Christmas Crime Round-Up 2022
By John ValeriDecember 19, 2022
It’s the most wonderful crime(s) of the year! As the holidays come ‘round again, they bring with them an abundance of Christmassy capers, from lighthearted cozies to lingering chillers. Whether you prefer something naughty or something nice, here are a few titles to consider that celebrate family, friends, fur babies . . . and felonies.
Let the game(s) begin—The Christmas Murder Game (Poisoned Pen Press), that is! In Alexandra Benedict’s (literal) puzzler, Lily Armitage returns to Endgame House—an Agatha Christie-esque country manor estate—for the first time since childhood, and her mother’s untimely death. It’s not so much by choice as obligation; Lily’s aunt/pseudo parent, Liliana, has recently passed—and her last wish was for the fractured family to reunite for one final round of her game, winner take all—all being the property and its potential for profit. And while Lily doesn’t covet the house, she does want to know the truth of her mother’s death, which Liliana hinted may have been a homicide rather than a suicide. But as the bodies of her relations start piling up during a winter whiteout, Lily realizes that she’s not just playing a game of strategy but one of survival. Benedict invites readers to sleuth along with her characters by including sonnets containing anagrams for each of the twelve days of Christmas as well as hidden book references. Hopefully you’ll be less murderous in your methods of detection!
Meanwhile, in Victorian-era England, Anne Perry offers a slightly less perilous but equally ponderous problem in A Christmas Deliverance (Ballantine Books), her twentieth(!) seasonal mystery. On the banks of the River Thames, Dr. Crowe runs a free clinic for the disadvantaged, where he’s assisted by a young protégé known affectionately as “Scuff.” It was here that he tended to a young woman, Ellie—the daughter of local businessman Albert Hollister—back to health after an accident left her grievously injured. Despite their differences in social standing, the two became quite fond of one another—and so Crowe is distressed when he witnesses Ellie being accosted in the street by a man he learns is soon to become her husband. Convinced that their relationship is Ellie’s father’s doing, either willingly or under duress, he sets out to discover the truth of the matter in hopes of liberating her from a misguided marriage. But his queries bring unwanted attention to the clinic—and the threat of violence. Perry injects just the right amount of nostalgia and sentimentality in this timeless tale of harrow and hope.
Stateside, actors, politicians, and assorted worker bees have converged on Nantucket in Francine Matthews’s Death on a Winter Stroll (Soho Crime)—the seventh entry in her series featuring Police Chief Merry Folger. The influx of prominent faces (not to mention everyday tourists) coincides with the annual festivities and brings with it an escalation in violent crime: two shotgun deaths with no obvious link between them. Consequently, Folger and her team must manage egos and entourages as personal and professional grievances are mined for motives, means, and opportunities for murder. Matthews imbues the setting with atmosphere and offers stellar characterizations and telling details as she alternates viewpoints between characters. Consequently, readers become intimately familiar with the ensemble cast—which includes two endearing young misfits—while her lead makes an indelible impression yet is used sparingly enough to leave you wanting more. Further kudos to the author for her sensitive handling of ongoing Covid concerns.
Things are getting a bit (ahem) hairy in David Rosenfelt’s Santa’s Little Yelpers (Minotaur Books), too. Despite the cute title and cover art, something altogether criminal is afoot in Paterson, New Jersey, where defense attorney Andy Carpenter—in his twenty-sixth full-length caper—just can’t seem to retire. Here, he’s on the case when an employee, fellow dog lover, and former lawyer Chris Myers, turns up a witness who claims to have made false allegations against him that resulted in an involuntary manslaughter conviction. But when the witness recants his recantation and is then murdered, Chris—who had motive and was at the scene of the crime when it happened—finds himself arrested. Again. Still, Andy is convinced of his innocence and begins a deep-dive investigation into Chris’s past work, which turns up some very odd people and places. But do any of these have bearing on the present? It’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of holiday as Andy, assisted by his team (and his golden retriever, Tara), tries to deliver the gift of freedom by exoneration for the New Year.
Life’s a stitch when USA Today bestselling author Carlene O’Connor, Maddie Day, and Peggy Ehrhart re-team for Christmas Scarf Murder (Kensington Cozies)—a cozy collection of original shorts that follows 2019’s Christmas Cocoa Murder. In O’Connor’s title story, newlywed Siobhán O’Sullivan, garda of County Cork, Ireland, is called away from her kitchen when residents of a local elder care home discover they’ve been robbed. But the plot thickens when one of the volunteers (and a potential person of interest) is found dead, pulled from a tractor by an overlong … scarf. Per usual, there’s plenty of charm to offset the cunning in this treat of a tale. In Day’s scrumptious (and often alliterative) “Scarfed Down,” Pans ‘N Pancakes proprietor Robbie Jordan—also a newlywed—must serve up an alternate suspect when it’s discovered that her Aunt Adele’s hand-dyed yarn has been used as a means to murder one of her regular diners. The story certainly hits the sweetly sinister spot but be forewarned: all the talk of foods inspired by the “Twelve Days of Christmas” will leave you hungry. Peggy Ehrhart’s “Death by Christmas Scarf” offers the most straightforward use of the garment as a weapon: strangulation. But things get positively tangled up when it’s learned that the scarf, crafted by one of protagonist Pamela Paterson’s fellow Knit and Nibbles members, was won at auction by a bidder known only as … “S. Claws.” Who is this person and what’s their connection to the victim, if any? Ehrhart cleverly unravels her yarn while still allowing her heroine to partake in the customary holiday hoopla and hijinks. You may never look at scarves the same way again—but the book does come with recipes! (Isn’t that comforting?)
Finally, there’s the Die Hard of the bunch: New York Times bestselling author Catherine Steadman’s The Family Game (Ballantine Books). Is it a Christmas story? Is it not? I’ll leave that up to you, dear reader—but I will say that it opens (and closes) on December 25th before going back in time to occupy the space between Thanksgiving and Christmas (including a fiendishly fun Krampusnacht celebration). When British novelist Harriet (“Harry”) Reed crosses the pond to start her life with Edward Holbeck in New York City, her only knowledge of his famously privileged family comes from surreptitious Internet searches. But their engagement brings an end to the estrangement, and Harry soon finds herself a pawn in her father-in-law-to-be’s solicitous overtures—which includes sharing his private recordings of a book-in-progress that seems tantamount to a murder confession. Where exactly the truth lies is anybody’s guess, though Harry has a few secrets of her own that make her a surprisingly worthy adversary.
And there you have it, my friends: an intoxication selection of lethal literary libations to make your yuletide bright. Cheers to continued good reading in the New Year, and ever after!