Review : The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay ( British Library Crime Classics #1 )

Sir Osmond Melbury is having a family gathering for Christmas at his country mansion Flaxmere but his sister is of the view that nothing good could ever come of the Melbury family gatherings . For a change , Sir Osmond has planned to liven up the Christmas festivities by having one of the guests dress up as Santa Claus and distribute the presents to his grand – children and the servants . Sir Osmond is found dead in his study with a bullet to his head by Oliver Wittcombe who is playing the Santa . While Oliver seems to have every opportunity to have fired the shot that killed Sir Osmund , he does not have an obvious motive . But almost every other member of the house party seems to have had their own motives but no easy opportunity as Oliver and also private suspicions about the identity of the killer . When the Chief Constable of Haulmshire thinks that he knows the family too well which could pose some difficulties for him but eventually realizes that there are too many things he does not know about the family . As the investigation proceeds , a startling discovery comes up : There were two Santas and not one . . .

The Santa Klaus murder is a classic country manor mystery . Sir Osmund ‘ s Santa plans need not fool you into thinking that he is the benevolent and affectionate man . He has always enjoyed a charged atmosphere and having people tip – toe around him . The patriarch demanded abject submission to his wishes from those around him and threatened them with reducing their inheritances if they chose to do otherwise . The family knows this to be no idle threat – his eldest daughter Hilda Wynford who was widowed at a young age with a child has not received any kind of support from her father because she married against his wishes except to be allowed at her father ‘ s house . ( Doesn ‘ t Sir Osmund bring to mind  wealthy entrepreneur Aristide Leonides from Agatha Christie ‘ s The Crooked House ? ) The narrative is structured as written accounts of the days prior to the tragic Christmas Day starting from the day when the members of the house party began to trickle at Flaxmere by some members of the house party . We also have a detailed chronicling of the investigation by Col . Halstock , the Chief Constable of Haulmshire and one chapter narrated by the amateur detective of this book , Kenneth Stour who also happens to be the ex – lover of Sir Osmond ‘ s daughter Lady Edith Evershot . . .

Col . Halstock is more like Watson and Kenneth , Holmes . While we have seen detectives who deduce a man ‘ s physical profile from his stride or read into something as random as a splash of candle grease or ponder about the most trivial observations of one ‘ s day , Col . Halstock sees a dislodged cover of a typewriter in the study where Sir Osmund had been murdered and does not think for a moment about getting it checked for fingerprints . Let the above statement not put you off . I think hardcore crime fiction fans would love being one – up over the investigating officer and the amateur sleuth for a change . However , all these gaffes during the investigation could not be held against Col . Halstock simply because he does not have the facts at all or is often mislead by the accounts of the inmates of the house who are keen on safe – guarding their loved ones whom they think have a decent motive for murdering Sir Osmund . Some humor , a good pace and the discovery of a new clue or perspective with each chapter , Col . Halstock is definitely not a detective bad enough to put you off this case . With the timely inputs from Kenneth Stour and his own decent deductions , the narrative keeps the reader engaged and is very enjoyable . And no , I did not guess the identity of the murderer correctly despite flattering myself that I spotted a few key clues even before the misinformed detective on the case spotted it . . .

Despite the good pace of the multiple narratives keeping the readers hooked , I felt that the writing of certain scenarios could have been better – while certain family members attribute ” solid ” motives to few others , there is not a single private conversation or confrontation to add weight to their arguments that X / Y have a good motive to bump off the old man . All those suspects did not utter a single menacing word against Sir Osmund . While I never guessed the culprit , I would have liked a narrative from him about how he almost pulled off a perfect murder . . . Certain characters do not get a mention in the POSTSCRIPT chapter – after all the concern I had invested on the suicidal ex – chauffeur I would definitely like to know if his fortunes took a turn for the better or if Sir Osmund ‘ s Miss Lemon got her next job . . .

