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Having just finished The Christmas Carol Murders, the cozy mystery is still fresh in my mind, so here are my impressions after a night’s sleep over it.
First of all, I need to mention something because I know there are people who care about these things: the book is a cozy mystery involving a gay guy. There. I’ve said it. So if you’re bothered about this aspect, just don’t read further – although I think you’d be cheating yourself out of a really great new cozy series if do you so.
The Christmas Carol Murders is the first book in the Dickens Junction Mystery series including also The Edwin Drood Murders) by Christopher Lord and to be honest, I was expecting a bit of a choppy writing (as it happens with many new authors). Not so here. The words were flowing easily in my mind and I really enjoyed the fluidity of it all. I can only imagine the second book (that I will be picking up tonight) to be even better than this.
As to the plot, well, as with all cozies, there isn’t a lot of nail-biting action here. Afterall, that’s the nature of cozies. Not everyone loves gore, pure adrenaline, and edge of your seat action. In fact, I found this first novel rather cerebral. We are not talking here about a knitting grandma who solves the murders along with her cat. Here the main character is Simon Alastair, a rather wealthy bookstore owner in Dickens Junction, Oregon who cares deeply about the community.
He is not only the bookstore owner, but it seems he is “The” guy in the small idyllic town. He owns almost all the buildings in there and is a rather charitable and very caring guy. He keeps the rents low and he is really engaged in the town activities – which hinted by the name as well, evolve around Charles Dickens and his literary work.
The town was really made alive by Simon’s grandfather who had a deep respect and love for Charles Dickens. He not only named the town Dickens Junction, but he also started a lot of traditions that had to do in one way or another with Dickens. He wanted to preserve all the good values that Dickens had put forth in his books, and all this legacy was passed down from father to son until it was Simon’s turn. He embraced all this and remained in the town, even though at a younger age he had ideas of going to the big city with his previous boyfriend, David. Alas, he had a legacy to preserve and community to protect.
So here we are now in this cute, loving town, full of Dickensian Christmas traditions when all this little corner of paradise is threatened by Roarke, a guy who comes in like the storm, trying to buy everyone’s land and property, even if it involves a bit of blackmail – or two.
Needless to say, soon Roarke is dead and it is Simon’s duty of honor to solve the crime and keep Dickens Junction from crumbling to dust. Of course, the fact that Zach, the new gorgeous guy in town, who has the hots for Simon, literally pushes him to solve the crime adds to his excitement as well. Afterall Simon seems to quite like the guy as well.
I won’t give further away the plot, I’ll leave it up to you to read it and find out what comes next. There are a few more interesting things happening, a few more deaths and a couple of rather ‘hot’ scenes between Simon and Zach as well.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing explicit going on between the two, except for a few furtive kisses and a few hand-holding moments. I mean there are more innuendos than anything else. Here are just a few quotes that might ‘hint’ at something:
“Zach had found Simon’s pleasure center…at least one of them” (he was talking about food)
“Simon felt the warmth of Zach’s large hands through his shirt, felt Zach’s breath against his cheeks.”
It really doesn’t get worse than this kind of description. It is a cozy, after all.
Something that I enjoyed in the book – at the end I was reminded by Agatha Christie with her novels where the main character gathers everyone in a room to do the killer reveal. At that moment I really was there and had a feeling I WAS reading a Christie novel.
Having said that, let’s see what were my pet peeves with the book. There were two things in fact.
First, the introduction of Ayn Rand and her writings in the story. The author portrayed Ayn Rand as having exactly the opposite values that Charles Dickens had and this negative view of Rand was quite strongly pushed in the book. The reason why it kind of bothered me was because I have to admit, I’ve never read any book by Ayn Rand (not even the popular Atlas Shrugged) and I simply couldn’t relate to any of this.
I felt disconnected from the book a few times and it was kind of tough to get back “in the mood” so to speak. So if you’re reading this review hoping to get some kind of philosophical discourse about Rand vs Dickens, you won’t find it here.
And second, the ending. Now I won’t spoil the ending, but let me just say that I usually tend to figure out (especially in a cozy mystery) who did it. Most of us usually do, due to a few carefully placed hints throughout the book (even when red herrings are included for extra fun). Not so here. I simply couldn’t figure out who was the killer until it was revealed.
Whatever Simon did in his head to find it out – it remained in his head until he let everyone know in that last gathering. It would have been nice to have a few morsels for us to hang on to because I felt that right now the reveal came out of nowhere. But maybe it was me. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to know whether you figured it out or not – just let me know in the Comments section at the end.
I have to admit, except these two small nit-pickings, I really enjoyed this first novel by Christopher Lord, and I’m eager to read the second one as well. I’m kind of getting fond of Simon and Zach – and George too (Simon’s older and very cerebral gay guy – nothing going on between these two, however).
A recommended quick read if you like intellectual cozies with a hint of gay romance, which adds just a touch of honey to the cerebral character of the book.