The Snow White Christmas Cookie by David Handler is the ninth traditional mystery in the film critic Mitch Berger and Connecticut State Resident Trooper Desiree Mitry series (available October 16, 2012).
It’s Christmastime in the cozy picturesque town of Dorset, Connecticut. Most townsfolk are in the Holiday spirit and leave a little extra something in the mailbox for Hank Merrill, their letter carrier. Problem is, there’s a Grinch loose and it doesn’t want Hank to get his tips; or his patrons to get their mail.
Pilfering postal deliveries is a serious crime. But when mysterious deaths start happening it makes one wonder. Would the Grinch resort to murder? In order to solve this case, someone needs to think outside the mailbox.
Handler seems to have taken a page from Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple when he matched NYC film critic, Mitch Berger with Connecticut state resident trooper Desiree (Des) Mitry.
Des Mitry, the Connecticut state resident trooper, a lithe, long-limbed, six- foot-one-inch woman of color. And Mitch Berger, the weight-challenged Jewish film critic from New York City whose only experience with violence before he’d met Des had consisted of the films of Mr. Sam Peckinpah.
The small town setting gives closeness to the characters. Introducing intimacy into the mix can make it hard to be objective for any law officer. Knowing the victims or possible perpetrators could be too much to handle. I like the fact that Handler tries to keep his characters grounded.
Des’s studio was spread out all over the living room. Her heart- wrenching drawings of the murder victims she’d encountered were tacked up here, there, everywhere. She drew them in the early light of dawn, deconstructing the haunting memories line by line, shadow by shadow.
It was how she dealt.
Des drove home from Mitch’s place to put in some time on her portrait of Titus Smart, age nine, whose aunt Marcella, age sixteen, had smashed him in the face with a crowbar approximately twenty-seven times. When Des had asked the blood-spattered Marcella why she’d done it she calmly replied, “I didn’t care for the way he was looking at me.” And so Des not-so-calmly drew and drew.
Berger is kept grounded by thoughts of the love of his life, Mitry.
When he’d opened his eyes that morning and seen all of the snow he’d been plunged into total despair, thinking she would bail on him. But she’d called him to say she’d definitely be here, snow be damned, because she really, really needed to feel his arms around her. She needed him. Which he was okay with. Hell, more than okay. She was everything to him. Even though they were only able to meet like this maybe twice a week—just the two of them alone together—she was pretty much all that he lived for.
This crime-fighting team complements each other on and off the case. Although Mitch Berger gets the credit for solving the puzzle, Handler’s Des Mitry is no slouch at noticing details about the supporting characters.
“Lem, all of this snow must be good for your business.”
“You’d think so,” he acknowledged, scratching at his beard with a thumbnail the size of a clamshell. It wasn’t a very clean-looking thumbnail. It wasn’t a very clean-looking beard either.
More humorous observations are woven in strange places like a car chase.
It was the most pathetic high-speed chase Des had ever been involved in. Not that it qualified as a high-speed chase, since neither of them could do more than twenty in the dense snow. And Des wasn’t even trying to gain ground. She didn’t want to make Kylie drive faster in these blizzard conditions. Just wanted her to know that it was pointless to keep going and that she ought to do the sane, adult thing and pull over.
Good luck with that.
Reality alert: Only a total nutso tries to pass a snowplow in the middle of a blizzard. Kylie Champlain had gone total nutso.
When the car crashes into an office building we learn more than we wanted to know about Casey.
Fallen ceiling tiles were everywhere. Apparently, one of them had hit Casey, who was someone Des could happily have gone her entire life without ever seeing naked.
Paulette’s son didn’t seem to be constructed out of muscle, bone or sinew. Just jiggly, moon-white blubber. He reminded Des of one of those grubs she sometimes dug up in the garden and had to squash.
Overall I enjoyed the storyline and flow Handler brings to a novel. His use of dialogue to pull clues out of reluctant characters works. Face-to-face meetings like these made me feel like a fly on the wall. To quote Berger:
And because if there was one thing he’d learned from Des it was that the solution to a case is often the obvious one that’s staring you right smack-dab in the face.
Cindy Kerschner is an avid mystery fan, freelance writer, and professional cook. You can learn about her through her website at http://www.cindysrecipesandwritings.com.
See al posts by Cindy Kerschner for Criminal Element.