Rating : 3 . 75 / 5

Despite some flaws , you definitely would not regret getting a taste of Golden Age Crime Fiction writing from Mavis Doriel Hay , whom I think definitely needs wider recognition . Highly recommended from me . If you have already read the book , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book and also which cover do you prefer . Until the next review then . .

Review : The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to shop my book shelves . I was hoping to get to some of the classics on my shelves during the lockdown . But they only seem to intimidate me more nowadays . On normal days , I would have skipped past them without much thought and would have proceeded to place an order with Amazon or atleast initiated the borrowing process with the library . Now , I am rummaging through the same stacks trying to find something less intimidating , cursing myself for not having the foresight to have a stash of suspense fiction which is my go-to genre any time . Despite all the relaxations in Lockdown 5 . 0 , I am finding that Amazon is not delivering any “non – essentials ” in my area and going to the bookstore does not seem to be a good idea .

The current read was sitting on the shelves from God knows when . It is when I was skimming over Chapter – 1 , that I read these lines :

At the beginning , people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world . Counselors came to talk to us at school . I remember watching Mr.Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottled water , as if preparing , it now seems to me , for a disaster much more minor .

The grocery stores were soon empty , the shelves sucked clean like chicken bones

These days as standing in street corners may not be very practical , we are having several YouTube videos about The Last Days which are making rounds in the Whatsapp groups . I don ‘ t have to comment on the stock piling or the panic shopping – we witnessed it during the lockdown and it will probably continue for some more time . These lines no longer read like a dystopian world which I could not relate to . This perfectly captured the ” new normal ” . . . And that ‘ s why the reason for picking up this inimitable debut by Karen Thompson Walker . . .

** Review starts here for people who don ‘ t have time for my rants and my book buying woes **

One Saturday morning , the narrator Julia and her family , along with the entire world wake up to find that a phenomenon termed as the ” slowing ” had occurred . With time , the real impact of the slowing finally becomes evident – the days and the nights continue to grow longer , accumulating extra seconds , minutes and eventually hours with each passing day ; the trees and plants are dying away quickly and artificial lawns are the only option for people to have some greenery around them ; the gravity is affected ; the sleep patterns are affected ; animals are the first to take the hit in this chaotic ecosystem – flocks of birds are dropping dead from the sky , the whales are beaching themselves and eventually dying across the world . A eleven year old must navigate this terrifying new world while dealing with the tension in her parents ‘ marriage , dealing with breakup with old friends and forming new friendships , discovering what teenage might bring with it from the experiences of those around her and finally having her brush with something close to a heart break . . .

My thoughts about the book

What I loved about this book was that Karen has packed a lot into the narrative while exploring the catastrophic effects of the slowing down of the rotation of the earth in Julia ‘ s world – the avian deaths and change in avian behavior , how people devised new routines to cope up with the 24+ hours days , how people differed in their views regarding the shift and how there came to be two coping mechanisms , the vanishing of green acres at an alarming rate , how the almanacs became useless with each passing day because eclipses surprised people by not occurring at the pre – calculated times , the sharp spike in the sales of sleeping pills , blackout curtains , sleep masks and several other stuff which became the new age ” essentials ” and even alcohol and cigarettes . . .

This is not just a chronicling of a few lives and a few loves during this strange phenomenon but also the new and unusual experiences in the coming of age story of a young girl growing up in highly uncertain time . The idea of having Julia as a pre – teen during the start of the ” slowing ” and to have an older Julia reminisce about her growing up experiences during the start of the slowing down offers the benefit of the keen memories of a young person who can have organized thought process and also discern things put beautifully into words along with her own insightful ideas by the adult Julia . . . There is only one ambiguity which I could point out in the narrative . It is about Julia ‘ s age ( although I am not sure if I might have missed something here –

I was twenty three when plans for the Explorer were announced [ . . . ]

I do try to move forward as much as possible . I ‘ ve decided to try to become a doctor , though some of the Universities . No one knows what the world will be like by the time I finish school .

