lengthy read of the Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. However, in this book I discovered a well-balanced selection that was enjoyable overall . I think I may be giving extra credit for being of a manageable length, though.

Here's what you'll find, with stories that I've read previously noted:

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (repeat) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A classic, I would never fault anyone for adding this to a Christmas compilation. It remains charming on whatever number re-read this is.

Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer
A cute, simple story of a man amusing a group of …

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

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The strange lighting, coupled with the almost alien music and meandering story line of Eyes Wide Shut, created a dreamlike effect. And by "dreamlike effect," I literally mean the movie almost put me to sleep, because it was astonishingly, bafflingly, almost unbelievably boring. This was one of the most boring movies I've seen since... well... actually, it hasn't been that long since I've seen something this boring, but keep in mind I watch a hell of a lot of bad Christmas flicks. But the competition generally goes more than ten minutes without showing naked people: Eyes Wide Shut has no excuse for failing to hold anyone's attention.

I heard a while ago that this was a Christmas movie, which I wasn't aware of. Turns out, the movie is Christmas through and through. Christmas lights, in particular, are in damn near every scene that doesn't contain weird sex cults. Half of the film's lighting seems to come from multicolored bulbs. The other half is p…