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Sunday, December 20, 2009

What About Christmas Mysteries?

Our Mystery Book Club just finished discussing A Christmas Guest by Anne Perry. A few years ago we read Tied Up in Tinsel by Roderick Alleyn. You can find a good selection of Christmas themed mysteries from Stop You're Killing Me. But the question we considered was, should our mystery reading include a "Christmas mystery" every December? I'd love to hear your comments - please add them to this post!

Some in our group said, "Yes! Great fun!" Other expressed thoughts like, "They can be boring or fluffy or overly contrived." Such were the very kinds of comments that were heard during our discussion of A Christmas Guest.

Using our group's rating sheet, members gave the book scores of: 65, 69, 72, 79, 85, 85, 85, 90, 90 - all averaging to 80.

On the one hand, Perry does a beautiful job utilizing Grandmama - Mariah Ellison, a side character from her Thomas Pitt mysteries, as the central character. Here is a bitter woman who does not live in gratitude, whose every remark to her family is caustic, who so easily imagines offenses; yet somehow we can identify with her and are drawn to her. I think that takes some artistry on the part of the author.

The story is set in Victorian England, on a marshy overlook of the English Channel. It is cold, blustery, and bleak. Grandmama has been "sent" to spend the Christmas holiday with daughter-in-law Caroline that she never liked who married Joshua, an actor (Disgusting!), upon the death of Edward, Grandmama's son. When Joshua's long lost Aunt Maude is "sent" by her sisters (who live but 5 miles away) to stay at this home, Grandmama is outraged at the "imposition." The mystery begins when Maude is found dead in bed of an apparent heart attack just a few days after she arrived.

Note: Following Perry's description of the family relationships in this book is challenging. Yet it is necessary to make sense of the plot's conclusion. It is so confusing that the book's publisher makes an apparent error in describing the relationships on the book jacket. I had to make a family relationships diagram while rereading parts of the book, in order to be sure of the facts.

Grandmama's curiosity about Maude's death motivates her to investigate. To do so, she must take a horse and buggy ride to the home of Maude's sisters, where she stays overnight. By the evening of the second day, in the midst of a confining snow storm, she meets with the family in the parlor and makes her accusation. A true "cozy."

During the process of the albeit brief investigation, Grandmama's character transforms from one of bitterness to one of freedom from bitterness. That is the Christmas "message" part of the book. But is the message contrived? Is it conceivable that such people can have such a change at that stage in their lives?

Well, that is the big question embedded in THE Christmas story, isn't it? The Christian message is that people can change. (Or "are changed" depending on your theology.) That's why Christmas is seen as a season of hope. Some of us may feel that sugarcoats reality; by extension, "Christmas mysteries" are fluffy.

So - what do you think? Please click here to leave your comment!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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