If she is 23 + ( inferring from the first statement ) , then she says in the second that no one knows what the future will look like by the time she finishes school . . . It would be great if someone could clarify this . . .

Julia ‘ s narration liberally peppered with her insightful musings on the past is a treat to read and encourages the reader also to think about certain issues she covers in the course of the narrative . Her anecdotes about everyday family life and how things slowly changed until the normal routine was no longer recognized as normal and how everyday things ( like the well -maintained lawns or eating pineapples or even bananas ) disappeared or became a memory from a time which was only a myth now are all very relatable to the current situation we find ourselves in and reinforces one learning from this time strongly – not to take the little things in life for granted . . .

Karen ‘ s take on the effects of the fictional accelerated slowing of Earth ‘ s rotation are very believable and terrifying . While reading about the catastrophic effects on Earth and its inhabitants , I could not help seeing the similarities between some of the effects detailed in the book (although thankfully not as grim as it turned out in the book and sometimes even having a positive environmental impact ) to the ” new normal routine ” in the wake of the COVID – 19 pandemic – the spike in the sales of hand sanitizers , cleaning products , vitamin pills ( especially Vitamin D now that we are wary of stepping outside our homes ) , immunity boosters , the face masks ( which have found a place in the new list of essentials ) , the wildlife taking a stroll through the roads in towns and villages not that we are all cooped up in our homes , the headlines shouting that the air pollution has dipped by a huge margin and how the air quality has improved a lot . . .

An interesting excerpt from the book –

” By the end of November , our days had stretched to forty hours

Those were the days of extremes . The sun blazed longer each time it came around , baking our street until it was too hot to cross barefoot . Earthworms sizzled on patios . Daisies wilted in their beds .

The periods of darkness , when they came , were just as sluggish as the daylight . The air turned cold during twenty hours of night , like the water at the bottom of a lake . All over California , grapes froze on the vine , orange groves withered in the dark , the flesh of avocados turned black from the frosts .

Dozens of experimental biospheres were commissioned for the cultivation of essential crops and the seeds of a thousand fragile species were rushed to a seed bank in Norway .

There are several such beautiful passages which must be read as part of the story and not as standalone quotes . This one is highly recommended from me . . .

Rating : 4 . 5 / 5

If you have already read the book , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . . . Until the next review then . .

Review : Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Little Secrets

Jennifer Hillier’s latest release Little Secrets seemed to be a favorite with the majority of the bloggers who reviewed it . So , when I saw it on Audible , I decided to go for it  . This is my first Hillier read . A quick summary of the plot before going for my thoughts about the book .

Plot Summary :

Marin had the perfect  life  – she is a successful entrepreneur who owns a chain of upscale salons and is married to a successful entrepreneur . Three days before Christmas , her four year old son Sebastian is taken by a stranger dressed in a Santa suit when they were both doing the last minute Christmas shopping .  A year later , her life is a far cry from the ‘ perfect ‘ life she had before Sebastian went missing  – She and her husband rarely speak . She had attempted suicide once during the initial days when the nightmare had just begun and is undergoing therapy ( although it does not seem to be helping much . Alcohol seems to be doing a much better job than all the support group sessions and the therapy sessions ) . The only thing which kept her going is her hope that one day Sebastian might be found . Now , the PI whom she had hired to keep working on Sebastian ‘ s case after the FBI search went cold has stumbled upon her husband ‘ s affair with a much younger woman .

Kenzie Li  , an  art grad student working part – time as a barista is one of those millennials who think that her life in Instagram posts should emulate a luxury life even if her real life is actually a far cry from the glamorous pics she posts on Instagram . . . That ‘ s why she has had a string of rich , married men as boyfriends – they could help her with the bills ; exotic vacations and expensive gifts were also some of the perks she could expect from these men . Marin ‘ s husband Derek is her latest catch . There is only one cause for concern – she is falling for him , although it was never part of the plan  . . .

Marin is already upto the neck in one of the worst nightmares for any parent . She is not about to lose her husband also now . She is ready to do whatever it takes to save her marriage and all the family she is left with . . .

My thoughts on the book :

The missing child premise is not a wholly new premise in crime fiction . The missing child , the long – grieving mother and her dependence on alcohol & drugs , the father who is ( almost ) finished with grieving and wants to have a fresh start and the resulting distance between the parents threatening their marriage  – all these plot points which are the staples for this premise are there in Hillier ‘ s latest release .

The novel ‘s plot line of finding out how Marin would deal with this stranger who is a threat to her marriage when she is already dealing with the trauma of a  missing child is a promising one . But Hillier ‘ s writing left me wanting more . I was expecting more in – depth characterization (if not some detailed psychological profiling ) of the protagonist and her immediate friends and family .  Instead , the story reads like a pretty decent screenplay for a suspense movie where the dialogues made me wonder if I had not read these lines before .  While the story is well paced and kept me engaged , I felt that it could have been told better . . . However , there were some secondary characters – like Frances ( from the support group ) , whom I felt exuded more genuineness of characterization than even Marin – Kenzie duo who had nothing remotely memorable or original about them . I could easily forget them with all the other crime fiction protagonists I am going to read this year . Marin has the proverbial fury of the scorned woman – only she is keen on punishing her husband ‘ s mistress instead of the husband . Kenzie knows how to play it with the gullible men who fell head – over – heels ” in love ” with her like all every other mistress . Like any other mistress , she also seems to be finally falling for a man who was initially supposed to be yet another fling . Yes , she is beautiful ( Marin thinks so and feels somewhat insecure about her own middle – aged self  like any other wife would do with a mistress . ) . Both Marin & Kenzie are cut -out – of – the – template characters – the woman who had been cheated by the husband &  the other woman with just enough to keep them from becoming downright out – of -the – template characters . . .

There are very few authors who have the knack of feeding the nitty – gritty of the police procedural to the readers without the reader being aware of it or not making it sound like Criminology 101 for Dummies . . . Unfortunately this was another sore point for me with the book  when the author decided to spell out even the smallest thing to the readers .

There were some times when I felt that the character ‘ s actions were determined to align with the goal of having the big reveal . * Spoilers ahead * – The protagonist discovers that someone has been in her house when she was not there . Even if she makes a good guess of who the intruder might be , would it not be only natural that she should report it to the police or atleast let her family know that somebody know the pass-code to the family home ? Even if she is not keen on kicking up a ruckus , wouldn’t she atleast change the pass-code ? There were several such minor details which were overlooked to facilitate the FINAL BIG REVEAL . . . Unsurprisingly , all these loop-holes left me unimpressed with the story – telling even more . . .

A quick side note :

The missing child premise  brought to mind two other books which had dealt with it superbly . Jane Casey ‘ s debut , THE MISSING , traced the fracturing of the family when the tween son  goes missing and the subsequent descent of his mother into alcoholism who keeps the boy ‘ s room like a shrine ,  waiting and wanting only to know what happened to her son . While , the final reveal left me somewhat underwhelmed , it has excellent psychological profiling of the missing child ‘ s younger sister and  mother . .

Another is The Queen of Suspense ‘ s Daddy ‘ s Little Girl which had similar themes like THE MISSING . It dealt with the revisiting of the murder of a teenager by her younger sister ( who is an investigative journalist now ) when the convicted killer is up for parole  so that she could put the man whom she believes to be the killer behind bars once and for all  . While Mary H . Clark is not into too – much psychological profiling , she still gives her characters  enough traits & quirks to give the reader a good picture about their character  and tells one hell of a great story . . .

I would definitely recommend the above mentioned books over Little Secrets any day . . .

Rating : 3 . 5 / 5

If you have already read the book , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . . . Until the next review then . .